There are many reasons to believe that social media is here to stay. Social media provides an incredible opportunity to connect with family and friends, or to keep an eye on the news, sports, and weather. It is estimated that this year, 2.82 billion people will be involved on social media. Social media is immensely popular among the younger generation, with 16-24 year-olds spending over three hours a day on social media.
The ubiquitous nature of social media necessitates that Christians think critically about both the pros and cons of using social media platforms, as well as the consequences of frequent use. Many of the benefits of using social media as a Christian are evident. We can reach some with the gospel that we would otherwise be unable to impact. Further, we can share helpful resources which promote Christlikeness. We can also mutually edify and encourage one another. There are truly many benefits from a Christian perspective in using social media.
But there is a dark side of social media as well. Some of these potential problems may be evident, but others may go unnoticed or ignored. In an effort to help us think through some of the dangers of social media, here are seven potential perils of social media.
Social media can be a time waster.
Self-discipline is an important part of what it means to be a Christian. Social media often fills in our time when we could be working hard and accomplishing profitable things. Many (including myself) know all too well the temptation to browse Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram while we are supposed to be studying, writing, reading, or praying. We often rationalize it by saying we 5 minutes is not enough time to do anything else, but those wasted 5-10 minute segments add up throughout the day.
Remember, time spent looking at Instagram is time spent that we will not back (cf. Eph 5:16). And I can promise you God will not be rewarding you for the time spent looking at Instagram photos!
Social media can promote jealousy.
Although released from sin, Christians still struggle with the flesh. The flesh craves what others have. How many single people are jealous of the relationships they see on social media? How many moms wish their kids were more like the kids they see depicted on social media? How many wish they could experience that luxury cruise? All of these are temptations to jealousy or envy, wanting what others have and being discontent with what God has given us.
Social media can facilitate bragging.
The flip side of jealousy is bragging. Why are you posting the picture of your food? Why are you posting the photo of your brand new car? Why are you posting about the promotion you got at work? We may often rationalize it, but if we are honest, many of the times we post about our accomplishments it is because we want to be perceived as successful. We are sinning by bragging.
Social media can entertain gossip or slander.
We love to know what is happening, and we love to talk to our friends about it. We want to know the details of everyone’s life, and we like to share the inside scoop. It is not wrong to enjoy digital conversations over social media. But, we would do well to remember that our digital conversations do not bypass the clear guidelines of Scripture for communication (cf. Eph 4:29, 31; Matt 12:36). There are many things which should remain unsaid (or unread) whether in real life or digitally.
Social media can feed anxiety.
Most Americans get their news from social media. As such, we are inundated with news all the time (most of which is negative). We are constantly told of threats of war, famine, terrorists, storms, political and financial crises, etc. It is easy to focus on the many difficulties in the world and become anxious. But, Scripture commands us to rejoice in God and trust in Him (Phil 4:6). But sometimes we make it harder than we have to by inundating ourselves with so much which can cause anxiety.
Social media can wrongly orient our perception of success.
Those who are avid users of social media like being liked (at least online). In fact, we are often tempted to evaluate our worth by the amount of likes we receive on our posts. Sadly, many have conditioned themselves to sense accomplishment not by the achievement of some important task, but by how doing that task is perceived by those on social media. In real life, it is the accomplishment that matters. But on social media, it is the perception that matters. Many of us have traded real life experience for how others perceive us. And thus we have traded wisdom for folly.
Social media can distract us from the essential.
We check our phones all the time. One study indicated that some of us check our phones every 4.3 minutes. For many Christians, the first thing they do in the morning is pick up their smart phone, not pray or open their Bibles. This smart phone compulsion is usually due to the desire to stay connected with our online social profiles and the news. But this addiction results in less prayer, quality reading, devotional time, and quality real life relationships.
We may say that social media is not essential to our well being, but the way we use it, and the time we invest in it often portrays it as the highest of priorities for us. At the same time, it crowds out those Christian disciplines we absolutely need.
Social media presents some amazing opportunities for the Christian, but there are also some serious dangers. By the time you read this post, I will have shared this post on Facebook and Twitter. I may have responded to various comments on my Facebook feed. There is nothing inherently wrong with social media, but the standard is high for the Christian to be self controlled and wise.
We need to remember that just because we are communicating online, the standard for Christian communication does not change. Perhaps we could summarize the intent of this article by the phrase, “think twice, post once.”
For further reading on this subject, check out Tony Reinke’s Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You.
Photo by Katka Pavlickova on Unsplash