We live in a different world than we did 17 years ago. I say that because most tech historians would agree that 1994 was the year the internet went mainstream. Alongside the internet being mainstream, social media via internet technology also grew. In the early days it was just email and chat rooms (or instant message programs like AIM and ICQ) that lead the way to people being more connected through the internet. Then came the rise of YouTube, MySpace, Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, and of course, Facebook. Actually, let me just show you a video that explain far better than I how much social media, and specifically Facebook, have influence over Americans. Just take a few minutes to view this informative and entertaining visual histories.
Social media is common place and certainly is here to stay. Yet, anyone who has spent more than a few minutes on any social networking site will see that far, far too often people in general seemingly lose their minds with their behavior. Normal social cues and etiquette and, more importantly, basic moral principles are jettisoned in a New York Minute. Why does this happen? And how should Christians act on Facebook and other user-controlled internet media? How should we react to other Christians acting in a less-than-Christian way on the internet? These questions need- demand- answers if parents, pastors, and brothers and sisters in Christ are going to keep up with an every-changing cyber world.
I write this in part because of the mistakes I have made with social media. There have been a number of emails, Facebook messages, text messages, and blog entries that I wish I had never written. I wish I could jump into a DeLorean with Doc and Marty and travel back in time to 1996 when my family connected to the internet for the first time and slap myself silly until I got into my head never to break the following rules of etiquette that I am writing today. Thank God for his grace and mercy! And thank you to those to whom I may have ever wrote a hurtful or inappropriate text/email/message for your forgiveness. So, there are lessons I have learned the hard way that I get to pass along to others in the hope that others do not make the same mistakes.
Also, I am an osbervant person. I see some disturbing trends that have caused me to think through some of these issues. Hearing the same concern from other pastors and parents, I decided now is the time to address some critical issues and create a set of guidelines that will help a parent, employer, pastor, or any Christian navigate the waters of social media and networking.
I will mostly be dealing with Facebook, because it is the most commonly used, but these guidelines easily apply to other forms of media including message boards, text messaging, emails, and Twitter. A quick Google search revealed some decent Facebook etiquette guidelines, but most of them dealt with “appropriate-for-work” type stuff or things that didn’t reach too far below the surface. I don’t want to retread old material and besides, I am more interested in navigating the moral implications that Christians have to deal with in terms of Facebook usage. Without further ado, here is the first principle:
Treat Facebook as if it is a public place, because it is. As the video above pointed out, “What happens in Vegas stays on Facebook/Twitter/etc. If it can be used in a court of law (it can) then treat everything you write as if it will be read by your parents, grandmother, best friend, pastor, pope, Officer Friendly, judge, etc. A saying I’ve come to cherish is, “Never put in print what you wouldn’t want on tomorrow’s front page of the newspaper.” I understand there is a difference between private messaging and posting on someone’s wall, but it is still better to be careful about what you say even in private. Just ask Alec Baldwin.
Sarcasm is the lowest form of comedy and is often misunderstood in print, so don’t do it. Emoticons like the smiley face help in distinguishing sarcasm from a serious comment, but they only help so much. Except for in the most light-hearted, silliest conversations it is better to steer clear of sarcasm.
Ladies this one is for you: Men, grown men, old men, young men, boys, weird boys, cools boys, boys you like, boys you think are icky, and random boys look and even ogle pictures that you post on Facebook. They will be up late at night viewing pictures of you and scouring your photo albums. It has yet to be seen how influential Facebook is for internet predators. And since you have to “friend” them for them to see your photos that means you know them personally. So, what should this mean for Christian women?
- Provocative pictures should never be posted. Underwear shots are certainly out of the question, but so are pictures in bikinis or anything other than the most conservative swim attire. If you must post a picture of you and your friends at the beach, then just crop them so that all you see in the photo is the shoulders on up. This also goes for provocative poses.
- Glamour shots should also come under scrutiny. If you are an aspiring model and you want to show off your work, that is understandable. Seniors who post their senior pictures, are also in the right to do so. Just know that old men, young men, and boys are viewing them at their own discretion, in private, for as long as they want. Be selective and conservative in what glamour shots you post.
- Never allow non-friends to see your photo albums. There is an option under your profile settings that lets you limit who sees your photos. Change it to “friends only”.
- Interactions between men and teenage girls should be as public as possible. The parents of my youth at church know how careful I am and how open and honest I am with how I communicate with teenagers through Facebook. You should not wait for older men to do the right thing. Keep yourself above-board and if someone is making you feel uncomfortable tell your parents or just delete them from Facebook.
Men, this one is for you: Women also look at your pictures. Lots of women. Shirtless photos really should not be a part of your photo albums. But, more importantly for men, women do not like stalkers and the ones that do shouldn’t be women you interact with on Facebook. If they don’t like stalkers in real life, why would they like them on Facebook? If you do not know someone all that well, please understand that they may not want to talk to you every day. There are a lot of women I have as friends on Facebook, many of them I have only talked to once or twice. I am sure they would not appreciate it if I was constantly wanting to converse with them on a regular basis. They may even consider it borderline creepy.
