Today’s article is a continuation from yesterday’s post, as Dr. MacArthur provides a pastoral perspective on how Christians can think discerningly about how to use social media.
Every Careless Word
The book of Proverbs tells us that, “He who spreads slander is a fool. When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (10:18b–19). A maxim for all of life, that statement certainly applies to social media.
But even if such potential consequences did not exist, Christians answer to a higher court. And God has made it clear what He thinks about gossip: “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do no associate with a gossip” (Prov. 20:19).
A study in the New York Daily News found that 80% of normal conversations consist of gossip. Those numbers seem to be consistent with online interactions, where talking about other people is almost as popular as talking about oneself. In a helpful article entitled “Solomon on Social Media,” Tim Challies gives this timely warning: “There are many web sites, blogs and Twitter accounts dedicated almost entirely to gossip, to sharing what is dishonorable rather than what is noble. Avoid these people and their gossip!”
But even beyond the world of slander, one has to wonder how many careless words are posted, texted, or tweeted every moment of the day. Statistics suggest that there are about 700 Facebook status updates and over 600 tweets every second. Even if some of those are profitable, that still leaves a lot of empty chatter.
Our Lord addressed this issue directly in His statement, “Every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it” (Matt. 12:36). That’s a sobering thought, especially when paired with the maxim of Proverbs 17:28: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Many a young blogger would do well to memorize those verses.)
In 1 Corinthians 10:23–24, Paul explains an important principle about Christian liberty. He writes, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.” If we apply that truth to the world of social media, we can quickly separate that which is valuable from that which is merely wood, hay, and stubble. Tweeting about the inane details of life might not be sinful, but if it doesn’t build others up spiritually, it might be better left unsaid.
According to statistics from Nielsen, the average American worker spends almost six hours a month visiting social networking websites during work time. The majority of that time is spent on Facebook.
But this is not just about wasting time at work. It’s about wasting time, period. By its very nature, social networking is a massive distraction. It detracts from disciplined study, thoughtful meditation, and concerted prayer.
In a Time Magazine article entitled “It’s Time to Confront Your Facebook Addiction,” Kayla Webley shares some startling statistics.
One-third of women ages 18 to 34 check Facebook first thing in the morning. . . . Of the 1,605 adults surveyed on their social media habits, 39% are self-described ‘Facebook addicts.’ It gets worse. Fifty-seven percent of women in the 18 to 34 age range say they talk to people online more than they have face-to-face conversations. Another 21% admit to checking Facebook in the middle of the night.
Some Facebook “addicts,” like Maria Garcia of Philadelphia, spend as much as 56 hours a week on the site. Reporting on her story, ABC News recounted the concern of those in the medical community:
The popularity and social acceptance of networking sites is one of the reasons Dr. Joseph Garbley says Facebook addiction is becoming a very real problem. . . . Garbley says unlike alcohol or drugs, social networking addiction is psychological not physical. But he adds it is still a serious problem: “The problem comes in when life intercedes, when school work calls, when relationships demand your attention and you chose Facebook over those relationships.” (Source)
It seems social media sites have become the new soap operas!
Of course, the real problem is a heart issue, not a psychological one. But the point remains. For many Americans, the amount of time spent using social media is out of control. Whether defined as “addicts” or not, people spend vast amounts of time browsing blogs, watching YouTube videos, reading tweets, and managing their profiles.
We’ve already noted that, on average, the active Facebook user spends nearly 24 hours a month on the site. In September 2010, the amount of time spent on Facebook surpassed Google for the first time. Combine this with time spent blogging, micro-blogging, commenting, texting, instant messaging, and surfing—and the sheer hours represented become staggering.
Ironically, people can spend hours jumping from link to link without even realizing how much time they are wasting. As author Ivan Misner explains in BusinessWeek, “You go to LinkedIn or Facebook and you read a comment and it takes you to another link and now you’re on YouTube, watching someone’s video. Pretty soon something weird happens in the space-time continuum and you look up and you’ve lost two hours.” (Source)
As believers, the command of Ephesians 5:15–16 is just as binding upon our modern lives as it was in the non-technological world of the first century. “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”
Paul’s exhortation has massive implications for how we interact with social media. One day we will stand before Christ to give an account for how we used His resources (including our time and energy). With that in mind, how much of this life can be justifiably devoted to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the like?
Just a few hours each day, over the course of a lifetime, adds up to years of wasted opportunity.
(This article will be continued tomorrow.)