The internet is a great wilderness and Facebook one of its largest jungles. For the Christian trying to walk out a righteous life in Christ, Facebook presents a serious challenge.
Social media has a unique capacity to dehumanize people even as it promotes their interaction, and among the social media platforms, Facebook is the king. According to statista.com, the number of Facebook users worldwide is expected to reach 1.69 billion in 2020. That is more than one-fifth of the world! So while many of the things said in this piece apply to other social media formats, Facebook certainly warrants direct focus.
I believe that Facebook can be used for positive purposes without necessarily poisoning the user. However, it is important to recognize that it has a tremendous potential to destroy. Using Facebook well requires extreme discernment.
Our social media activity not only impacts us personally, but also represents Christ, our families, and our churches. Further, our culture is plagued by irresponsible attitudes and irrational communication which Christians must rise above. So in the spirit of constructive interaction, here are twenty-three points of wisdom for Christians regarding Facebook.
1. Try to be Facebook friends with people who you actually know in real life. Building up a friends list of people with whom you have no real personal knowledge, increases the potential for Facebook to be a false universe and a phony extension of your life. I encourage you to review your friends list every now and then to consider whether it is an accurate representation of people you know. Remove people you do not know or barely know from a past season in your life. This is not rude. You already are not really friends with them! (If you remove someone, that person will not receive a notification.)
2. Try to use Facebook to reach out to people in a positive way. Consider your non-Christian friends from work, school, recreation, your neighborhood, etc. and pray about who you should be connected with on Facebook so that you can potentially engage with them more holistically. If you are able to do this without someone’s posting activity being a detriment to you, this can be a good situation for evangelism and ministry to others.
3. If you realize that a person is extremely negative, vulgar, gossipy, or combative, do not be afraid to just remove them from your friends list. Also consider cutting ties if your connection to someone is a strong temptation toward wrong attitudes and behavior for you. These are the same principles as with toxic relationships in all of life, but for some reason, we can operate with a different mindset on social media that tolerates such voices. (In fact, much of what I say throughout this piece is just to encourage you to apply regular life discernment to Facebook relationships.)
4. If you have friends and family with whom you need to be connected, but they constantly post things that you do not appreciate, simply unfollow them. This maintains the connection of the Facebook friendship but insulates you from their posts.
5. Be friends with fellow church members. This is an expression of unity and an opportunity to be more connected. Further, be especially patient and loving with fellow church members. If someone in your church family posts something that you do not like, ask yourself if you can just overlook it without being annoyed or bothered beyond that moment. If a fellow church member has a truly troubling post or pattern of posts, then do the biblical thing and talk to them face-to-face about your concerns in a loving, understanding way. It is amazing how effective such an approach can be for helping people grow and for building stronger relationships. Jesus’ way is the best way. (Matt 18:15-20)
6. Use the majority of your posting activity to edify and encourage. Post things that express thankfulness, that bring glory to the Lord, and that help people to see things in a positive light. I personally am not one to post statuses hardly ever, but the posts I appreciate most are from Christians who exude joy and gratitude about significant things worthy of sharing. I am not saying that you should never post things that are more serious, sad, challenging, or even controversial. (See below.) I am simply encouraging an overall mindset for how to express yourself.
7. If you use the right tone with a thoughtful, good perspective, you can honor Christ by posting about Christian concerns and convictions. But prayerfully weigh your burden against the moment to consider the wisdom of your post. If you are convinced that God wants you to speak out for something that is clearly biblical, do it. Brave Christians who speak with Spirit-led clarity are always a good thing in any setting. The world needs more of them–not less. However, the more controversial a political, moral, or cultural view is, the more you must be extra diligent to express gentleness, respect, and calm. In print, nobody can hear your tone of voice, so you have to make your tone explicit. Before posting, read and re-read your remarks and consider how they will come across to someone who may disagree. Now, it will be impossible to avoid offending some people, but you should genuinely try to be fair and civil. It is also a good idea to have your spouse or a trusted friend read it too. Further, be really careful about political slogans, social images, or buzz words because they are loaded with meanings that you may not intend to represent.
8. Never post a rant or anything that exudes anger. If it would not be appropriate to do in a room full of people, then it is not appropriate on Facebook. Similar to road rage, social media can make us feel insulated so that we say things that we would never say in person. Do not justify such posts as necessary venting. Temper tantrums are not the way of Christ. Christians are called to self-control by the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
9. Along the lines of the above point, never use Facebook for passive-aggressive purposes. We have all seen the posts that “won’t mention any names” and then make negative remarks that are obviously geared toward a certain person. Also, we can all recognize when a person is saying one thing on the surface but really implying another because he has a subtle, or not-so-subtle, bone to pick with someone. Such lashing out hurts people and, frankly, displays immaturity that others will note.
10. One more point on aggravated posts: Christians should not post broad disparaging comments about the Church or Christians. There may be some public issues that are important to address in a responsible way, but in general it is dishonoring to Christ and a bad testimony to non-Christians to speak about the Church in broad ways that reveal animosity and exasperation. It is also not right to post about private or relatively private church issues on Facebook. A person says more about his own Christian character than that of others when he reveals extreme pessimism or animosity toward the people of God. Christians of all people should appreciate the wonderful work Jesus is doing in his Church. No one denies that churches are comprised of imperfect sinners. What is truly remarkable is the way that Jesus loves those sinners, is patient with them, is changing them, and is determined to present them spotless before him in glory. So before you post something negative about his people, ask yourself if Jesus would appreciate your portrayal of those he has redeemed.
