Every Wednesday an American TV talk show host tweets out a hashtag with a category like: #iusedtothink, #worstgiftever, and #misheardlyrics. When viewers see that week’s topic, they tweet funny stories back to him based on that theme.
Here are a few examples from some of his fans:
#iusedtothink the asterisk on the phone dialing pad was a snowflake my parents used to call Santa to tell him when I was being naughty.
#worstgiftever a $25 Starbucks Gift card… The balance was only $10
When I was young, I thought The Lion King started with “PENNSYLVANIA!” #misheardlyrics
There’s no denying it; social media is everywhere. And it is really fun! My kids tweet constantly. My parents are on Facebook more than I am. Thanks to my smartphone I spend most of my waking hours plugged in to a steady flow of information and commentary. Many of us check in each morning shortly after our eyes pop open and sign off every night just before we fall asleep. Social media has become a primary means of communicating and sharing life.
These powerful communication tools haven’t merely changed the way we connect and communicate; they’ve changed the way we experience community itself. With the touch of a button, at any time, from almost anywhere, we can share information. We can relate thoughts and experiences with people who may be hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
Trading a pen and paper for a smartphone, tablet, or computer has certainly made communication quicker and easier, but such convenience isn’t always helpful. Like everything, social media has its own set of problems. Sometimes words and images are not carefully thought through before sending them out for the whole world to see.
The good and the bad of social media were on display recently when a peaceful, but snowy evening at our home was suddenly thrown into chaos by two screaming teenage boys. What caused their emotional eruption? This tweet from our school district’s superintendent:
Joe Superintendent @joesupertweets · Jan 26
Due to the continuing extreme winter weather conditions ******* Public Schools will be closed tomorrow. Enjoy yet another day off of school!
With all the running around and shouting one would have thought this was the first time school had been cancelled . . . ever. Several minutes later, after the snow-day euphoria had ebbed a bit, our phone rang with a cancellation notice. That was an eye-opening moment. In the time it took a computer to call our house with an automated message, Twitter had already shared the information simultaneously with hundreds of people and spawned hundreds of additional tweets from students:
#joesupertweetsistheBomb this had better trend
No clean pants…no school…no problems #pjday
No school? Yus. #extendedwinterbreak2k15
This is the great side of social media—sharing a moment together. Building a community, a cyber-community. Social media is just that, social. Through it we build and strengthen (yes, even begin) relationships by sharing the moments of our lives with each other. We can laugh and cry with friends and loved ones, even if we can’t be together in person.
Most of these tweets were clever, timely, and fun. They did exactly what social media is supposed to do. But not everyone seemed to remember that Twitter is a public forum. Many tweets that night were not fit for public viewing.
Some were laced with profanity. Others questioned the intelligence of the administration for canceling school. It was the good and the bad of social media.
As my phone announced each tweet and post via an assortment of beeps, chimes, and whistles I found myself wondering: What would Jesus tweet? Would He have social media accounts? And if He did, what would He say and share? How would He relate to his “friends” and “followers” and to those who disagreed with Him?
Pondering questions like these led to other questions—questions about my tweets, posts, and comments. If Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God, then shouldn’t His actions and attitudes serve as a guide and example for every area of my life—even my use of social media?
When responding to questions like these, it’s easy to slip into rules-and-regulations mode, into viewing everything as black and white. We may be tempted to make blacklists and set up moral walls to keep the “good” in and the “evil” out.
But we’re not trying to write a manual to govern social media behavior. Behavior management never produces real and lasting change. Rules may work for a while, but they don’t change who we are, and eventually, who we are will show up on our wall or in our feed. We need to get to the heart of the issue.
We’re attempting to paint a picture of representing Jesus well in our digital spaces.
Some might object that this effort is purely based on conjecture. After all, Jesus never owned a computer, tablet, or smartphone.
You’re right! And if this were only about technology, we would have a problem applying Scripture’s wisdom to our Facebook posts and Twitter feeds. But the struggles we face with social media are not new. They are ancient problems showing up in new ways. Every time a new technology comes along—whether television or radio or the printing press or even writing itself—followers of Jesus have been forced to think about how best to interact with and use those advances. So while it’s true that Jesus said nothing about technology, He had quite a bit to say about how people relate, communicate, and love.
Even though the Scriptures might not provide specific answers for questions like “What would Jesus tweet?” and “How would He use social media?” they offer us something far better. They give us a clear view of Jesus. They tell us who He was, why He came, what He did and taught, and how He changed everything.
That is what this booklet is about. The Christian’s participation in social media is not a technology issue, it is a communication issue and ultimately a heart issue. It’s about relationships, not smartphones. And the Bible has a great deal to say about relationships—and about our hearts.