To be fair, the title of this should read, “Faith on Social Media”… but I do like a bit of alliteration!
Social Media is still a relatively new part of life. It is a popular thing, and I know of many young people who simply cannot wait until they are able to create their own Twitter or Instagram account.
Despite the popularity of Social Media, there are many who look on and wonder what impact this will have on people, in the longer term. We are already seeing some elements of this: people often filter their lives online. Some paint life as being brilliant, others showcase the things which have gone wrong. This, in turn, negatively impacts self-esteem, as people feel their real life doesn’t match the “social media” life presented by others.
Another worrying aspect of Social Media is bullying. You are probably familiar with the (very) old phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. I always had suspicions that this phrase was, at best, meaningless and, at worst, completely wrong.
But I think my suspicions have been proven correct, in light of social media: words can, in some instances, kill. I’m sure you are familiar with stories of people being bullied over Social Media, from celebrities to ordinary people. Very sadly, this bullying can often cause someone to feel so devalued and unloved that they take their own life. This is a serious issue, and is unlikely to go away, unless there is a change in attitude.
I suspect bullying is such an issue online because people find it it is easier to forget there is a person beyond the icon with which you are engaging.
People also seem less-inhibited when commenting online. I have read comments attached to articles which are full of rage and contempt: things I encounter on the rarest of occasions in the real world, when engaging with real people.
What has all this to do with faith? Well, the articles I read to which these comments are attached relate to faith. Certain atheists are very aggressive in how they respond to faith on Social Media.
My question in response to this is, as Christians, should we engage with people online, if they are commenting in this aggressive fashion? My honest answer is: I don’t know. I have often been tempted to respond to some comments from atheists, because their objections to faith are pretty poor, and could be easily refuted in a reasonable conversation.
But there’s the key issue: would it be a reasonable conversation? In light of what I’ve shared about some of the issues around self-esteem and bullying on Social Media, I think it is unlikely that engaging in this fashion will be met with a reasonable response. Some Christians do engage, and I admire them for it, but even I come away from reading some comments feeling sad.
Does this mean I am failing to stand up for my faith online? I don’t think so. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Christian, and my Social Media reflects this – by and large I only use it to highlight things on this site, and share about my faith. Granted, this is only seen by my friends (although, anyone can access this site), but most of my friends aren’t Christians.
I may not overtly engage as much as others online, but I can say with certainly that I am living out my faith in the digital sphere. Should I do more to engage with people? Perhaps, but I’m still mulling over that question.