Tamar Valley Methodist Church

  • Tamar Valley Methodist Church
  • Albaston
  • Gunnislake
  • Cornwall
  • PL18 9EP


Social Networking: Handy Tool or Sinister Weapon?

 

 

Whether you love, hate or just tolerate it, there is no denying the impact of social networking today. 

According to a major June 2017 Ofcom study, half of those aged between 65 and 74 years and four out of ten 75 year olds now have social media profiles – illustrating that it is no longer the preserve of the younger generations!  

Social networking websites allow people to create personal profiles, share pictures, videos and texts to family, friends and people world-wide. Websites that allow social interaction include well-known social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace; virtual world and gaming sites; video sites (like ‘YouTube’) and blogs. Such sites offer people an instantly available, mobile means of communication and entertainment that continues to hugely divide opinion due to its potential impact on people’s lives. 

Social networking can certainly be a handy tool for people to use.  Its ability to quickly connect to other people (similarly linked) of one’s choosing anywhere in the world enables people to do a multitude of tasks:

job-seeking, getting career or personal advice, wanting help/support from like-minded individuals, sharing of views/beliefs, finding romance and accessing news alongside others’ reactions to it.

 

In previous generations, much of the above would have taken place at church/chapel social gatherings or through the exchange of letters. Today, people do not have to rely on their home-based telephone answer-machines or the daily postal delivery, to receive an important message.  Neither do they need to wait until their newspaper arrives or for the Six O’Clock TV News to begin, before learning about national or international news.  For business owners, social networking offers the opportunity to promote and market themselves and their products in a fast and efficient way, with the chance to direct potential customers to specific, targeted websites.  

Research amongst young people who regularly use social media, shows that they enjoy following the daily lives of their friends and appreciate the chance to share their likes/dislikes, their joys and frustrations on sites like Facebook.  Participating in a social network community is also seen as an ideal way to find people with similar hobbies and interests, irrespective of how narrow the subject area may seem to be.  

Yet some people would regard social networking more as a sinister weapon than a handy tool. The parents of 14 year old Sam Abel are convinced that persistent pressure from social media bullies at school caused him to jump to his death earlier this year.  He is not the only such victim!  Cyberbullying is a huge problem because it is so hard to prevent. The only way for a bully to be stopped is by reporting them to the authorities but victims may be too intimidated to do this.  Social networking also brings with it major concerns about privacy.

Sharing too much information in a posted comment or series of tweets can, at worst, lead to the theft of one’s identity … which can have huge repercussions for one’s business and banking transactions, with the potential for being a target of spam and virus attacks. The widespread availability of online pornography, hate-filled, terrorist propaganda and the ease with which impressionable young people can access detailed terror manuals that provide instructions for making home-made bombs … continues to be a huge area of international concern.

Some people have suggested that social media tends to promote antisocial behaviour by encouraging online interaction as a substitute for real face-to-face meeting with people.  Social networking has been criticized for its addictive nature and for encouraging narcissism in terms of a perceived obsession with self-image and self-promotion. It has also been blamed for being a huge time-waster and for distracting people from more important things in daily life. Browsing on social media sites also, allegedly, feeds procrastination tendencies in addition to disrupting sleep patterns if long hours are spent staring at a screen. The damage or benefits of social networking clearly lie in the operator’s hands! 

So what might a Christian response be to such widely differing views about the merits of social networking? Whether we choose to use or avoid social media sites, there is no disputing the fact that this is the way that the younger generations most communicate with each other. 

Just as Jesus spoke about Gospel truths using a style of communication that was well understood by the listeners [parables] and St. Paul used relevant cultural illustrations in his evangelism [eg Acts 17:22-31], so we ought to use the most effective ways to communicate the Good News to people in our day and age.  As Christians we certainly need to be aware of the many problems that social networking can create and yet also appreciate its potential benefits as a handy tool that can be used in God’s work and to communicate with a world in need of His saving Love [Luke 4:18-19].

God Bless  -  Your Minister and Friend  -  Martyn.