Here are five reasons I need to be careful with Facebook. The idea for all of them came from Tim Chester’s brilliant little book ‘Will You Be My Facebook Friend?‘
I don’t always fall into the trap that these potential dangers set. But it’s difficult not to. And so I do need to navigate my online life with a fair degree of caution.
1. Facebook allows me to portray a distorted image of myself
The harsh facts of the matter are that most of us are quite dull. And we live very ordinary lives. And that’s true of me. But Facebook offers me the chance to change all that. It allows us to present an edited version of who I am and the type of life that I lead. On Facebook I am my own spin doctor. I get to decide what version of myself I portray. I select what I post. Tim Chester says we are all ‘presenting upbeat propaganda versions of our own lives’. And that’s true, isn’t it? We don’t post all the photos we’ve got of ourselves, do we? Just the ones we want to be seen. We don’t write down everything that we think or say, do we? Just the stuff we want to be read. And when we find ourselves somewhere exciting one of the first things we want to do is not enjoy what’s going on but take a picture of what’s going on so that everyone else knows what we’re doing! My life looks much more exciting online than it does in reality.
2. Facebook allows me to exercise dominion in my own world
Social media is a place where I’m in control of my social environment. Facebook allows me to gather in one place, a virtual world, all the people that I want. Facebook calls them friends. But essentially it’s my audience. And even assuming that they are all close personal acquaintances, it would be nearly impossible to gather all of them in one place in the real world. The closest I’ve come to that is my wedding and my thirtieth birthday. And in this virtual gathering of all my nearest and dearest, I’m centre stage. It’s my world. And each one of us inhabits our own world where we’re very much at the centre of what’s going on. And when we post, we’re encouraged to think that everything in the world is in fact revolving around us. I’m in control of what happens. For example, Facebook is usually not a place in which a conversation takes place with very different people. It’s a place where my friends have been gathered to look at me and admire me for who I am and what I have to say. But how very different is real life in a church family. As Tim Challies has pointed out,
‘God has placed you together with the people in your congregation. You did not choose them: God chose them. And that diversity of personalities, backgrounds, social class and ethnicities is used by God to make you grow in Christ and to display the unifying power of the cross. But in cyberspace you are God. You choose who will be in community with you. You create your own communities of convenience that mean you are never challenged. Or, if you are challenged or relationships become costly, you can just scuttle off to a new relationship. As a result we never grow up. We are permanently immature’.
3. Facebook allows me to seek approval from other people
Facebook is biased. There’s no ‘dislike’ button. It’s all so affirming and positive. And being who I am, I get a perverse sense of satisfaction from saying something negative or inappropriate on Facebook simply because it’s not allowed. I usually get admonished for it. Invariably by the wife of a former colleague. But most of us thrive on the positivity we receive from posting the latest picture of ourselves or our kids. We feel good about ourselves because others have rated us and indicated that they have with a ‘thumbs up’. That sort of approach to life encourages us to make assessments of who we are by what others make of us. For example, if my personal blog receives thousands of hits, I can feel very influential. It doesn’t. And I don’t. And if my picture receives hundreds of ‘likes’ then I can approach the day with a spring in my step. I rank myself through the lens of others’ approval. When I get it, I’m fine. When I don’t, I’m not. It can encourage horizontal comparison. I know people who refuse to use Facebook because of FOMO; the fear of missing out. They’re worried that they’ll spend the time wondering why they’ve not been invited to a party, or why they weren’t at the event where all the happy, smiley people are pictured drinking cocktails. Tim Chester puts it this way,
I am defined by other people’s gaze, what they make of my face. The Bible calls that the fear of man. Our overriding concern should be what God thinks of me. But instead my concern is what other users of social media think of me. It is their approval that matters.
4. Facebook allows me to be satisfied with shallow relationships
At the last count, I think I have 761 friends. That’s nonsense. Inevitably with most of those people I have nothing more than a superficial acquaintance. They’re not my friends, though we’re almost always friendly. But by not having to live with the limitations of a body which places me in one place at one time, social media allows me to have access to all of my friends all of the time. But those friendships are usually superficial, unlike the real face to face ones. And the danger is that if I spend all my time online interacting with my online friends, I won’t form the deep kinds of friendships that we need as human beings. Chester speaking timely wisdom once again,
Your idolatries, your selfishness, your struggles are never seen. Instead a lot of people get the sanitized version of you. Moreover most of us praise in public and rebuke in private. So, because Facebook is a public medium, people are generally going to make positive comments. Challenges to our behaviour are left unsaid. Facebook is a place to hide from real relationships.
5. Facebook allows me to escape to a less demanding world
In the real world, people make demands on me, my time, my resources and so on. But not online. My disembodied life online is a far less demanding place to inhabit than the real world. And so it’s tempting to run away and escape to an easier life for a few hours a day. But all I’m doing is temporarily suspending reality. Soooner or later I’ll need to come back to the real world. Tim Chester issued this challenge,
‘Men should be taking responsibility in their homes, workplaces, churches or neighbourhoods. But many young men today are spending hours on their Xbox and never really growing up. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with computer games. But many of us are playing with toys when we could be taking risks for Christ’s kingdom or leading the way in new gospel initiatives. Our culture encourages men not to grow up. It says: ‘Think of yourself as ten years younger than you are and you will be happy’. So men are spending evenings playing Halo when they could be serving in their youth group or moving into a needy area to serve Christ. They are opting for the pseudo-machismo of the virtual warrior rather than risk becoming warriors in the real spiritual battle’
I could spend ages preeening my Facebook profile so that I look good to my online friends. Or I could spend some time in the company of my friends doing good. But the better option of the two requires more effort. And self sacrifice hurts.
There you go. Five reasons to be careful about what and why you post on your Facbook account. And before you say it, I am aware of the irony of promoting this blog on Facebook!