A balanced diet

GOT QUESTIONS: Can Christians use social media wisely?

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During Wednesday night gatherings in my church’s youth group, students and leaders are encouraged to verbally ask, write down or text questions (that are on topic) to think about together. We inquire about the passage of Scripture at hand and further define our theology, but we mostly contemplate normal aspects of teenage life: listening to music, watching YouTube videos, participating on social media. Our teens want to discern how Christians can wisely engage with media.

The Bible does not speak directly about mass communication through news channels or include stories that demonstrate how Jesus interacted on social media platforms. We can’t look up “podcast” in a concordance. However, Scripture can still help us seek wisdom for our current age just as it has for generations before us. In Matthew 5:13-16 Jesus tells his followers, “You are the salt of the earth. …You are the light of the world.” He encourages us in all aspects of life to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

J.L. Martin, USMB social media coordinator, believes we can be salt and light while engaging with media. He sees great benefits for churches and individuals as we connect with people all over the world using technology. This is an era in history when we can easily reach out to others and stay up-to-date on important and profound events. “People are on social media all the time…let’s use it in a positive way!”

Martin points out the beauty of experiencing life “in the ‘right now’” and having direct access to pray with and for people, share encouragement and get free publicity for our churches and organizations.

Martin and others also believe we need to use caution in the media process. In my conversations, older adults seem more concerned about media content (“Is this an enriching Facebook post?”) while younger generations are more skeptical of media sources (“Is this a credible news outlet?”). Both are valid concerns. Author and media advocate Eli Pariser asks internet users to be aware of what he coined “filter bubbles”—algorithms that provide individualized online content based on browsing history and location—that can prioritize unhelpful subject matter and skewed information.

“Instead of a balanced information diet, you can end up with information junk food,” Pariser warns in his 2011 TED talk, “Beware Online ‘Filter Bubbles.’” His advice is still being shared a decade later.

Using media wisely also means increased accountability. Families and friends can discern together when and how to connect with the larger world in a Christlike way. A student acknowledged that talking to their parents about what they see and post on social media is sometimes “awkward,” but it helps them make better decisions. As part of their fight against human trafficking and protecting vulnerable people, Central Valley Justice Coalition in Fresno, Calif., offers resources for online safety and provides practical tools to help children and adults make wise media-related choices.

Whenever and however we engage with media, consider this question from J.L. Martin: “How are we representing Jesus to unbelievers and the unchurched in our world?” The means of mass communication has and will change over time, but our instruction to follow Jesus will not. If our words and actions—even viewed on a screen—point people to who Jesus is, it is an invitation to be salt and light as we positively and cautiously use media to process life together.

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