The world today operates on technology, whether we like it or not . . . communications, information and knowledge allride on the World Wide Web. In our digital era of smartphones and social media, it seems nearly everyone is suffering from communication overload. Less than 15 years ago, most ‘netizens’ had just one or two email accounts, texting was tedious and costly, and mobile phones were primarily used to make, well, phone calls!
“One of the great tragedies of social media is that it has given power to a lot of cowards.”
Today, it’s common for people to manage numerous social media accounts and email addresses. One recent estimate is that the average Internet user has seven social media accounts, excluding email. Chunky mobile phones have been replaced by pocket touch-screen computers that constantly jingle and buzz, pulling their owners away from face-to-face encounters with other human beings into a social networking vortex. And here is a reality check – a large number of those under the age of 40-ish do not use their cell phone to make calls, or even email.
While it is indeed handy to have your phone in your pocket, for many, the cell phone now has many another uses. Messaging is a primary means of communication. Messaging software allows pages and pages of information to be displayed on the cell phone screen. If we are uncomfortable texting, we will likely miss a lot of communication.
Experts recognize that while social networking has its benefits – professionally, personally, politically – it is also reshaping and “dumbing down” the ways we communicate with each other. Having so many forms of cheap and easy communication has overwhelmed our ability to thoughtfully interact online. Instead of taking the time to formulate a thoughtful reply to an online friend’s social media post, users tend to use an “emoji” or fire off a brief comment that conveys little more than acknowledgment, which can often be misunderstood or off-putting. Moreover, the 140-character limit of Twitter not only uses a series of abbreviations that many people don’t understand, but also, by use of those abbreviations, offers the probability of misunderstanding by the recipient.
Despite the negatives, we must remember social media is a marketing tool, and faith communities and other organizations have little choice but to get on the bandwagon. Over one billion people log into Facebook every day, and the average American is logged in for 40 minutes. We quite literally speak to more people via social media than we could ever reach otherwise.
Avoid social media pitfalls
Although there are positive aspects of technology and social media, there are also pitfalls unless we are aware of them and how to avoid them. We can learn to avoid the pitfalls and let all the positives of these tools work for us! When you are thinking of engaging in social media, here are a few questions you should ask yourself:
- Are you using social media to gain approval? Posting to get responses of approval can be addictive, escalating to more and more need for approval – a vicious cycle. Is the purpose to boast about your accomplishments, or even your failures or distresses in your life? Are you using social media as an adult ‘show-and-tell’? Not all moments need to be shared.
- Is your post/tweet kind? Freedom of speech is fundamental to the American life, but with it comes the responsibility to consider what impact a post may have on other people. We have replaced face-to-face confrontations with posts hiding behind an impersonal identity that does not allow the subjects to defend themselves. Posts can be misinterpreted, and the sender bears responsibility for the weight of the words or the impact of the message sent.
- Will the post be misunderstood? Some things will sound one way to those who know us, and another to those who don’t. There is no tone or inflection, so the most mundane comment may very well be misinterpreted and taken in a way it was not intended. Consider who is listening to what you’re saying. Readers are actually eavesdropping on what should be private conversations.
- Think carefully about controversy. The line between vigorous exchange of ideas and a kind of social war is sometimes thinner than we may think. What good is this particular controversy contributing to, or is it harmful? Will anyone be embarrassed or offended by what you’re saying?
- Are you posting when you should be taking action? Social media is a breeding ground for people with great intentions. But great intentions don’t change lives, action does. Posting a comment of agreement or adding substance to a post does not remove the responsibility for taking action on social justice issues. Posting lulls you into believing that talking about an issue and acting on it are equals. If you have no real desire to act on it, do not post.
Positive Use of Social Media
With some care, churches can use social media effectively.
- Share the Gospel! Church websites provide information about the church and its activities, and present sermons, blogs, videos and articles of interest to the faithful. Social media tends to be dark; churches can bring light and love to this world. The purpose of posts should be to educate, not proselytize or denigrate other faith traditions.
- Use blogs to provide the ability for discussions of faith, prayer requests and varied interpretations of the gospel. But be aware, that you cannot control the tone or outcome of the conversation.
- Keep the Facebook page and website updated, even if that means hiring a professional to do it. Out-of-date social media indicates that you are not serious about outreach, and are not interested in being relevant to the social media community. In the case of blogs, a monitored site is critical; this allows the administrators to prevent negative or inappropriate posts from being visible.
- When using videos, make sure that they are clear and of the best quality available, and that the sound is clear. Make sure the format of the video is executable by the standard media players for PC and MAC.
When you take the dive into all forms of social media (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Email, Messaging), first think about what you want to do and the audience you want to reach. Here are several do’s and don’ts of Internet communications to consider:
- Do not post anything that you would not say face-to-face. One of the great tragedies of social media is that it has given power to a lot of cowards. And cowards with power are dangerous and they never have to deal with the ramifications! Here’s a rule for social media: If you wouldn’t say it face-to-face, don’t post it.
- Negative comments are the quickest way to end a conversation and, permanently lose the reader. Negative posts have an emotional impact on the reader, creating a sense of doom or despair, and also encourage negative posts in return.
- Passing along others’ posts with a comment such as ‘this is interesting’ is spam posting – just as disliked as spam in email. If you have a relevant comment, use it; otherwise, leave it alone. ‘Share this post’ is just another type of social media spam.
- Do not deliberately post comments that are intended to be confrontational. Ask yourself what your reaction would be if you received a similar post.
The Rev. Deniray Mueller serves as Legislative Liaison for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org