By Corey A. Hemmerich
The type of connections Facebook offers are often shallow, instant, and vastly public.
The lure of Facebook is undeniable. Users share pictures, videos, instant chats, public messages, private messages, even games—what more could you want? Well, maybe some actual communication. You know, the meaningful kind. The kind we, as the church, are supposed to be about.
Here to Stay
According to marketing analysis corporation Nielsen, Facebook is the most preferred social media on the Internet, trouncing the popularity of Blogger, Twitter, WordPress, MySpace, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Typepad, Yahoo Pulse, and Wikipedia. Even the emerging Google Plus stands in the shadows of the highly developed technologies of Facebook. With advertising dollars spent in reflection of these trends, Facebook stands on firm financial ground, at least for now.
Reflecting the Culture
Despite its popularity, Facebook is sympto-matic of our disconnected culture. Many people who feel disconnected from the world around them are looking for that connection online. The problem is that the type of connections Facebook offers are often shallow, instant, and vastly public. In the past, Christians talked with one another face-to-face and at length over serious personal issues. Today we text and Facebook and tweet about it, and we get mad when no one seems to understand or care.
Recently a friend of mine mentioned twice on her Facebook page that she had been sick. Two weeks later I learned she was angry that no one had come by to help her. She was so angry she had a meeting with her minister, who gently reminded her she could have picked up the phone and called the church.
Our digital social feelers don’t even come close to the depth of relationship humankind was created for. But many are so isolated and overcommitted they feel they have no time or energy left for genuine human relationships. When we think about asking for or offering help, we can easily feel overwhelmed.
New Problems for Youth
As the wife of a youth minister for the last nine years, I have often felt concern about the rise and normalization of Facebook. I recently had to inform parents that their daughter had posted pictures of herself at a binge drinking party, which she had cleverly hidden from her family. Although this mother was “friends” with her daughter on Facebook, the site’s privacy controls allowed the daughter to block her family from seeing specific posts, groups, and photos. Parents beware; being friends with your child on Facebook doesn’t always give you the information you seek.
Likewise, sexual predation has gained new subtlety in a media commonly used by American teens. Sexual predators are required by law to register with the towns in which they live, but no such registration is required on Facebook. While most people using Facebook simply create a single account with their real names, there is no validation process to ensure that this is so. I know a Facebook user named “Soda Snuffalufagus.” I can assure you that is not his real name. I also have several friends whose plants, dogs, and hermit crabs have Facebook accounts.
While Facebook encourages users only to “friend” people they actually know in real life, among teenagers the trend is rather to amass as many Facebook friends as possible. More friends equals more status among adolescents.
In most cases, all of these friends have unlimited access to the personal information the user has entered, often including phone numbers, home address, e-mail address, IM name, place of work, blog and other social media accounts, and worst of all, the user’s photos and videos. Unless the individual user specifically blocks access, friends of one user can access the photos of that user’s friends. This means that if I’m friends with you on Facebook, I can see your Aunt Mathilda’s photos, even if she’s never become “friends” with me.
Most teens, particularly girls, think it’s cool and desirable to post beautiful and even provocative photos of themselves on their Facebook sites. Most teens do not feel the need to block access to their photos, and do not restrict themselves to “friending” people they have actually met in real life. They’ve told me, “Oh yeah, they messaged me, they seemed nice, and they were attractive, so I added them as my friend on Facebook.” This means most teens are at a high risk of sexual predation and vulnerability on Facebook.
In the end, Facebook is no more evil than any other human invention. It is simply used by fallen humans. It is not wrong to use Facebook, though undoubtedly we will all stumble in this digital world. To answer the problems presented by Facebook, here are several scriptural guidelines to help us.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Despite my strong cautions regarding sexual predation, I would not recommend prohibiting your teenage children from using Facebook once they reach the required age of 13. While this is a parent’s prerogative, I feel it is better to allow your child to use Facebook while taking hold of the teaching opportunities Facebook presents. Allowing your children to set up a Facebook account and requiring that you log in together on occasion could be a valuable way to get inside their world and teach them. Keep in mind that the key is to build trust and not exasperation, and to get hold of their hearts—not to be punitive.
If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:16). If you are browsing on Facebook and see a need, be willing to act on it. If you are unable to act on a specific need and want to pray for someone, don’t merely post your desire on the Facebook page; pick up the phone and pray with the person if possible. Be willing to follow-up. If you say you will pray, do it.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19). While using Facebook, you will read comments other people have written that are pretty reprehensible. Responding publicly on their Facebook page does not encourage holiness, either in them or in you. If you are troubled by what someone has said on Facebook, approach the person privately about the issue, at least by phone and possibly in person. If you feel you must address the issue immediately, at least do so in a private inbox message.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1). Most likely, some of your comments on Facebook will be misunderstood or outright wrong. When someone challenges you, speaking with gentleness and humility will help diffuse Facebook arguments. E-arguments can quickly become confrontational and mean spirited. Respond with as much grace as you can.
The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint (Proverbs 17:27). When considering what to say on Facebook, think about how it will be received. Picture yourself saying it while standing in front of your entire church. What you say on Facebook really is that public.
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Luke 6:45). What is in your heart is going to come out, no matter how hard you may try to live righteously. In the end, this can be a great blessing to us. Much like the discipline of fasting, Facebook can allow us to see the muck in our own hearts so we can bring it to the cross in repentance and humility. Let your use of Facebook speak to you about the condition of your heart, and then act on what you see in prayer.
Corey A. Hemmerich is a freelance writer in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Resources for Keeping Kids Safe Online
• CNN’s look at how to keep your kids safe online
• Websites that keep you up-to-date so you can keep your kids safe:
Christian alternatives to Facebook: