I started using one of those networking websites a little over a year ago. It’s fun playing games by myself or with friends and it’s fun connecting with colleagues I don’t know too well and getting to know them. One of most pleasant surprises is how easy it is to find and reconnect with old friends!
In case you don’t know much about the internet, these networking sites typically invite you to enter in a “status” whenever you go to them. Some people enter in more statuses than others, but most of them are just about what someone did that day or an inspiring quote s/he would like to share with the people who are “friends,” or people the person has accepted an invitation to link with through the website.
The friends, then, can respond to these status updates. Most of the time, the friends will just say something brief, click on a thumbs up icon, or not say anything.
I had a friend on this website who was an old school friend. Unfortunately, there were times when he responded to my status with comments that I felt crossed the boundaries of both civil discussion and my own personal boundaries.
So, I had a debate within myself about this. I was the one who typed in the status and made it public to whichever of my friends wanted to read it and possibly comment on it. So, in a way, I couldn’t make much of a legal argument against his being justified in saying whatever he wants to say.
On the other hand, there were times when I thought he crossed personal bounds, including once making a mild sexual innuendo. Mild or not, I asked him to refrain from crossing these boundaries and he responded by “un-friending” me, or by taking me off his friend list.
While that was unfortunate, I was ready to unfriend him, too. While I see social networking sites as a great way to connect, I also see my “status” as something like an invitation to have a cup of coffee with me and I don’t want to have coffee with someone who has fun by putting me down, however benign s/he may think it is.
That led me to thinking about these sites and their impact on our modern life. While they are great ways to communicate (my church has its own fan page) and a wonderful networking resource, I think the advice of James 3 also applies:
“...Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. ... the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body ... no one can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? ... ”
Old principles are still at play in the so-called age of information. We’ve all heard about the sad cases of teenagers targeting a peer and bullying him/her through these social sites, or starting rumors through them. With a ‘tweenager in the house, I worry that she’ll be caught up in things like this or some of the people who are on her friend network might not reflect our values. As in life, not everyone on the internet has benign interests.
Here are some ways I keep the internet and social networking fun:
1) If you want to respond to a friend’s status, mind your manners. You might have a funny memory that gets triggered, but not everyone else wants to hear it — and your friend might not want you to tell it! Instead, send your friend a private message.
2) It is OK to not accept friend requests from certain people. I have ignored requests from old boyfriends, complete strangers, and people I barely knew.
3) It is also OK to delete someone’s inappropriate comment and to ask them not to post such things on your post.
4) If it comes to it, delete the person from your friend list. You wouldn’t go out to eat with a person who doesn’t understand where they cross the line with you, and you’re also not compelled to allow him/her to do it on your networking page.
5) Teach your kids! I’m trying to, and I confess that I worry. I occasionally go through my daughter’s friends and make her tell me how she knows every single one of them. She rolls her eyes and heaves and sighs, but if she wants to keep her account, she’ll comply.
Even (or especially) on the internet, let’s tame our tongues.
Sally Oakes is pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church, 607 Rivers Road, Fayetteville, GA 30214. Phone: 770-964-6999 or 770-964-6992, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.