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Ah, social media. I kind of hate you, but I can’t quit you.

Facebook is great for many things. I love keeping in touch with my family in California on a daily basis. I like seeing pictures of my friends and their kids (and their cats, and their dogs), and even their food, sometimes. It’s a good place to have deep, meaningful discussions and heated debates. It’s where I keep up with Amy Grant and find out what’s going on with the production of “24.”

But have you ever been un-friended by a family member, or sent someone a friend request who rejected it? Have you ever had a friend block you because of your political views? Not very pretty. Those Candy Crush invites make smoke pour out of my ears, too.

According to a recent study, social media is changing us, and not entirely for the better. For one thing, social media makes us braver. That can be a good thing, if it means raising money for a cause, standing up for the oppressed, or educating the public about an issue (mental illness, for example.)

Not everyone can handle the anonymity, however. It allows people a forum to be as obnoxious as they want to be with few repercussions, and most of the time, nobody will ever even know their name. I’ve experienced it on Twitter, and even on this blog. People do and say things online that they’d never be caught dead saying or doing in real life.

Social media has created the perfect environment for bullies. Bullies don’t just dump your milk on you in the middle school lunchroom anymore; they can follow you virtually anywhere. Take, for example, the case of Melody Hensley, a feminist atheist who claims she has been so harassed on Twitter that she has developed PTSD. Whether you like Melody Hensley and what she stands for is not important. It’s not even important whether or not you believe that Twitter bullying actually gave her PTSD. What’s scary about her tale is that so many people feel justified in treating another person like dirt because they don’t like that individual or their beliefs.

We have the option NOT to read someone’s posts. That doesn’t matter to some. It’s much more satisfying for them to attack someone than to simply ignore them. Unfortunately, online bullying is often more severe than “traditional” bullying, as well, because of the lack of repercussions and the lack of tattlers.

You’ve probably seen funny pictures of teenagers staring at their cell phones with a pithy caption that says something like “the zombie apocalypse has arrived.” Kids may not have devolved into mindless undead creatures just yet, but according to Lemoyne College professor of psychology Krystine Batcho, social media can stunt teenagers’ social skills if parents aren’t careful.

“The greater fear of what’s perhaps taking place is that kids are not learning how to behave in a face-to-face conversation,” Batcho explained. “What could be happening in cyberspace may not translate to real life. What you do you in cyberspace is quite different than what you do face-to-face and kids may be losing those important social skills.”

Social media has become a comfort zone for people who don’t do so well in the real world, and that goes for kids and adults alike. I have to watch myself in this area. Sometimes I have to sign out of all of my many social media accounts and go meet a living, breathing friend in a physical coffee shop with actual tables and chairs, for a cup of literal, hot, liquid coffee for my own mental health.

“The greater the social media use over time, the life satisfaction decreases,” Batcho asserted. “I think why we have conflicting evidence at the moment is because we have to analyze the dynamics taking place. So for one person, social media could be very beneficial, but for another it could have a very negative impact on them. You have to think about what is motivating the internet experiences people are having in the first place to predict whether they will benefit or not on the relationship.

The online world can help or hurt one’s spiritual life, too.
A few years ago, I led a Beth Moore study at my church and one of the things Moore spoke about in the accompanying video was how things like Twitter can blow our self-perspective, perspectives of others, and perspective of God into disarray. We follow other people on Twitter, and ask them to follow us. It’s not hard to see how easy it could be to get a big head as your list of followers increases. Celebrities have boosted and destroyed their careers on Twitter in 140 characters.

If the interwebs are dragging you down, take a vacation. The people you’re close to will still know how to reach you. If you own a pen, write someone a note instead. If you don’t own a pen, my husband has at least 300 of them. Pick up the phone. Or, you know…press the green “call” button. Ask someone to meet you for lunch.

If someone un-friends you on Facebook or stops following you on Twitter, keep your perspective. They either weren’t as valuable to you as you thought or hoped, or they’d simply prefer to communicate with you outside of social media for some reason.

If you can’t pull yourself away without panicking, get help. And if you’re being bullied, take some time off from the computer. It can be extremely difficult to stop online bullying. If you’re being threatened, tell the authorities. No one has the right to make you fear for your safety.

And no matter how much time you spend online, don’t forget to dig into God’s Word. It’s His love letter to you. It never changes, and it’s good to be reminded that if God is for you, no one can be against you.

Have a Happy Easter, and check out more of my ramblings at my brand spankin’ new personal blog!