I’ve started to notice something about social media – especially Facebook. People who are surrounded by large and happy extended families, or have full social calendars, or are not battling bereavement or long-term ill health, use it far less often, unless they are using it to promote a business. Presumably they have less time to spend online, or don’t feel the need to express themselves in that way. They mostly post the happy stuff, maybe because they have more of it in their lives. Most tend to avoid the political; some even express disapproval of those who draw political issues to their attention. Happy family photos and occasional funnies are a must, but anything negative is to be avoided at all costs. Absolutely nothing wrong with any of that; it’s a very good use of social media and gives a much needed air of positivity to our newsfeeds.
But conversely, there’s another phenomenon which I started to notice a few years ago. Some people use social media a good deal more often. In some cases, it almost appears to be their main way of communicating with the world. Of course like everyone else they share the happy stuff they want to celebrate, but they also don’t shy away from sharing some of the harder things they’re going through, possibly because they have few people if any with whom they can share in real life. They also tend to be more political – or perhaps it’s not politics so much as humanitarianism; maybe their own share of difficulties gives them a heightened understanding of others’ needs, with a desire to draw them to the attention of the world.
And here’s a thought: maybe the people whose posts turn up most often in our newsfeeds are the lonely people; maybe they’re the ones in unhappy marriages; maybe they’re the unpopular ones who don’t have full social diaries; maybe they’re secretly struggling with their mental health. It’s all too easy to feel impatient with the tone of some of their posts, and maybe to post a tetchy reply. But of course, we can choose whose posts fill our newsfeed on Facebook; it’s easy to “unfollow” someone’s posts without “unfriending” them – I confess I’ve done it myself occasionally. And we need not follow someone on Twitter unless their output interests us.
But how about, before we take issue with something someone has posted, asking ourselves, who is looking out for that person? Who contacts them every now and again to check if they’re ok? Who sends them encouraging messages? Who takes them out for coffee and gives them time to unburden themselves? Who invites them round for meals and doesn’t look for any return invitation?
And if we can’t think of any obvious answers to those questions, maybe it’s better not to criticise what they write. Maybe a private message to say, “How are you doing? How can I support you? Is there anything I can pray about for you?” might make all the difference to how that person feels. We might even start to notice a diminished frequency and/or negativity of their posts in our newsfeeds if we made that our practice. Suppose we make 2016 the year when we use social media to look out for one another, take care of one another and ensure that no one feels left out or overlooked. I think that might be how Jesus would have used His Facebook or Twitter account if He’d had one.