How to Stay Out of Trouble on Facebook (and other Social Media)

In a world where we want others to tolerate us and mind their own business, we like to indulge in one element of society that invites the complete opposite. There are things we won’t say to our friends, our parents, our boss, or even people we don’t like, but we post it on the internet for the world to see.

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It still amazes me how often people are surprised when others take what might seem personal and make it a global catastrophe. “I didn’t mean that,” they say. “I’m entitled to my opinion.” “I’m just venting.” Social media is both inviting and dangerous, and we need to think about what we post or respond to.

We can get into a lot of trouble on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. It can affect our employment, our chances of renting an apartment, and it can cause trouble even in your church life.

You might think it strange, but I require our church members who are on Facebook or Twitter to add the church’s and my personal profiles to their friends/following lists. I do this for several reasons:

  • To keep people informed. If you are on one of these sites, chances are that you check it often. You get alerts on your smartphone, and it’s the last thing you look at before you go to bed. One way to keep you up to date on what’s going at church is to keep you virtually connected.
  • To speak into their lives. Facebook and Twitter are often the first place we talk about what is going on in our lives. As a pastor, I can check through posts and see how people are doing during the day. They might need a kind word, the posting of a verse, or just a Happy Birthday message.
  • To keep an eye people. That’s right, Pastor is watching. Why? Because your social profiles are your point of contact with the world. What you say about God, church, your pastor, and live in general, all influence how people who do and don’t know Jesus see you and the God that you serve. If I have to confront someone about what they post (and I have), I prefer to do it privately and not as part of the discussion, unless I can do it quickly and without causing harm.

Maybe you have posted online and seen your single, personal thought turn into a battle of words that are often harsh and brutal. Let me share a few things to remember about social media posting that can help keep you out of those situations.

  • Social media is not private. Another way I’ve said is, “Facebook is not a diary.” You can’t hide it under your bed with a little golden lock to keep everyone out of it. When someone gets noticed and pulled into a heated discussion, they like to say that they are entitled to their opinion or just venting. That is not what social media is for. If you want to have private, personal thoughts, buy a journal.
  • Social media is about interaction. Why are people shocked when others comment on their posts? Did they think everyone would just scroll past it like billboards on the highway? Social media is designed as a mode of interaction. To post something live on the internet is an invitation for others to comment on what you have written.
  • Social media is honest. Did you post pictures about the parties you went to between Christmas and New Year’s, and then try to post something spiritual on Monday morning? With a quick scan of your timelines and photos, people can see what is truly important to you and who you really are.
  • Social media is instant. All too often we think that we can go back and delete or hide something once we have hit the post button. Sometimes it only takes the fifteen seconds between you realizing what you’ve said and trying to delete it to get around the world and hurt someone.

Be careful. Draw boundaries to keep yourself safe. Think before you type. Know that sometimes you might really want to post something (or respond to a post), but it is better to leave it alone.

Talk Back

How have you created boundaries for yourself on social media? How did you realize you had to it? (In other words, was it preventative, or did you have to learn the hard way?”)

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2 thoughts on “How to Stay Out of Trouble on Facebook (and other Social Media)

  1. For those looking for more explanation of my policy for church members and social media, here is a reply I wrote for someone recently:

    “I hope that you read the entire article, and did not just single out this one paragraph. This is the third piece of a section why I have people add me to Facebook, the first being to keep them informed, and the second to be able to speak into their lives. Each of those comes before watching what people post.

    “Also, I don’t just sit on my computer all day and watch Facebook. In fact, as I told someone else who asked me about this … I am not really on Facebook much at all. If I hear from someone else, though, that something has been posted, that is when I will check on someone’s page.

    “Why do I do this? As I say in the article: ‘What you say about God, church, your pastor, and live in general, all influence how people who do and don’t know Jesus see you and the God that you serve.’ Each member [of our church] commits to the following lines in the Membership Covenant: ‘I will protect the unity of my church’ and ‘I will support the testimony of my church.’ In the digital age, there is really no better way to monitor this than to be part of people’s online community.

    “Is it an invasion of privacy? Nope. Each person on Facebook has settings they can take advantage of to control their privacy. But if someone is claiming to follow Christ and live for Him and His glory, what do they have to hide?

    “The article also says that ‘I require’ not ‘our church requires.’ It is a personal choice I have made, which I explain in the membership class. If someone has an issue with it, we can talk about it. It is not a true requirement of membership according to the church’s constitution and bylaws.”

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