[Originally posted on August 2, 2015]
By Jacob Toman and Michael Mendis
This is the first article in a three-part series discussing our interactions with people online, which is a huge part of our modern culture and a critical aspect of our ministry to gamers. Our goal in this series is for you, our readers, to be better equipped to interact with others online in a Christ-like manner.
In this first article, Jacob (G&G Lead Missionary) and Michael (G&G Content Director) each tackle several questions relating to social media sites, specifically Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The second article, written by Jacob, will focus on gaming-centric interactions (over programs like Skype, Teamspeak, Xbox Live, or PlayStation Network).
The third article, written by Michael, will focus on email, as well as on the wider marketplace of ideas, namely forums and comment sections.
What are some attractive aspects of social media?
Stay in Touch
One particular advertisement I read in 2012 for a particular social media site said “Reconnect with old friends from elementary & high school”. The promise of potential connections with friends from long lost decades provides the opportunity to maintain networks from our past, while extending an individual's current social circle. This is attractive because it allows us to share pictures, events, and moments with far away family and friends. Our relationships now can extend as far as an internet connection.
Stay in the Know
Social media, in a strange way, both allows for more consumption of material, and for consumers to become propagators of information. Consumers become proselytes of information. This is attractive because it allows us to quickly have access to events around the world. Think back to major events in the last year, major news in politics, religion, sports, and personal interest. Did you first hear about them on a television, newspaper, or through social media? Once you did have access to a story, did you see others interacting with a particular story via social media? In a way, social media gives everyone a microphone in an already crowded room.
Stay in the Loop
Similarly to staying in touch and staying in the know is staying in the loop. Social media allows for information to travel at unprecedented speeds through a network of individuals. This means that not only can we share information about politics, religion, beliefs, and opinions quickly, but we can also observe others' information very quickly. Changes in relationship status have given birth to language like “is it facebook official?”, “hashtag” and “is it cool to tag you in this picture?”. These situations have never arisen in the digital medium before. Not only do we stay in touch, and stay in the know with a larger network, but we also have the ability to stay in the loop concerning the everyday lives of others.
Michael: In my opinion one of the best aspects of social media is that it allows you to easily keep in contact with people and share your life with them, even if you don’t live anywhere near them. Whether it’s an old friend from college, a friend from church, or even someone you met through some aspect of social media (like a Facebook group, for example), social media lets you stay in touch with people you care about from anywhere in the world.
Social media is also a great place for businesses, charities, churches, and other communities to advertise their products or upcoming events. It’s easy to disseminate information to a wide variety of people, whether it’s your store’s business hours or the location of your kid’s birthday party.
What are some ways you’ve seen social media used well?
Jacob: I’ve seen three great uses of social media: relationships, promotion, and networking. Distance in relationships (romantic and unromantic) has always been something of a challenge. Throughout most of human history relationships are between individuals who can and do have regular face to face contact with one another. With the proliferation of literacy distance became a challenge for those who were unable to communicate via the written medium. Social media takes pen pal relationships to the next level, to the point that whole sections of the internet are dedicated to developing and finding new connections for relationships, dating, and potential marriage candidates.
Our entire ministry at Gospel & Gaming started with distance based online relationships with gamers through playing League of Legends online. Those friendships carried over and were confirmed through social media. Social media doesn’t replace face to face interaction, but it does allow for a greater amount of interaction between people separated over great distances.
Social media empowers event hosts, coordinators, businesses, and all sorts of people to spread news quickly. This means the release of products, services, and events can be assimilated by consumers and then quickly spread through the digital method of word of mouth. Events can quickly be shared among several types of networks. The success of events promoted on social media certainly leads to the continual use as a method of promotion. In this way, the proliferation of promotion via social media is directly tied to the success of events promoted by social media.
Lastly I’ve seen social media used well for networking. The old proverb “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has never been more applicable than in today’s digital era. Personally I’ve gotten to know hundreds of individuals through various forms of social media that I otherwise would have zero connections to establish a line of communication. Jobs are shared, position descriptions can be uploaded and posted quickly, and in a matter of minutes someone can go from having no knowledge about a position or opportunity, to submitting paperwork for a position.
Michael: We at Gospel & Gaming have used social media in a number of ways. We advertised our Nerd in the New Year event on Facebook last year, and we share our new articles on social media sites as well. Also in the gaming world, some prominent game industry executives (most notably Microsoft’s Phil Spencer and Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida) use twitter as a way to communicate with fans and answer people's’ questions.
What are some temptations that accompany social media?
Jacob: I think there are at least three particular temptations that lead to sin within social media: Unhealthy use of Time (preoccupation), Unhealthy engagement in relationships (Obsession), and Unhealthy discussions (quarreling).
I first mention time as an unhealthy temptation in social media. The challenge for each of us is that there is no Biblical passage that determines the exactly amount (numerically speaking) of “godly” time engaging social media. For me, if I’m not interacting with unbelievers on social media, I’m actually not doing my job. For others, perhaps interacting on social media is actually an avoidance of God sanctioned work. Time is a temptation as it relates to a wasting of time. Time spent well on social media is a good thing, but good things in excess are terrible.
Secondly I’ve witnessed how certain individuals can become obsessed with gathering information or following the lives of others. This isn’t always in a romantic setting (although we may often think of such settings typical for stalker like behavior), sometimes it comes through a parent desiring to live vicariously through a child, or a friend wanting to spend more time with another friend. Because social media is available as long as there is internet, individuals can quickly become obsessive about the lives of others.
