This article is part of Rooted’s 2019 student series, where young Christians share their experiences of faith in high school and college. Spencer Haynes is a May 2019 graduate of the University of Virginia.
Young people today are growing up in an environment saturated by social media. It feels impossible to go through middle school, high school, and college without feeling the effects of Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, among other platforms. Because of social media’s presence and the ease of its consumption, we should be asking ourselves: are we affecting the culture of social media or are we allowing the culture of social media to consume us?
Below are four questions regarding the dangers of social media that are important for the Christian to ask. They reveal much about our view of ourselves, others and even God, as we will explore together.
1.) Why are we posting content on social media?
Just the other day I saw a headline in the Wall Street Journal (hey, I’m just as shocked as you that a college student was reading the paper and I was the one doing it!) entitled, “Instagram Turns Obscure U.S. Sights Into Social-Media Destinations.” In short, the article highlights the lengths people, particularly young people, will go to for an Instagram photo/Facebook post, with people nearly killing themselves to get the “perfect” post. These experiences are becoming less about the experiences themselves and more about the content that you can provide others via social media.
Herein lies a danger of social media. We create images for others and seek their approval for said image. It is relatively easy for us to subconsciously fall into this trap of looking for the approval of others rather than focusing on God, whose approval is the only one we need. When we search for the approval of others, we will eventually find ourselves empty and hurting; however, when we seek God and his approval, we find ourselves known and loved in a way that transcends all human relationship.
Out of shame and guilt, we run from God and knock at other people’s doors instead. When we do so, we are missing the point and taking for granted just how much our God cares for us. Consider: Because Jesus values you, he, who was perfect in every ounce of the word, gave his life up for yours, so that you may have a new life and enter into a relationship with God. Knowing how deeply God cares for us helps us reconsider how hard we work to gain the approval of others.
2.) What does our content say about us?
We might have addressed the “approval of others” aspect of social media, but the “creating images for others,” deserves our attention too. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he encourages the Christians “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:23, HCSB). The language of putting on the “new self” conveys that Christians have a new identity, one that is found in Christ. If we are supposed to be looking more like Christ, our social media profiles should resemble him, too. Therefore, when we post on social media, we must ask ourselves how our post affects the image of God, because we are reflections of Him.
3.) How does social media make us feel inadequate?
As I adjusted to a new life during my freshman year of college, I found myself looking at Instagram to see what my high school friends were up to. As I did so, I could not help but feel that they seemed to be acclimating much better than I did. Their smiles did not equate to the loneliness I felt. That being said, I was scared to admit that I was not adjusting as well as the people I knew. My loneliness became parasitic, and it truly wasn’t until my sophomore year that things really turned around and I started enjoying myself and the intense feelings of isolation subsided.
I’ve shared versions of the above story with many people, and something that I’ve found out from sharing this story, and from hearing other people tell their own, is that they too have had difficult times their freshman year. It does not matter where you go to college, if it’s 800 miles away or 8 minutes away, transitioning to college can be tough. I’m convinced social media plays a large factor. There is an unspoken pressure that we glean from social media posts that college is supposed to be nothing short of incredible (which it can be at times). Therefore, if we feel like it is less than incredible (which it also can be), then it is not anyone’s fault but our own.
At the time I didn’t realize that our social media posts are mostly a projection of our best selves or who we would like to be. Because of our desire to be known, we often use social media to do exactly that. Through social media, we find ourselves on the losing end of a comparison game, because we are imperfect and things always look a little brighter in someone else’s photo stream. At the same time, God knows we are imperfect and loves us all the same. We are being sanctified, which is just a fancy way of saying we are being made more like Jesus, but we will not reach perfection on this side of heaven. God knows that, and it does not change the way he feels about us in the slightest.
4.) Can we do without social media?
This question seems odd. Can we escape social media? Well, yes and no. First, the yes. It’s not like Jesus found his disciples through His LinkedIn account. He was not verified on Twitter. He did not even have any modern technology. All of this is true. Jesus strikes me as a guy who would “hang up and hang out.” Luke tells us, “During those days He went out to the mountain to pray and spent all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12, HCSB). Jesus often sought solitude away from the busyness with God, and he understood the value of time alone with God and how much we need it. (Matthew 14:25, Luke 4:1-2, Luke 6:12-13).
Nevertheless, a downright dismissal of social media fails to alleviate the present problems. Jesus was someone who actively engaged with the culture around him, going out of his way to meet people where they were. Just as God’s love, grace, and goodness can be shared in person, or through the Word, it can be shared via social media too! When we realize the power we have, thanks to the Holy Spirit, the opportunities that social media creates are limitless.
For me, my favorite part about social media is when I see people being vulnerable with one another and then be treated with love and kindness by others. It is okay to talk about real things on social media. We were not meant to run this race alone, nor does God expect us to.