I am old enough to remember life before social media. In fact, I still remember a conversation with my college roommate where he tried to explain Facebook to me. It seemed ridiculous.
Yet I write this today, less than a decade after that conversation in my dorm room, and it is hard to comprehend our world without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.
The game has changed. And the state of our culture today forces us to get in the game. But there is a problem.
Social media is a world without guidelines. And where guidelines are absent, chaos is inevitable.
Almost daily, news comes out that a high-ranking official or a social media marketer for a large corporation has been fired due to an insensitive post or tweet. Type in “fired over a tweet” and google search pops out 30 million results. This doesn’t even include the millions who apply for a job and are never considered because of insensitive words plastered on their social media wall.
It’s time to admit we need some boundaries when it comes to social media. Look, I get it. The idea of a boundary-less world is enticing. We all want to be free. But the irony is freedom never rests outside of boundaries. A boundary-less world only leads to chaos.
So, I want to propose some guidelines. I am not the official social media guidelines guy. That would be weird. And this list is certainly not exhaustive. That would be impossible. But, hopefully, the following questions will help you consider when and how to use social media.
Here are 6 questions to ask before posting on social media.
1.) Am I struggling with my identity?
Social media is a dangerous drug for those who struggle with identity and validation. Make no mistake. Something or someone validates you every second of every day. God wired you this way. So, if God doesn’t fill the void, something else must.
Social media is so addictive because it gives you instant affirmation. Just post your best picture or most insightful comment. Click one button. Boom. Sit back and wait for the likes. As they come, you feel validated. But eventually the likes stop. When they do, you go back to the well. Another photo or comment. Post. More likes. Temporary validation. The cycle continues.
Here’s the real problem. As you rely more on likes for affirmation and validation, the desire for more likes grows stronger. Over time, the pictures become more provocative. The comments become more accusatory. And bridges are burnt because likes tell you there’s only one place at the top of the mountain.
But if (and when) you arrive at the top of the mountain, you will quickly realize the mountaintop is a lonely place, and you sacrificed your reputation and dignity to get there. Two things that are incredibly difficult to restore once they are lost.
So, if social media impacts your mood, worth, or value, you need to step back and ask some deeper questions. Don’t continue to drink from a well that won’t quench your thirst.
2.) Would I say it to someone face-to-face?
I am going to be real. This needs to be said. One of the great tragedies of social media is that it has given power to a lot of cowards. And cowards with power are dangerous.
Social media allows many people to take cover behind a computer screen and throw harsh or demeaning bombs to any person crossing their path. It has given rise to a new, more destructive form of bullying and manipulation. The kind that never has to deal with the ramifications of harsh words. At least in the days before social media, bullies had to look their victims in the eyes. But no longer. Today, the world has a new kind of coward thanks to social media.
And, sadly, Christians aren’t absent from this discussion. On more than one occasion, I have witnessed Christians use social media to bully people into believing their theology or stance on an issue.
So, what’s the solution?
Here’s a rule for social media: “If you wouldn’t say it face-to-face, don’t post it.” – TWEET THIS!
Never post a comment you wouldn’t say to that individual face-to-face. Even if you strongly disagree. Social media is not a place to handle conflict or tell the world how you really feel. That’s what cowards do. And if you are a follower of Jesus, there is no place for cowardly behavior. If you are in doubt, don’t post it. If you are unsure whether or not someone will be upset by your words, let it go.
It could be that the most important decision you make today is choosing to delete the post. Don’t be a coward. The world has enough of those. Show the world something different. If you have a concern or disagreement with someone, close Facebook or Twitter and schedule lunch or make a phone call.
3.) Am I posting about something when I should be taking action?
Social media is a breeding ground for people with great intentions. But great intentions don’t change lives. Action does.
I love to write. I hope my content challenges and encourages people to draw closer to God. But at the end of the day, I must remember I am not writing to virtual people in a virtual world. Behind every computer screen and phone is a man or woman created in the image of God, just like me. Behind every issue or injustice is a face or a group of faces. Real people. With real problems.