The last temptation to mention is the most public and frequently observed.
Quarrels arise quickly, and sometimes even accidentally via written communication. The ecosystem of digital communication via social media is ripe for miscommunication. In a place where people of all ages, backgrounds, beliefs, and unique aspects mix, there is bound to be some confusion, followed by controversy. Factoring all of these inputs into the equation of allowable social interactions on the internet leads to the conclusion that opportunities for quarreling ought to be expected.
Michael: One of the temptations of social media is its addictive nature. It can be really easy to get caught up in following all the latest Tweets and Facebook posts of your friends and favorite personalities, and let that consume much of your time.
Another temptation is to use social media as a diary, where you can say anything you want and express your feelings on any matter, no matter how sensitive or controversial. This can have serious consequences; if you are not careful with what you say, friendships can be ruined or job opportunities can be lost, as your words spread from social media to the far corners of the internet. (Interestingly, this danger can also make social media one of the best places online to discuss difficult topics; since anything you say here is public, you have incentive to speak with kindness and restraint that you might not use in a forum or comment section, where you are afforded more anonymity).
What are some ways you’ve seen social media misused?
Jacob: I’ve seen examples of each of the above mentioned temptations, both in my own uses of social media (particularly Facebook) and in observing others. I’ll just share this one story and two suggestions.
While sharing at a church in Michigan about Gospel & Gaming, a mother in the middle row of the church, sitting with three children asked, “I’m just worried about the amount of time my children and my family spend on the computer”. In general, we advise that time with an intricate tool like a computer should grow and expand with the skill and age of the individual using it. I’m not currently teaching my 3 year old daughter how to skin an animal. For her, knives are a dangerous thing, only usable by mommy and daddy. When I or my wife are using a knife, we use it to cut away fat from meat, chop vegetables, or slice bread. It would be inappropriate to use the knife as a shovel, a remote control, or a pencil. The same should be said for our time with social media. If you find yourself using time on social media ask yourself the following:
*Is there anything else I ought to be engaged in right now? (not---could be doing, but ought to be doing)
*Why do I want to be using social media right now? (If you aren’t able to answer why you’re engaging in this use of social media, maybe get off social media to your next goal for the day)
Michael: One prominent example of the dangers of social media is the case of Adam Orth, former game director at Microsoft. In the months leading up to the announcement of the Xbox One, rumors swirled that Microsoft’s new console would have an onerous internet requirement (which it turns out was true, until Microsoft changed course later in the year), and in an exchange with a friend on Twitter, Orth stated that people who didn’t want an “always on” console should just “#dealwithit”, and made a joke at the expense of people who live in small towns with poor internet connections.
Orth’s Tweets went viral, being picked up by many gaming news outlets, and while Orth later said that he only spoke in jest to troll his friend, the damage was done. Gamers were furious and Microsoft was forced to publicly apologize for Orth’s words. Orth left Microsoft, and temporarily had to pull down his LinkedIn page due to death threats.
How does a biblical worldview inform or influence Christian use of social media?
Jacob: To me, three aspects of biblical Christianity are needed to guide us in our use of social media. Two verses in particular help guide interactions - both in face to face life, and in screen mediated communication.
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'
*Love the Lord in your social media use!
What does this look like to love God through your use of social media? Chances are, when we log into twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, we aren’t thinking “how am I loving God through my activity on social media today”. I challenge you: ask yourself, what are you using social media for? To encourage someone, to lift up a friend, to share truth, to build a Christ centered relationship, to learn more about what God is doing through your network? These are tough questions, but I hope they are questions that can lead us to engage social media with the Love of God as our focus.
*Love your neighbor in your social media use!
What does this look like to love your neighbor when you log in to social media? For me a big part of loving my neighbor in my social media usage is being careful and aware of pictures. I’m not always allowed to post pictures from events that I attend, or host. Recently I was consulting at an event that I had to sign a Non-disclosure agreement just to be on the premises. Loving my neighbor for me often means respecting the privacy of others. This means my pictures often have hands, arms, and games and are noticeably missing faces. It’s one small area in which I can love my neighbor to respect their privacy and not distribute their picture amongst a group of people they may not know.
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:15
*Share the gospel with Gentleness and Respect
It’s easy to “BIBLE BOMB” on social media. You’ve seen it happen, and perhaps you’ve done it, I know I have. I’ll read something in my Bible, or hear a particular verse, or be reminded of a memory verse throughout the course of a day, and I’ll go to share it with others via social media. This isn’t a bad thing. But it’s one thing to share a Bible verse, and it’s another thing to be prepared in the context of social media to give a defense for faith. Chances are high that you have members of your social media circle who do not share your faith. Are you prepared to, as the apostle Peter said give a “ἀπολογία” for the reason for your hope? I think social media affords us Christians all sorts of opportunities to share the hope of Christ Jesus; we shouldn’t shrink from these opportunities, but rather be seeking them out to listen and be attentive to where the Lord is opening doors for gospel centered discussions. In these opportunities, gentleness and respect are two descriptors that should mark our dialogue and attitudes. I fear that often, these opportunities for sharing hope, become bickering matches.
Michael: When thinking about how we as Christians are to interact with people online (in any way), I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 that we are to be salt and light to the world. As it relates to social media, I feel that the analogy of being a light, a city on a hill, is particularly applicable, as social media is a place where we (usually) put our real name and face before the world. The people we interact with on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram know who we are. There is no cover of anonymity here, and that isn’t a bad thing; rather, it’s an opportunity for us to let the light of Christ shine openly through our words and our lives.