By: Victoria Moore Hello dear friends! I can’t express to you how excited I am to be able to share with you this passion of mine: understanding social networking. I also have to admit how overwhelmed I feel. This article (long as it is!) hardly brushes the surface of social networking and the wonderful power behind it. There’s so much more I wish I could share with you!
As I’m sure you’re aware, you can hardly go anywhere without hearing, "Do you have an email address?" or "Are you on Facebook?”. What’s the big hype? Why is the internet getting so much attention and receiving so much time from all the generations? Through this article I hope to enlighten you on what social networking is, not evaluate whether it’s right or wrong. And since my draft for this article is already looking long, let’s begin right away, shall we?
What is social networking?
Simply put, social networking includes a broad spectrum of web-based services focused on connecting friends and like-minded people. These internet-based sites build social relationships among people and are increasingly becoming one of the major ways like-minded people communicate. If there’s only one thing you remember from this article, I hope it’s the word responsibility. No matter what our age or what sites we participate in, we must be responsible.
Responsibility with time: The internet is a powerful tool but, like a gun, if it’s not used properly it can cause great harm. It’s important to use the internet effectively and responsibly. It’s easy to let your time be eaten away when using the internet or any of these social networking sites. The key is to use the tool, not let the tool use you.
Responsibility with what we say: No matter what you “delete” from your posts on the internet, everything you post is somehow retrievable. (Think: huge cyber trash bag that’s never emptied.) It’s important to be responsible with what is posted on the internet. Be careful not to post potentially embarrassing stories or pictures of friends without their permission. Their potential boss may be looking them up one day! If you’re writing stories about your life it’s good to use first names and the initial of the last name to respect a friend’s privacy on the internet. If you don’t want your post read by everyone, don’t post it at all. Also, be careful not to post something on the internet out of haste or anger. It’s easy to post things you’d never say out loud, so instead of the old adage, “Think before you speak,” it’s helpful to, “Think before you hit ‘share’.”
Responsibility with relationships: This is especially important when it comes to social networking sites. Although it’s great to stay connected with people online, nothing can replace human interaction. It’s important to use methods other than the cyber world to connect with people. Healthy relationships don’t rely solely on communicating online, but use social networking as a sort of “Miracle Grow”, helping a strong relationship grow even stronger. If you approach the internet with a mind filled with the wisdom of Christ, I believe He will show you how to effectively use that powerful tool!
Popular Social Networking Sites
Although there's a list miles long of "social networking" sites, this article will focus on three major networks that often pop up in everyday conversation. I've also chosen to focus on the networking sites that require participation and communication rather than one-way reading, writing, or listening.
What is it? The largest social networking site to date, Facebook can be used for communication, live chat, photo and video posting, writing, connecting with old friends, updating people about your life, and playing online games. Facebook is a free service.
How does it work? People can create an account, or profile, on Facebook, where they can then post updates about their life (generally using something called a “status update”), invite people to be their “friends” (called “friending”), post on their friend’s “wall” (a way to communicate), play games, discuss different topics, and upload various forms of media. If you want to learn more about how Facebook works, here’s a basic introduction video.
What kind of security is there? When you set up your profile, it will be open for everyone to see, unless you choose otherwise. If you would like to keep your profile private, there are several ways to stay under the radar. First of all, you can choose to leave out specific information in your profile. (i.e. your location, where you work…) Secondly, you can change your profile into an “unsearchable” profile where only “friends of friends” can search for you. On top of this, you can choose to hide your profile information (age, birthday, email, etc.) from everyone, including “friends of friends.” It’s important to take time to know what people can and cannot see when it comes to your profile. Facebook has created detailed layers of security that can help you create the perfect personalized settings. I highly recommend that if you have a Facebook account that you go through ALL of your settings (security or otherwise) about once a month to make sure nothing has changed and that you’re still “hidden” from the search engines or whatever part of the outside world you choose to remove yourself from. I strongly believe in keeping up to date with cyber security! If you’re interested in learning more, you can watch this basic introduction video. It’s a little old, but it will help familiarize you with the security options within Facebook. If you’re already a part of Facebook, but are still worried about your safety, you can always join the Facebook Security page and receive up-to-date security information that lets you know about scams and other such risks.
Are there ads I should be worried about? There are generally three or four small, subtle side-bar ads based on your Facebook profile. Facebook utilizes a revolutionary ad program which places ads based on the information you feed the program. For instance, if you type something about pizza in one of your posts, the ad program will recognize this and generate an ad about pizza. If you change your relationship status from being “single” to “engaged,” Facebook will generate ads that have to do with wedding cakes, and bridesmaids’ dresses. Of course, Facebook ads can only feed off of the information you give. If you don’t identify your relationship status or political views, it will use key words from your conversations. (Another good reason to be responsible with the personal profile.) While you shouldn’t have to shield your child’s eyes from inappropriate content, it is easy to click on an ad thinking it’s a part of Facebook.
Why would I want to use Facebook? Facebook can be a powerful tool to both keep in contact with friends and reconnect with old ones. Many families use Facebook to keep in touch with children in college or children who are married and on their own. I know missionaries that use Facebook to keep in touch with supporters in their home country and a foreign exchange student who keeps in touch with her friends and family back home by posting pictures, videos, etc of what is going on in her world in the US. I know two women who are using Facebook to witness to friends they have reconnected with after 25 years. It’s amazing to think that tools like Facebook have the potential to reach hundreds and thousands of people with the Gospel, simply by people effectively using the tool from their kitchens and living rooms.
