How should Christians think about social media? Is it a tool to embrace uncritically, or something to avoid? Amber Bowen, Amy Whitfield, Laura Thigpen and Betsy Gomez addressed this question in a recent Women’s Life Connecting Point panel discussion.
You can watch their conversation above. Here are a few key highlights:
Laura Thigpen on how social media puts your spiritual disciplines on display.
“A lot of Christians, I’m talking specifically of evangelical Christians, [are] coming to social media and using it in a way that is spiritually emaciated. I noticed that in two ways. We’re coming to social media to inform us and help us form our convictions, or we’re coming to social media to communicate our ill-formed convictions. As I started wrestling with these two things, I wondered, why are we doing this? And I recognized there’s a lack of something — a lack of depth, a lack of spiritual disciplines….
“As I was thinking about those spiritual disciplines, if we come to social media and we haven’t been disciplining ourselves, we can’t winsomely engage this particular platform well at all. And that’s what I was kind of witnessing on a broad scale.
“But on the other side of that, I can say that I see brothers and sisters in Christ who I can tell by the way they’re engaging social media that they are disciplined spiritually. They are speaking and engaging this platform out of an overflow of spiritual nutrition and not emaciation.”
If we come to social media and haven’t been disciplining ourselves, we can’t winsomely engage this platform.
Amy Whitfield on the “fear of missing out.”
“[When] you’re interacting with social media, what you see makes you struggle with envy. Either you see people doing something and you’re not there, or someone else’s life looks perfect and yours doesn’t. Of course, as most of us know, it really isn’t that hard to take a perfect Instagram photo. I mean, the square’s like that big. You can take a picture of this amazing meal and you don’t see all the sippy cups everywhere or the mess behind. And we say, ‘Oh my goodness. Her life is perfect and mine is awful.’ And we have no idea, because it’s easy to portray that.
“So that’s something that can pop up in us because [social media] stirs up those struggles and the insecurities that we have. My article focused on something that’s a little bit different. I [addressed] the struggle we can have when watching conversations and feeling like, ‘If I don’t speak up and say something, I’m going to miss an opportunity, I’m not going to get to be part of something, or I’m not going to get to be cool or liked or whatever’. It’s like when kids on the playground were all talking about something and you didn’t want to be left out.
“I used an example of something that happened. This has been about three years ago…. I was at an event, and this was an event where everyone was spending time in this same conversation on a hashtag, and there was someone on stage that — maybe it was just a different style than some of us were used to in the way they were presenting. There were a few things that seemed kind of funny. Some people… made a few comments about what was happening on the stage. This conversation was happening in the hashtag.
“I had something really funny to say about this. I started typing, and then I froze. The thought that popped in my head was, what if that person walks across the stage, and they go and look and see this conversation that’s happening on hashtag, and they see what people are saying? And my heart was crushed that I had even thought of doing that. I’d gotten caught up in wanting to be funny and wanting to impress others.
“That can happen to all of us in conversations. I think we can all connect with a time when we were really tempted to sin in that way. The sin is not any worse because it’s public, but it can do so much more damage and it can hurt so much more. It can hurt our witness, and it can hurt individuals. And so what I was talking about [in my article] was how that really connected with how we talk to each other. With how we address things with kindness. Sarcasm is such a temptation on social media. Sniping at each other…. We can just take shots without even thinking about all the people that are seeing this and what that message sends to them.
“So what I wanted to address in that particular was how the heart of that can be our own insecurities, our own envy and our own desire to be something important. And when the threshold is so low, you don’t have the social pressure of everyone in the room staring at you, you just have you and your phone and your really clever thing that you want to say, we can forget.”
Betsy Gomez on the sins of social media specific to each platform.
“I was reading this [perspective] by Reid Hoffman, he’s the co-founder of the social media platform LinkedIn. He posted in the Wall Street Journal that social medias do best when they tap into one of the seven deadly sins…. He would say that this is why social media is so powerful and so effective. It just feeds our sin that’s already in our hearts.
“I would say that LinkedIn would feed greed; it’s a professional network. And Facebook [feeds] vanity, because we’re always trying to present a reality that is not the truth. Netflix [feeds] sloth. I’m guilty. You’re just scrolling and looking for a movie, and then it’s been two hours and you haven’t found one, and you just go to bed. Twitter feeds our wrath and pride, because everything is so intellectual. Pinterest and Instagram feeds our envy and gluttony…. Social media feeds the sin that’s already in our hearts.