And, if I am being real, there are times when I post to social media about an issue or injustice when I should be doing something to correct it instead. There are times I comment on an issue when I have no real desire to act on it. This is a danger of social media. It lulls you into believing that talking about an issue and acting on it are equals.
Let’s not be people who huddle in our virtual world to talk about the corruption in our cities, the injustices in our country, and the brokenness in our world, but never close the computer to act on them.
“Let’s not discuss issues in a virtual world but never close the screen to act on them.” TWEET THIS!
Before you post, ask if your time would be better spent acting on the words instead of writing them?
4.) Am I allowing social media to create (or amplify) frustration?
Growing up, I had a bad temper. Yes, I fit the redhead stereotype. And, in many ways, I am so thankful social media wasn’t around in my high school and early college years. No telling how many anger bombs I would have thrown at the world.
But there are hotheads and people filled with discontent who must deal with the reality I never had to. With the click of a button, you could post something that forever changes your life or the life of someone else.
So, here’s a general rule: stay away from social media if you are discontent, frustrated, or upset. Social media only amplifies these problems. And, to be honest, social media often creates them. There have been occasions when a great day became a sucky one because I saw a cynical comment or an uninformed rant. Social media can be a great tool, but it is not a tool for cultivating gratitude and contentment.
If life has you feeling discontent or upset for any reason, put the phone down. Get alone with God. Let the creator of gratitude (and all good things) renew your spirit.
5.) Will this post add something to the conversation?
Do you have a right to comment on every post? Absolutely. This is “‘Merica.” Should you comment on every post? The Apostle Paul gives us the answer.
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 1 Corinthians 10:23
So, before you post that comment or picture for the world, ask yourself, “Is this beneficial?” Or more specifically, “Will this glorify God?”
“How different would the social media landscape look if only beneficial posts were allowed?” TWEET THIS!
How radically different would the social media landscape look if only beneficial posts were allowed? What if every submit or tweet button was followed by a screen asking you to confirm that the post you are about to publish is beneficial? How different might our culture look? How many reputations would still be intact? How many arguments would be avoided?
Before you post, ask yourself this question: “Is this beneficial?” If you can’t answer yes, it’s probably best to scrap the post.
6.) Will this post glorify God?
This is the trump card. Or question. As Christians, we have a higher standard. We are set apart. So, before you post something to social media, ask yourself honestly, Will this post glorify God?
Will my words reflect my Savior? Will this picture point people to God? Is this truth?
And the final question is most important. Let’s be real. Not everything you post on social media is explicitly about God. Nor does it have to be. Should we post Bible verses and direct references to God? Absolutely. But anything that reflects truth, love, and purity can reflect God. A picture with some friends isn’t explicitly about God, but it reflects a truth about God’s character…he values relationships and community. On the other hand, a rant about Obama’s foreign policies or competence as President doesn’t reflect much truth.
Everything we say and do must bring glory to God, including our posts on social media.
Social media has changed the game. And even though we must get in the game, let’s not enter the game without guidelines. Games without guidelines create chaos. And someone usually ends up getting hurt.
With a few guidelines, however, social media can be an incredibly useful tool for everything from growing your relationships to enhancing your business.
Let’s litter social media with words and pictures that make the world a better place and show others the glory of God.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? DO YOU HAVE GUIDELINES FOR USING SOCIAL MEDIA? LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW AND LET’S CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!
A version of this post originally appeared on Frank’s blog on January 9, 2018. Used by permission.
Frank is a freelance writer and speaker living in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and three kids. His goal is to challenge status quo Christianity and push everyone (Christian or not) to see God with fresh eyes.
His content has been featured on sites like Relevant, ChurchLeaders, Catalyst, Thought Catalog, Mogul, and FaithIt. Be sure to check out his blog at: frankpowell.me.