What is it? “Twitter-ers” (those who have a Twitter account) document their life in 140 characters or less, sometimes called micro-blogging. People can “follow” other “twitter-ers” by subscribing to other people’s messages (“tweets”). Twitter is a free service.
How does it work? You can sign up for a profile at Twitter.com and then begin “tweeting” and searching for other people who tweet that you can “follow”. You can send tweets from your computer, your cell phone, or almost any other mobile device. If you want to learn more about Twitter, here’s a basic introduction article.
What kind of security is there? A twitter-er often chooses to leave his or her tweets open to the public, although there is an option to keep your updates private until someone “subscribes.” You have the option to accept or decline their following request. Whether public or not, your settings page gives you the option to choose if your tweets are visible in public search engines. (i.e. Google, Yahoo, etc.)
Are there ads I should be worried about? I’ve never seen any ads on Twitter, but if your profile is public, businesses with a Twitter account can conduct keyword searches within Twitter to identify who is using their product or service. If you have typed one of those key words, they may start “following” you so that they can keep track of their clients and possibly suggest a product or service.
Why would I want to use it? Often well-known figures or businesses use Twitter to help people feel more connected to them, their company, or their product. Also, people create an account to follow other people rather than to update for themselves and others subscribe to breaking world news and other similar services. Although it can be convenient to receive breaking news, be careful who you “follow”. It’s easy to waste a lot of time reading updates like “just went to the grocery store”, or “hit the snooze button four times today!” which honestly shouldn’t matter to you unless perhaps it’s your spouse, child, or best friend.
What is it? A blogger is a person who posts on a “blog”, an online journal where authors can post photos and videos along with their posts. There are many “blog” sites out there where people can set up their online journals. Wordpress, Blogspot, and LiveJournal are some of the most popular blogging sites. Basic blogging is generally free.
How does it work? Choose a specific blogging site you’d like to use and set up an account. Most sites walk you through set up and design of a personal blog.
What kind of security is there? Every blog site is different, but there are generally three different layers of security in the blogging sphere. As the author you can: A. Password protect your blog so only those you allow can read it, B. Leave your blog (your writings) open for the public to see, but leave it off of all search engines (meaning people would have to know your web address exactly to get there), or C. Leave the blog public, as well as listing it on search engines like Google and Yahoo.
Are there ads I should be worried about? I’ve never seen an explicit ad on a blog. Some blog sites have links to similar blog posts, but the links not endorsed by the person who’s writing the blog. Often the links are to for-profit blogs that are designed to generate income.
Why would I want to use it? Blogging has become a tool for many people to share their life and opinions with others. If you love to write or have an adventurous life, perhaps blogging is for you. If you post personal stories or information, check the settings on your account and be aware of who is able to access this information.
The Ultimate Lesson
When I first started writing this article I expected it to end with something like, "In conclusion: this is the right thing to do and this is the wrong thing to do." But as I prayed, (for me, for the writing of this article, for you!) God began to reveal to me it just wasn't going to happen that way. What He has shown me over the past month is what I'd like to share with you as I conclude.
As I was praying about the concept of social networking in a Christian’s life, the Lord told me that I needed to understand the concept of black and white. I'm sure you know someone like this, but I'm what most people would call "black and white." I like to say, "This is right. This is wrong. We should do this. We shouldn't do this. Period. No exceptions. No grace." Sometimes black and white is okay. The Bible speaks clearly about things like murder, adultery, stealing, and others. But then we get to something like Facebook. Ugh.
Now what? This is what I was struggling with God about. There has to be an answer, but how do I find it? I asked, "God? Why can't there be a definite answer for something like Facebook, or TV, or the length of a dress?" Then I was reminded of my studies of black and white in a past art class. Between black and white are an incalculable number of shades of gray, composed exclusively from the colors of black and white. Gray is defined by how much light is shown through the color.
Let the light of God define the boundaries that His Word doesn’t clearly address. If you don't have a definite answer from God about something in your life, someone or something will try to define it for you and your family. It's easy to look to authority in the church or to media and culture for answers to things like Facebook or Twitter. Truly, only the light of Christ can define those grey areas and help you set boundaries for your family.
Debate regarding media and networking will continue in our culture and in the church. Although we like to categorize everything (this is black, this is white), there's an endless grey scale that exists in the world around us-- an endless number of tools that can be used for good or for evil. Just as God made each fingerprint unique, in the same way He made each family unique. What is acceptable for one family may not be acceptable for another, but that doesn't mean one is wrong and the other is right. When each family is depending on God for the amount of Light shed on their situation, we have no option but to respect others and abstain from any sort of judgment. When we look at media around us we simply need to ask the Lord, "Should I incorporate this into MY life?" I pray that as your family faces social networking with strength and courage that God will shed His light on each and every one of your situations. After He reveals His social networking plans for you and your family, run with it. Don't let the judgments of others stop or hinder you from doing what He has told YOU to do. Keep steady, and His light will readily shine through you and your family, whether you're using social media or not.
Perhaps you’d like to know more about social networking. Feel free to email any questions to Victoria at: shop (at) Daughters4God (dot) com.