Social media and other means of instant communication are a gift. They probably don’t get appreciated often enough. The likely reason for that oversight is because while social media can bring us together, it can also drive wedges between households, families, friends, and neighbors. Gifts like social media can be used for good or for ill.
Kindness or unkindness on social media.
Frederick W. Faber once said, “Kind thoughts are rarer than either kind words or deeds. They imply a great deal of thinking about others. This in itself is rare. But they also imply a great deal of thinking about others without the thoughts being criticisms. This is rarer still.”
Often, the gift of social media is used to communicate anything but kind thoughts. This is not something unique to social media, though, as humans didn’t begin to be unkind when MySpace, Facebook (now Meta) and Twitter were established. We brought unkindness in from the real world into cyberspace.
6 tips for making meaningful use of social media.
Knowing what we know about social media, how best can we engage and use these gifts well? The goal of connecting with others is still possible, but there are pitfalls to avoid as we do so.
1. Know the limits of social media.
One important thing to remember about social media is that it isn’t a substitute for real connection with people. Certainly, it will do in a pinch, but it isn’t the same thing as being with another person in the same space.
We are embodied beings created in the image of God, and that matters in how we interact with others. God is three persons in one, and since he relates in community, we are created to be in community too.There’s a huge difference between sending a hug emoji and actually giving someone a hug. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that there’s no substitute for human touch.
Its limits also emerge in other ways. It’s a very rare to see someone on social media acknowledge that they were wrong and the discussion you just had convinced them of that fact. It’s hard enough having those kinds of discussions in person in a rational fashion, and social media often isn’t the best place for these discussions.
Social media unfortunately can heighten some of our worst excesses – wanting to uphold our reputation, to look knowledgeable and strong, and so on. In that public arena, people don’t like to back down or acknowledge error on their part. Politically charged discussions, for example, may not yield much fruit in person, but they are certainly more complicated online.
Knowing what to expect fcan guard you from disappointment. It has valuable uses, but it’s not a good substitute for the most meaningful personal connections.
2. Don’t believe everything you see on social media.
In recent years, there’s been an unfortunate uptick in the number of young girls and women wanting surgery, getting depressed and experiencing heightened anxiety. All of this can be attributable to social media sites such as Instagram.
The unrealistic and filtered photos on these sites, along with the carefully curated lives on display there, all make for a cocktail of misery for those who compare their real lives with these online lives.
Social media is a filtered life. Don’t take it as your source of life or compare what you’re going through to what you see there. Even with the people you “trust” and follow, if you don’t know them in person, take what they’re saying with a pinch of salt. Until you see them live out in real life the ideas they’re espousing, you can create false expectations of yourself and them.
For example, be careful about taking life advice from an online personality. You have no idea if what this person does what they say in their real life. You’re better off following the wisdom of your neighbor whose life is on full display to see if what they preach is what they do.
3. Take regular social media breaks.One of the key metrics for social media companies is audience engagement. The longer you remain on the platform, the better for the platform.
What’s better for the platform, however, may not be what’s best for you. Don’t live on social media. You have a life outside of social media, and you should live it.
Consider doing a social media break every so often. During your break, find other ways to connect with others – for instance, meet with a friend over coffee to talk instead of exchanging messages online, or go for a walk together. Social media addiction is real, but you can help beat it with regular breaks.
4. Watch your engagement.
We’re learning more and more about the algorithms that fuel social media platform. The posts that make it into our feeds are those things most likely to spark an angry reaction, and therefore engagement. The more you engage, the longer you stay on the platform, the more you’re stepping out of your regular life.
You don’t have to engage everything you encounter – perhaps limit yourself to looking at and reacting to the things that bring you joy. It’ll be better for your overall sense of well-being.
Also, consider these words – “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV) Your words can encourage and build up someone who needs it, so consider carefully how you wield the power in your words.
5. Be cautious of being vulnerable online.
Following on from the previous point, social media brings together people from all walks of life, with differing temperaments, social skill levels, and ability to empathize. In such mixed company, speaking about the things closest to your heart or that expose vulnerabilities may not be a good idea. If you wouldn’t tweet your physical address, then perhaps exposing your deepest secrets or fears isn’t such a wise idea.Social media can generate a false sense of intimacy, and you may share things you likely shouldn’t. if there are things you’re going through, it’s better to talk with a therapist or a close friend than to post it on social media.
The existence of internet trolls means that there are people out there who are more than willing to say terrible things just because they can. And if you’re in a vulnerable state, that can further affect your mental health.
Consider Jesus’ words in Matt. 7:6 NIV: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
6. Don’t let social media determine your identity.
We all want to be liked. No one wants to be a social outcast, and to fit in we sometimes go against our better judgment.
The desire to be liked can lead us down dark paths – whether it’s taking extreme selfies in dangerous situations, betraying our convictions, or objectifying ourselves and our bodies in order to be mentioned, liked, or retweeted. Just because certain things receive attention and agreement, that does not make them true, right, or good.
Too often, people change themselves and act uncharacteristically to satisfy an amorphous and anonymous audience. It’s not worth it, and it’s important to remember that God will hold us accountable for our words and actions.
Your worth as a human being isn’t measured by how much reach or influence you have – you are worthy of love and dignity because God says,
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27, NIV
We bear the image of God, the creator of the universe, and God loved us enough to die in order to save us from our sins (Romans 5:1-8). Social media is good for a lot of things, but it isn’t good for building your identity.
Your personal struggles.
All the above may seem like social media is a bad idea but that’s not the whole picture. Tools can be used in different ways, and we can learn to use social media for building up instead of tearing down.
The anonymity afforded by the internet can be liberating, but depending on our actions, what is liberated may not bring life to us or the people around us. If you find yourself struggling with your use of social media, speak to a trusted friend or counselor to keep you accountable.
“Sunset”, Courtesy of Joseph Sharp, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sunset Over the Badlands”, Courtesy of Corinn Suess, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sunset Over the Water”, Courtesy of Nurulloh A A, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Farm Road”, Courtesy of Mr Harter, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact one of our counselors for further information.