Twitter, FB Status and the Loss of Privacy
I want to examine a particular “abuse” of tweeting/posting status updates. It is the practice of posting at (what I would consider to be) inappropriate times. No, I’m not trying to be the Emily Post of social media etiquette here to lecture you on the rudeness of tweeting during a meeting or meal. The kind of “inappropriate” I’m referring to is one that not only impacts the quality of Christian discipleship but the authenticity of our church leaders.
I began to notice this misuse of social networking when friends updated their statuses while on dates with their spouses, or even on their wedding nights. Such an anti-social by-product of social media is ironic, to say the least. Yet out of those habits emerged a more troubling one: Tweeting about deeply personal, intimate moments. Although I understand the desire to share one’s life with community, Twitter has gradually become a window into private moments and experiences that, in the past, would have been reserved for God and family.
The consequences of this trend are two-fold. First is the increase of superficial engagements with flesh-and-blood people. When the world audience is always at your fingertips, you’re never going to be totally with people. But the main consequence I want to focus on here, the one that has far-reaching ripple effects but is rarely discussed, is the loss of privacy and spiritual solitude.
This may seem like a strange critique given the rising emphasis on community over individualism, but we cannot forget the value of withdrawing from the public eye. In Scripture we learn that solitude can be a subversive act against the cultural and social pressures that come from constantly subjecting oneself to the opinions and judgments of others. Jesus and numerous prophets exemplify this for us. When they sought to have quiet, uninterrupted fellowship with God, they withdrew from the masses, even dwelling in the wilderness for extended periods of time.
From their example we are reminded that isolation and privacy are an important form of resistance against a culture that bombards us with ungodly ideals. Without a conscious break from the onslaught of worldly pressures–including the sinful enticements of serving an imperfect Christian community–there is no space to step back and question what is influencing us and how are we being shaped.
So while Twitter and Facebook are great communicative tools, we are naïve to ignore the temptations they present. Social media provides us with the option to live life on constant display, which has potential for both good and bad. While we do have the opportunity to be a kind of “city on a hill” in a new and different way, we must also be cognizant of the temptations that such visibility brings.
We need to consider the wisdom of tweeting private conversations or intimate moments with loved ones. While the motivation is often pure–namely to praise God or to honor the person we’re with–this practice can result in a long-term lack of authenticity. There will develop in the back of your mind a constant audience, resulting in a constant need to perform, to always be “on.” Church leaders, who are already visible and already struggle with this temptation, are in greatest risk of this temptation. When you are driven first and foremost by the audience awaiting your updates, you can lose touch with the God you’re always tweeting about.
Is this a blanket statement against all forms of social media? Certainly not! Technology is a gift from God that can surely be used to edify believers. The question is whether we are controlling our use of social media, or is social media controlling us? Are we allowing Man-oriented expectations to invade our private moments, the moments when we used to be most ourselves? Are we placing ourselves in the public eye so often that we no longer discern the difference between genuine discipleship and performing for a watching world? If we are to maintain our spiritual authenticity, our intimacy with God, and a clear vision for leadership, these are questions to which we must give sober consideration.
Sharon Miller has her own website that focuses on theology for women. Click here to visit her site