11. Be extremely careful and selective with photos and videos. These leave indelible images and impressions on others. Be very careful with images of yourself because they will be there for years. Do not just think about all the people who might love your pictures. Think about the people who may think them inappropriate, immodest, or indiscrete. Also, never presume to post pictures or video of private moments with others without permission. You should want people to trust you with pictures, not wonder if their time with you is going on Facebook for many others to see. Do not assume that your own level of freedom for posting pictures is shared by others. Also, consider that every private moment that you post sacrifices the intimacy of that moment which is a very precious thing. As with your friends list, you may be wise to go through your photos and remove pictures that should not be out there.
12. Try to avoid posting very much just about yourself. At times, a light-hearted glimpse into your day or a significant moment of celebration may be appropriate, but too much of this type of activity easily comes across as self-absorbed or needy for attention. Ask yourself: Why am I posting this? If it is just to get sympathy comments or “likes” to help you feel good, you probably should reconsider. Too much posting about your feelings, accomplishments, frustrations, daily activities, selfies, etc. does not convey being a secure, others-centered person with healthy priorities.
13. If you see someone who posts that he or she is struggling with something in life, write something encouraging to them, or better yet, private message them to ask how you can pray for them. You never know where that kind of intentionality may lead. Always be eager to share the hope of Christ. God may use you in a mighty way.
14. Comment threads are not the best place to go back and forth in debate with another person. While a brief, polite comment of agreement or disagreement to a post may be appropriate, a thread can quickly degenerate. It is much more effective to individually message a person who you would like to engage in dialogue about a post. Plus, I personally think it is rude to take over another person’s post with your own heated debate in the comment thread.
15. If one of your friends has posted something inappropriate, angry, or passive-aggressive that represents your own view, do not encourage that kind of posting behavior by “liking” the post or commenting in an affirming way. This just feeds the problem, and it makes you complicit in such immaturity.
16. Pray about how much time God would have you be on Facebook and ask him for help in having mastery over this. Facebook has a feature that will tell you your time on there. Set limits for yourself if you need some strict parameters. Do not be on Facebook for very long at any given time or let a quick check turn into the loss of a significant chunk of your day or night. Days are for working and nights are for sleeping. Also, you do not have to check Facebook every day. It may be better for you to decide to check it every other day or third day or even once per week.
17. Check Facebook at appropriate moments. Do not check it first thing in the morning before you have opened your Bible, prayed, and spent time reading something meaningful and edifying. Do not check it in a room full of people with whom you have the opportunity to engage and enjoy. Do not check it at family meals, at work, when you have a moment to talk with your spouse, while you are driving, or during a sermon! In general, it will be more appropriate to check Facebook later in the day as priorities are accomplished.
18. Do not get sucked into the time-warp of clicking link after link, especially of non-edifying, discouraging content. We have all committed this mistake, and we all know that the longer we do it, the more unfulfilled and drained we feel. Endless clicking/surfing/scrolling is a kind of addiction that will leave us dull and numb–just like other addictions. If you want to be happier in life, do less of it, not more.
19. If you find that the above points of discernment (and the many others that could be mentioned) are just too much for you to apply in a constructive, God-glorifying way, then you should just get outta there. It is much better to be free, than to live in daily defeat. Perhaps you will eventually be able to come back with a more intentional, purposeful, discerning approach. Or perhaps you will feel so liberated that you will never want anything to do with Facebook ever again. Either result would be good.
20. If you need to get out, you may need to completely cancel your account because of all the negative associations with it. You also may need to protect yourself from yourself by taking accountability measures with trusted Christian friends or family to keep you from getting back on Facebook in a moment of weakness. Acknowledging weakness is a form of strength. A person truly demonstrates repentant resolve when he takes serious measures to succeed on a new path.
21. If your main problem with Facebook is the easy access you have to it on your phone, you may just need to delete the app from your phone and keep it off. Tell your spouse or friend that you are doing this measure, and turn off your ability to reload it without their permission. This would still allow you to check Facebook on a computer occasionally, but perhaps solve your main problem of constant access to it. You may also need to remove any browsers on your phone so that you cannot navigate to Facebook that way. (I do not have the Facebook app or an internet browser on my phone.)
22. You may decide to stay away for a set period of time. This decision may allow you to detox and come back with the right approach months down the road . . . or years. If you decide to do this, share this desire with your spouse, friend, or pastor so that you have accountability and encouragement. Set an amount of time and follow through.
23. If you decide to leave Facebook, don’t make a dramatic announcement to accompany your exit. Just step away. If you think someone out there needs to know, tell them privately. Many people read big announcements like that with skepticism (which is sometimes warranted) or as an attack on others’ decision to be on Facebook (which it sometimes is). The point of leaving is not to draw attention or to cause others to feel judged but to get yourself into a healthy situation.
Many more thoughts could be given, but I pray that these are helpful to you in your journey to navigate the jungle of Facebook. I generally do not allow comments on my posts, but am allowing them here because if you have any additional points of wisdom, I would love to hear them.