© 2020 Lee Venning / Harvest City Church

I was an early adopter of the internet and it has had a big role in my life as a teacher and as a Christian. Offering me stunning resources, but equally offering disinformation about which I have to be very careful.

It helps me to keep in touch with friends scattered across the world. It would be easy for me to think that one friend spends his whole life on holiday, at events and eating out, with none of life’s troubles ever affecting him. However, I know the world hits him as hard as it does you and me!

Social media sites don’t actually present any threats that didn’t already exist elsewhere online but these threats exist in an environment that you think is safe and so you relax.

Problems start when you don’t take care of personal information. Risks such as: cyberbullying, invasion of privacy, identity theft, fraud, offensive images/messages and the presence of people who may be there to groom.

As adults we all think we are well aware of these risks but from professional experience, I know these dangers are often minimised and so with our lazy attitudes, we all are at increasing risk.

These risks are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to social media. Risks to your thinking, understanding, Christian beliefs and your very reputation are on the agenda. Be careful what you feed your souls so as not to suppress the Spirit’s leading (Galatians 2:20, 5:16-18, 24).

I grew up in a world with no internet, mobile phones and definitely no social media so should be highly at risk, but my natural mistrust, my professional experiences and targeted training cause me to pause before believing what I see online.

We get up and check our phone, we have a sneaky peek during work, we scroll through at meal- times and look before we go to sleep, forgetting that social media isn’t real.

We mindlessly scroll through posts. We comment, react, like and share. It is a new form of entertainment, a time filler and insidious habit. More than this, it is becoming an addiction.

Track your time spent online for no educational, Christian or professional purpose and then imagine spending that time smoking or drinking. Imagine abusing your body for the same time you scroll! Do we understand how much time other people’s views enter our minds?

Social media is amazing, it brings down politicians and governments. It’s a driving force for movements across the world. It’s a revolutionary tool. It can be a force for great good but also, great evil. Beyond your friends’ holiday photos, much of what is present is laden with deception. Greatly skilled people painstakingly target carefully crafted messages and spread ‘truth’ about a subject. They carefully hide negatives, obscure identities and true intentions.

For years, advertisers, politicians and activists have manipulated thoughts. When these skilled people are let loose in the murk online the peril is great deception. The Bible tells us the devil is a deceiver, it is his greatest ploy (Mark 13:22, John 8:44). Social media is not evil or set up to deceive but the enemy works to deceive us and he seeks us in every aspect of life. What better snare than a world that is almost designed for it! Remember, the Bible says ‘the enemy goes around like a roaring Lion’ (1 Peter 5:8). Lions do this to intimidate. When they hunt they are quiet and stealthy, trying to be unseen.

Professionally, I increasingly see the damage caused by social media. I work with young adults and see what this world does. Picture/video sharing platforms cause high levels of anxiety and depression. People seen living the ‘high life’ easily make people feel their life is not enough, finances are too low, opportunities are too narrow and bodies too imperfect so they see themselves as inadequate. It promotes a ‘comparing’ attitude and the Bible says this can only be negative (Galatians 1:10, Romans 12:2). It becomes a form of a self-inflicted bullying. Do not think you are immune; it creeps up like a serpent.

Social media promotes itself as a positive place for self-expression. It has, though, become a place of criticism, condemnation and abuse. If anyone, celebrity or not, posts a message that others don’t agree with they are attacked by vicious criticism or outright abuse. This is done by people hiding behind screens confidently saying/typing things they would never utter in person. The screen gives a feeling of invisibility or invincibility, leading to cyberbullying.

This can happen to you. If you don’t have a strong identity in Christ it can change you, make you question everything and fear being criticised by people. This will affect your mental health. Equally we can find ourselves rightfully pilloried for a post made in haste with little thought. Social media is so instant we can post before thinking. You may take it down, but once posted it is out there for posterity. There is a President across the Atlantic who tweets with apparently little thought and often causes offence. However, many people do this, just not so publicly! That will not stop ridicule, online abuse or damage to your reputation if your message gets picked up and shared.

We live in a world where offence is no longer a choice but a given, forgiveness for even the smallest error, is unthinkable. This means we have to take care what we write. A wrong or accidental picture, post, like, share or follow can create serious problems in your workplace, college or club. Institutions take their reputations seriously and give little thought to protecting you over protecting themselves. You may think your post innocuous, thought provoking or expressing your right to free speech but they may see it very differently. People are losing jobs, positions of authority and memberships. Some because they expressed views which are abhorrent and archaic but some because of misinterpretation, careless words or a sense of humour failure!

We must remember that when online we represent Jesus. To unbelievers, we are the face of Christ on Earth (Proverbs 3, John 17:18). We are appalled when looking at history and see awful things done in the name of the Christ or the church, however things reported historically have often been misrepresented and embellished to create exciting fiction. When you post something be sure that Jesus would agree and consider the ease with which it can be twisted and misrepresented.

The strongest training we receive as teachers is about online presence, we take it very seriously as we see the repercussions daily! We guard our privacy in real life but on social media our guard often slips. We supply information and visual representations to the world. Posting on the internet is akin to taking a compromising photograph and sticking it to a lamp post on the high street. Every time you take it down it just reappears for all to see!

There are dangers for the young, gullible and not so gullible. Young people have never known a world without social media. We give away information without thinking of the consequences. We allow influencers to get into our very souls without realising it, share our thoughts and opinions without spiritual discernment getting a look in.

We need to remember that what we are shown often isn’t real, it’s just for show and when it is not just for show there can be, and maybe is, an insidious purpose behind what you are feeding yourself with.

Take pleasure in the incredible opportunities that the world can bring but be careful not to be deceived. Take pleasure in showing the world the love of Christ and the impact it has on your life (Matthew 5:13-16) but don’t allow the world to creep into your thoughts and your feed!