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Social Me(dia)

Interview with Laura Hancock from YFC

Christians around the world who face pressure because of their faith in Jesus are finding social media a key tool in their faith. Whether it be access to teaching and Christian materials or the chance to connect with a wider Christian network, the blessings of social media seem obvious for isolated believers. But they can be a curse, too.

In Islamic countries, posts by Christians that mention Allah have sparked accusations of blasphemy, leading to riots and violence against Christian communities. Others who share about their conversion to Christianity from Hindu or Muslim backgrounds can be subject to threats and abuse. In other countries, social media and internet use is likely to be monitored, so secret Christians need to be extremely careful about what they post, view and like.

The blessings and curses of social media are obvious for our persecuted family, but what about for us? Do we approach social media with the same awareness and insight? It’s an amazing tool that can enrich our lives, but reports of addiction to social media, online bullying and related mental health issues are all over the news. We caught up with our friend Laura Hancock from YFC, who’s been involved in researching the impact of social media on young people and the wider culture to help us get some much-needed wisdom and insight…

ODY: Social Media has become an essential part of life in the last 10 years. So many of us don’t know life without it. What impact has it had on our culture, good and bad?

Laura: Well it’s totally transformed everything hasn’t it? There are loads of good things – people around the world are more connected, people in communities are more connected, we share creative ideas across social media, giving others access to new ways of thinking. In so many ways it brings so much life and creativity.

ODY: 👍

…”we are at risk of losing the ability to connect face-to-face, because we are so used to sending our opinions into the online abyss”

Laura: But I think it comes at a cost. Connection with people isn’t the same as relationship, and so I often think think, we might have grown up with more connectivity, but we have less relational ‘weight’. Our ability to communicate with people (especially in conflict) is changing. Usually, when I speak to someone face to face, I am able to see how they respond by their body language, or facial expressions… Chemical reactions in my brain are supposed to go off and say “DON’T SAY THAT – IT WON’T GO DOWN WELL”.

ODY: So true.

Laura: But what happens now is that when we communicate we think there are no consequences for what we say, because we usually can’t read the other person as we type. So relationally, we are at risk of losing the ability to connect face-to-face, because we are so used to sending our opinions into the online abyss with no impact. That’s a big price to pay.

ODY: At Youth For Christ you have been doing some research on the impact of social on our culture. What are the key things you found out?

Laura: Unsurprisingly we found that we use social media a lot! Out of the top five activities that we enjoy doing most, four are screen-based: YouTube, Netflix, gaming and using social media. The other one was spending time with friends, but social media is actually the way we do that now. Ninety-four per cent said they used social media every day. What’s more surprising is the effect of social media on mental health. We asked the question: When do you feel bad about yourself? Two out of three top answers were screen-based: when using social media and YouTube. When we asked ‘What are the top three things that you worry about?’, one top answer was ‘my appearance’ and another was ‘what people think of me’. The power of social media is fed largely by these things, and is feeding into the growth of anxiety, depression and lack of self worth in young people.

ODY: WOW! So, how can we set a healthy example of how to use social media?

Laura: One thing we need to realise is that social media should not dictate our lives. It doesn’t have to. Having all platforms set to alert is a choice we make. We don’t have to be notified every time someone messages us. And you don’t have to respond as soon as someone contacts you…

ODY: So true!

Laura: If you are having a chat with someone face-to-face and your phone rings, it’s a surprise if you ignore the call in favour of them… They expect you to answer the phone immediately.  We need to learn to value people. The device in your hand does not dictate your value or who you are. We should be championing the values of stillness and switching off. Ironically one of the most downloaded apps in recent times is one that helps you to be still!

“…which relationships and what aspect of those relationships are too precious to be conducted over social media?”

ODY: Ha ha! We need an app for that now!?

ODY: As Christians, we’re called to follow Jesus and to display Him in the way we live. How can we reflect Jesus in the way we use social media?

Laura: Great question. I think it starts with setting boundaries – which relationships and what aspect of those relationships are too precious to be conducted over social media? It’s about knowing when a conversation should be taken offline and continued face-to-face.

ODY: 🔥

Laura: It’s about valuing people. It’s not all about throwing up Bible verses all the time, but it’s about showing the values of Christianity and championing issues that Jesus would if He had as many followers as you do on social media. What would He be saying and sharing if He was online? He would definitely be counter-cultural in that He would have the difficult and personal conversations face-to-face, not online.

ODY: Real talk! What a challenge. Serious question. What’s your favourite filter right now?!

Laura: Always a dog 🐶! Dog filters are my standard. But I had an embarrassing moment yesterday when one filter told me to tap my eyes, and before I realised what I was doing I tapped my actual eyes! HA!

ODY: LOL!

Laura: Yeah. If someone had filmed me doing that though…so embarrassing! I was really grateful that I was on my own for that one!

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