Social Media: Vain Distractions or Community Building Tools?
by Sandra Reimer
Listening to a recent sermon, I was bothered when the speaker disparagingly remarked that social media are all about vanity. As Christians, I think we can sometimes be too suspicious of new things and miss out on opportunities to build community and share our faith.
Let me tell you about two social media platforms I use regularly—Twitter and Facebook—and how I have seen them used in positive ways.
On Twitter, I mainly follow local people who share my interests. This is partly so that I can relate to a manageable number of people and because I want to have an impact on my community. A respected Christian family in my region of Ontario recently experienced a tragedy. Their thirteen year old daughter Lydia was struck by a garbage truck as she got off her school bus in and ended up in a coma.
Before the event was reported on the radio, TV, or in the newspaper I heard about it on Twitter. I was able to pray right away. As the family walks the difficult journey of helping Lydia recover, our community is watching. People continue to support the family with good wishes, a lime-green ribbon “pray for Lydia” campaign, and fundraisers. As Lydia’s parents blog about their experience, the community gets to see how Christian parents handle a horrific situation with grace and forgiveness. People regularly share links to the blog on Facebook and Twitter, in this way a message of hope travels faster and further than it may have otherwise.
There are approximately 845 million active Facebook users, including many youth. In fact, a good proportion of young people use Facebook the way earlier generations used the telephone. My 15-year-old son rarely calls anyone to hang out; he uses Facebook and texts on his cellphone instead. Many youth pastors connect with youth on Facebook, letting them know about events and commenting on important things happening in the teens’ lives.
The Equipping Pastor at our church is an avid Facebook user. Kevin is great at connecting with people in person and he uses Facebook to extend his caring. He often stops by my Facebook page and comments on the latest thing my family is doing. When he sees me at church, he asks about our vacation or how my daughter did in her soccer tournament. His Facebook use does not replace face-to-face contact but it does enhance it.
Social media can also be used very directly for faith-based activities. I follow a pastor on Twitter who posts encouraging and challenging messages and hosts Twitter chats about faith topics.
These examples barely scratch the surface of the potential to connect, influence, and build community through social media. Can social media be a vain distraction that limits person-to-person relationships? For sure, but so can watching television, playing video games, working too much etc. In the end, I believe modes of communication are neutral—it’s the heart behind the Facebook profile that makes it vain not the communication tool.
The bottom-line is that social media are not going away (even if Facebook and Twitter wane). I think we would be wise to determine how to relate as Christ followers in the sphere of social media. What if they turn out to be important vehicles that God uses to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth?
Sandra Reimer helps Vision Ministries Canada and other organizations with their communication. A version of this article was first published in the Mennonite Brethren Herald. You can connect with Sandra on Twitter at www.twitter.com/canworldchange. Find Vision Ministries on Facebook.
Primer on Twitter
Globally there are about 127 million active Twitter users. On Twitter you create a mini profile, no longer than 160 characters, outlining your interests. Then you publicly post your thoughts and links to information you want to highlight. Twitter provides a good way to meet new people. You follow people whose profiles attract your attention, listen to what they have to say, and interact with some of them. If you want to further the relationship, connect through email, Facebook, or even in person. Twitter is similar to a face-to-face professional networking event or a community gathering. www.twitter.com
Facebook in Brief
A Facebook profile usually contains more personal information. It is better for connecting with people you have actually met. Facebook could be compared to a family wedding, a church potluck, or a high school reunion. What would you say out loud (and not say) at any of these gatherings? That’s generally what is safe to post on Facebook. You also have the option to reveal more intimate thoughts and photos to smaller groups like your close family and friends. www.facebook.com
View an infographic with stats about a few of the top social media platforms