Facebook. We love it and we hate it. This billion-user social media platform allows us to stay in touch with people we love, it helps us to know what’s going on around us, it introduces us to ideas and articles we appreciate, and frankly, we enjoy the low maintenance socialization we experience.
Then there are things we don’t like so much. We don’t appreciate the urge to compare our lives to others. We hate getting wrapped up in this potential time sucker. And no doubt, we have a massive distaste for the mean words that get passed around so flippantly.
But there is one danger to Facebook that we may be unaware of. As we scroll through the hundreds of posts on our newsfeed, we may succumb to a hazardous habit. But with a little thought, we can avoid this potential peril of our social media usage.
The Hazardous Habit
Before defining the possible danger of scrolling through a news feed, let’s consider an obvious, but sometimes forgotten, fact. The posts on your news feed are from people. Real people. They are not just tidbits of information the Facebook cloud made up.
Therefore, when you are scrolling past people’s posts, you are hearing real words from people’s “mouth” (fingers actually). As such, they are an overflow of people’s heart (Luke 6:45). Some of those words you choose to take note of and some you choose to ignore. Which of course, is fine. There is no reason you need to read every word from every person. But here enters the hazardous habit.
I’m sure you, like me, have noticed posts communicating sadness, bad news, pain, and discouragement from people you call “friends.” And because there are more problems mentioned than we know what to do with, we can begin to scroll right past these posts. In a sense, we start training our minds to say, “oh, more problems,” and then we move on. If we are not careful, we can almost become desensitized to people’s difficulties. We certainly can fall short of loving “your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).
While we can’t solve everyone’s problems, and we can’t encourage every hurting person, we do need to remain compassionate and loving. We do need to ensure we don’t get desensitized. How we do this, I am not entirely sure. But I know we need to do it.
This Facebook predicament reminds me of the parable of “the Good Samaritan.” To illustrate what is looks like to “love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus tells a story (in Luke 10) about an almost dead man lying on the road. In the parable, some upstanding, religious-type people walk right by and pay no attention to the man. Well, they did notice him – but just enough to cross the street and walk by on the other side of the road. But the unlikely Samaritan stops and cares for the hurt man. The point of the story being: the Samaritan shows what it looks like to “love your neighbor.”
Did everyone need to stop and help the hurt man? No, I suppose they didn’t. But the parable does imply that those who didn’t stop did wrong, while the man who did stop, did right.
When you go on social media, you might run across a “neighbor” who is hurting. I can’t imagine it being best to proverbially cross to the other side of the street and walk by. In other words, just casually scrolling past the post can’t be right. It certainly wouldn’t be loving your neighbor as yourself.
Being a Good Neighbor
We do not need to scroll through our social media feeds with our guards up, making sure everyone is okay. That is not the point. The goal is to ensure we are always a good neighbor and to make sure we don’t unknowingly develop patterns that undermine this goal. We don’t want to leave our time on social media subtly training ourselves that it’s okay to not care about people.
Here are some suggestions that might help as you scroll through your news feed:
1) Pray for hurting people.
You may not always reach out or respond to people who mention a problem (sometimes it might be weird if you did), but you can always pray. I don’t mean go into your closet and pray for an hour, but I also don’t mean just thoughtlessly say, “Ahh, God, help her.” I mean: when you take notice of a hurting person, intentionally direct your thoughts up to God, asking for his help in their life. By praying you are doing one of the best things for that person! God hears your prayers, and he answers.
There is also a secondary benefit. When you take a few seconds to pray, your heart is kept in check. You are ensuring you don’t become hard to people’s pain. You are making sure you don’t cross the street and “pass by on the other side.”
2) Adjust your mindset.
Many of us likely need to adjust our mindset when we engage in social media. We need to remember that we are being social with people. We can get in the zone and think it’s all about entertainment. But these are people, people that we should be loving.
The application of this mindset adjustment may involve slowing down your scrolling to encourage, pray for, or reach out to certain people. Picture all of these people who are posting in front of you. Realize this is their heart on a screen. When you simply do that, you will more naturally keep from becoming calloused.
3) Be willing to take action.
No, you can’t help everyone. Nor should you. But there are times when you should help someone. As Christians, we are in the people business. We are called to meet people’s needs and help carry their burdens (Gal. 6:2). We can’t let the reality that “we can’t meet everyone’s needs” stop us from meeting anyone’s needs.
1 John 3:17-19 is always a convincing passage in this regard. John says,
17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
There are times when you’ll see someone in need, and you should do something about it.
A Call for (Simple) Action
I can picture the pushback to this blog post. Because social media is something we do on our “down time,” we feel like we shouldn’t have to think about how we use it. But whether relaxing or not, we are always a Christian. If a Christian, we are always people characterized by love for others.
No need to get extreme and make Facebook your new ministry. But with a little reflection, maybe you can see how you could succumb to the dangers of mindless (potentially apathetic) scrolling. But with a few tweaks of perspective, this danger could be a thing of the past.
Whether you find yourself now in prayer for hurting people, reaching out, or just remembering that they are, in fact, actual people – we can all ensure we are a good neighbor, even when on Facebook.