Parents, this one is for you: You pay for the internet connection that allows your kid to be on Facebook. That means everything they use on the internet is yours. They just borrow it. Even if they pay for internet, you pay the electric bill and the mortgage that give them the opportunity to have internet. So, their Facebook profile is owned by you. Not them. I would strongly advise that you not allow them a Facebook account without knowing their profile name and password and without the clear understanding that you have the right to log in and check every message they send.
This also goes for email. And text messaging.
*One caveat to that rule is that the older your teen is, the more you have to explain to them why you are doing what you are doing. Telling them, “because I said so” just infuriates them. The Bible is very clear that we parents should not “provoke our children to anger”. The closer a teenager gets to adulthood, the more independant they should and do become. Just be sensitive to that.
Posting pictures of you with an alcoholic beverage makes you look like a lush. It doesn’t matter if you are over 21 and have never been drunk in your life. You post a picture of you with a beer or mixed drink in your hand and others’ perception of you immediately goes in that direction. Should they judge you based off of one picture? No, but neither should you give them an excuse to judge you. Do you HAVE to post that picture at the office party or your 21st birthday? No, you don’t. So, don’t get mad when someone expresses concern about your lifestyle choices. Especially if you are under age.
How you type is as important as what you type. Typing in all caps or using an excessive amount of question marks or exclamation points means you are YELLING!!! Think of it in real life: Do people ever yell at their family: “I HAD A VERY PRODUCTIVE DAY!!!! GOING TO BED NOW!!!!!”? No, of course they don’t. So don’t do it on Facebook.
Also, the shorter the sentence/paragraph the easier it is to be misunderstood. This is especially true of texting and Twitter. This is partially why I teach vocabulary in my English classes. People need to be precise in what they mean. If you can’t be precise in your vocabulary, then find a way to explain what you mean. Especially if you are joking around or about to post something controversial. Or just don’t say it.
No cussing. I can understand when a Christian lets a word fly they didn’t plan on saying. I know I’ve been guilty of that. But, there is no excuse when you have time to write it out. Cussing makes one look uneducated. If you have to wonder whether or not a word is appropriate to post on Facebook, then let me make this easy for you: Don’t. post. it.
Do not judge a Christian friend for whom they associate. What their Facebook friends say or do should be no reflection on the character of your Christian friend. On the contrary, you should see their friendship as a good thing- that an unbeliever or an immature believer would want to associate themselves with you.
Give people the benefit of the doubt in whatever they post. This is part of what it means to live by grace. It is far too easy to assume the worst in people. But, more often it is the case that people do not mean to be inappropriate, rude, or mean. Remember, things are easily misunderstood on the internet. Before you react, take a minute to think of the person who is posting, what they’re personalities are like, what their intentions might be, etc. And by no means should you respond in the same way they did.
When someone does post something that you think must be addressed, then do it in private. This is the one thing that I wish I could have a redo on. I used to have the mindset of : “If they said it in public, I get to address it in public.” I no longer think that is a healthy way to communicate. People simply do not like being reprimanded or rebuked in public. There is an old military saying, “Praise in public. Reprimand in private.” I think that certainly applies here.
Even when addressing them privately, do so with the idea in mind that what is private in print one day could be public in print the next. On top of that, giving them the benefit of the doubt means you ask them to clarify their intentions. Seek to understand before being understood. Give them the opportunity to either clarify or come clean. Starting off with accusations goes nowhere fast.
Evangelize in person, not on the internet. There are always going to be exceptions to this principle, but I feel like addressing matters of eternal importance is done better in person. If you must, talk to them about faith matters in a private message.
There is a difference, however, in evangelizing and defending what you believe. I have to defend what I and what other Christians believe on Facebook or message boards all the time. But, again keep sarcasm out of it and make sure you seek to understand before being understood.
When in serious doubt, click “delete”. Anything can be taken out of context. A photo, an inside joke, a provocative statment. Even a conversation that’s gotten out of hand can be deleted. It smacks of pride and arrogance to leave something up that doesn’t need to be there and can be offensive to others. With things like that, the attitude needs to be “easy come, easy go” and just let it go.
If you are not on Facebook, get on Facebook. Especially if you are a pastor or parent/grandparents. Like the video said, this is not just a fad. Sure, there may be something like Facebook that comes along that will catch the social media wave, but social media is here to stay. You may look at it as another thing to keep up with, but it is just the advancement of technology. Imagine when telephones were first invented and how resistent people back then may have been to it. It doesn’t make any sense (unless you have a unique reason) not to at least have a profile with a picture on it.
I hope this helps some of you who have struggled social etiquette on-line. I know it is a tremendous reminder to me that in everything I do it must be to the glory of God and not men. My next post will be about how you can interact on Facebook for God’s glory. I ask that you consider that notion.