Many have an aversion to social networking because of the bad behaviors that can be found on-line. It’s important to remember that bad behaviors will be found everywhere, and that the human heart remains the fountain of trouble whether in the 1st or the 21st century. Nonetheless, there are peculiar problems inherent in a digitally-networked environment.
There can be the triumph of trivia. Just as there is meaningless babble in more traditional forms of communication (tabloids, TV, radio, etc), so there is plenty in social networks – multiplied and magnified. The ease with which empty nonsense can be generated and spread means that a tidal wave of triviality can easily overwhelm people. There’s a 24/7 stream of noise, and many are losing the ability to pull back and quietly reflect.
The answer to this is diligent selection and filtering, but still – at times it can be like trying to walk through Manhattan in the midst of a month-long sanitation worker strike. The garbage is everywhere, and you keep having to walk around it!
For Christians seeking to walk in a good conscience (and backsliders not seeking to walk in a good conscience), there is easy access to immorality via digital networks. Pornography is one click away at all times, and it doesn’t try to hide. For those unhappy in their marriages, access to old girlfriends/boyfriends can be one Google or Facebook search away. For the inwardly lonely, other people can seem really enticing behind their on-line avatar and persona, and before you know it, you’re committing adultery in your heart, with your text messages, and then in some motel room. Followers of Christ are not immune to this temptation, and falling into it has never had a lower barrier to entry.
Another downside is the potential time drain of social networks. Fifteen minutes of light browsing can easily turn into two hours of blog-reading, Twitter-exchanges, and Facebook messages that ultimately count for nothing of value, but leave other important tasks undone. Many Christians have defiled consciences about on-line networking, not because of overt sin indulged, but because of a time suck that amounts to addiction.
The addictive allure of social networking can also be manifested by smartphone intrusion. When you can’t even eat dinner with your family without responding to 5 text messages and a couple of Tweets on your iPhone, this creates relational issues. You have now set up a competition between your network and your circle of face-to-face friends and family, and guess who loses? Everybody. We’ve actually now set up some daily screen-free times in our family to deal with this issue, and it’s not just because of the overly-networked kids (ahem!)
Finally, there is digitally documented and magnified stupidity. A ruined reputation can be one posted picture away. Gossip spread on-line can destroy another person’s good name at lightning speed, even if it’s not true. Christians can say something unwise in a chat or a tweet or a blog, and by the time you shake your head awake and try to retract it, Google has immortalized your folly. Social networks are good for the transparently wise, but really bad for the transparently foolish.
The key thing to remember is: social networking is optional. Breathing is not optional, but tweeting is. Lots of involvement in digital social networking won’t be beneficial for everyone, and not everyone will benefit at the same degree of involvement. Jesus makes it clear that repentance and faith are not optional. Walking close to Him daily in a good conscience is not optional. Facebook is optional. A big Twitter network and an active Facebook wall are not passports to heaven, though they may be means to help you and others arrive safely. But they can also be handrails on the path to perdition.
If the minuses overwhelm any pluses for you, pitch it overboard. There are more important things in life than an on-line network. Better to enter heaven without a high Klout (social network influencer measure) score, than compromise your soul to be kind-of-a-big-deal-on-Twitter.
What are your thoughts on the minuses? Feel free to add your insights in the comments!