Stay Safe in Social Media

by MBG

It seems to me that many Christians are confused about the new social media trend we are witnessing online. The latest and greatest websites seem to all have a social networking element to them. Websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare are gaining millions of followers. I'd like to give some of my thoughts on social media and some of the safeguards I have put in place.

Social media is basically interaction with others through a form of media. An example is Facebook, where people connect socially with friends, relatives, and colleagues. Another is Twitter, where people broadcast short snippets of communication to whoever wants to see it. It seems that every day a new service pops up offering user connectivity and interaction.

Should a Christian participate in social media?

Let me start by saying that I see nothing inherently sinful about using social media. I mean, is it wrong to be social? Absolutely not! Does using technology change that? No.

As with anything that is not directly commanded or prohibited in the Scriptures, we must judge it by Scriptural principles. Can we use social media without damaging our testimony? Will it take us away from true priorities, such as family? Does it hold me back in Spiritual growth? Points such as these must be considered.

The question of whether or not to use social media is a personal one. You need to make an informed decision about it. It would also be wise to seek some counsel or advice on the subject. You can always quit using it if you change your mind.

Are there benefits in using social media?

I believe that are benefits you can gain from social media. One is purely social. We can stay connected with friends and loved ones on a regular basis through places like Facebook. I am able to keep up with friends from college that I otherwise may have completely lost contact with. In an instant we were able to share the news with our closest friends and family that our next child is going to be a girl.

There is also a growing trend of using social media as a resource. From help with homework to selling a lawn mower, there is a site that will help you connect with the answer to your problem. There are also many projects underway that are attempting to gauge things such as public interest through monitoring social media.

Social media is also an effective tool to reach masses of people. The 2008 Presidential Election here in the U.S. had people from all over the political spectrum creating new methods to propagate their message or mobilize their supporters. It is not uncommon for Twitter users to have thousands of followers. Facebook has over 500,000,000 users. All these people are social connected online. Ideas spread like wildfire through these social networks. You can reach countless people through social media.

My personal opinion is that we are just beginning to see the potential of social media sites. I'm not sure how large individual sites or services could grow, but I think the idea behind social media is here to stay even if there are many users spread across multiple providers. We could see a splintering or specialized services, or even a consolidation of services into a few monolithic sources. Either way, I am certain we will see social media use grow in user count and in frequency.

Are there dangers in using social media?

If most Christian leaders I hear were to write this article, this would be the only section. There are a great many dangers online. I think we have finally come to realize that, accept it, safeguard against it, and then go on using the Internet. Social media is not understood so it is denounced and avoided. It may take a few years, but I believe it will be accepted eventually. This will especially take place when someone really harnesses the power of social media behind their ministry and reaps its benefits. I'm talking about not just communicating to existing followers, but reaching multitudes of people in an effective way. Someone will be such an innovator and others will copy their success.

Scare tactics and tales aside, the world of social media can be a less than pristine place. No wonder, since humans are there and last time I checked they have issues. There are predators out there. There are perverted and corrupt things out there. There are utterly foolish wastes of time out there. Kind of mirrors the real world, doesn't it?

The online world to me is no different in theory than the real world. There are people I do not associate with, media I do not consume, and places I do not go. I do the same thing online. I am my own best safeguard. I can help maintain

Tips to Stay Safe

This list is far from exhaustive, but I feel that it will be a help to many people.

1. Assume you have no privacy or anonymity. You should do nothing online that you would not do in the middle of a public venue. If you wouldn't say it in public, don't post it online. If you don't want it getting out, don't let it out. Once something is posted online, such as a comment or picture, you lose all control over where it ends up. Even if you share something with a very close friend in an instant message, they can still easily copy and paste it and email it to everyone they know.

2. Take advantage of Privacy settings. Most sites allow you to lock down your information fairly well. It is not a great idea to be broadcasting to the world that you are going out of town. That's an open invitation to a burglar. You also want to ensure that things like your photos are not freely accessible.

3. Be accountable to someone. This is important especially if you are married, in which case your spouse is that someone. Nothing should be hidden from them. They should have access (passwords) to your logins. My wife and I know all of each other's passwords making it difficult to hide anything. If you are a younger person, make yourself accountable to a parent or other trusted adult.

4. Children have no business in social media. I've given it some thought and I do not think anyone under 18 years of age has any business on sites like Facebook. I don't think they even need their own email, just use of an openly used family account if any use at all.

5. Don't disclose too much. Many users of social media are entirely too open, from their images to their whereabouts to their comments. I think the less you publicly divulge the better.

6. Choose your friends wisely. I do not allow everyone I know, I have met, or those who simply ask to be connected with me on Facebook. I think the "friend" function of Facebook requiring both parties to accept is the best out there. There have been times that I have dropped a friend or two because of their actions online.

7. Do not have "friends" of the opposite sex. I believe this is the most important point on this list. I picked up this simple rule from a friend and my wife and I both abide by it, only giving close family exceptions.

8. Don't use the "two-for-one" account. You know what I am talking about, "Hubby-N-Wife Jones". I know this is the trend in Christian circles. I think it is a good idea for email, but not for social media. It is great for account holder, but it is horrible for your friends to interact with you. It makes my previous rule all but impossible to follow. I believe you will be much safer being completely open about your online activity and using the opposite sex rule above.

9. Post nothing that harms the image of Christ. This doesn't mean that everything has to be Scripture verses or inspirational quotes. It just means that you need to act and talk like a Christian even when online.

10. Use standard Internet security practices. Make sure your password is a strong one. Don't give out personal information on suspicious sites. Use anti-virus software. I could keep going...

11. Do not use social media on the job or during work hours. Keep business and pleasure separate. Don't give them a reason to fire you.

12. Keep it in balance. This is the biggest danger I see. People get so wrapped up in their online world that they neglect their families. Social media is not your life. It is something you do for the enjoyment of it... after your real life responsibilities are dealt with.