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Tim Alford

Three New Commandments of Social Media

Social Media, it’s a wonderful thing. We can connect with our friends anytime, anyplace through Snapchat and Messenger. We can keep up with their worlds real time with Instagram stories. We can stay up to speed on what’s happening with friends an family through their Facebook news feeds.

And we can get instant goal alerts when the mighty Arsenal score via Twitter. (No? Just me then?) Anyway, the point is, social media has unlocked a whole new world of instant, real-time interaction and information. At it’s best and used well, social media is a wonderful thing. But… But there is a dark side….

When British Youth for Christ recently asked 1000 young people to describe the main negative influence on their lives, social media came in on top, with 67% saying it had a more negative impact on them than anything - or anyone - else. But why? What is it about social media that can make this great tool so destructive?

Comparison

Perhaps the biggest problem is that social media is rarely an accurate representation of our lives. Life is about ups and downs, wins and losses, strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows, good days and bad days, successes and failures.

That’s everyone’s story. But it’s not our Instagram story. If our social media feeds were to be believed, life looks like a glorious procession of ups, wins, strengths, joys, good days and successes. It appears as though everyone is better looking than us, more fashionable than us, more successful than us and more popular than us. But they’re not - it’s just that we’re comparing our blooper reel to everyone else’s highlight reel!

Always On

The other issue is created by the fact that we’re always switched on and plugged in. Silence, solitude, reflection and peace are a thing of the past, as we have developed the habit of automatically reaching for our phones and checking our social channels whenever a moment of downtime presents itself.

Before the smartphone, school was still tough - we still felt like everyone else was more intelligent, popular, fashionable and successful than us - but we could at least give ourselves a break from those pressures when we got home. But no more. Now those pressures follow us around in our pockets every moment of every day.

Worse still, we often keep our phones switched on and next to our beds at night. When that notification goes off it wakes us, meaning that we rarely enjoy a full, deep, restorative sleep. As a result, we’re tired, stressed, less able to process our emotions and way more prone to developing mental health issues. In fact, this continual disruption of sleep is such a massive deal that it can actually hamper brain development in our teen years.

So what’s the answer? Should we delete all of our social media apps and become technology free? I don’t think so. As I said up front, social media can be a wonderful thing when we use it right. So instead of asking you to become a hermit, I’ve developed three ‘New Commandments’ to help you be in control of your social media without it controlling you….

The three ‘new commandments’ of social media

1 // Social media curfew

First up, I want to suggest a self-imposed social media curfew every night. Sounds crazy, right? But nobody ever made a difference by being like everyone else! A social media cut-off every night will allow you to take a break from the pressures of inaccurate comparison and be content with who you are.

It will also give you time away from the blue light that emanates from your phone screen tricking your brain into thinking it’s daytime, enabling you to get better sleep. So go on, try it. Give yourself a cut off every night (I’d suggest no later than 9:30pm) after which you will not check your channels or use your phone at all. It will be really hard at first, but you’ll be glad you did in the end.

2 // Social media sabbath

If you thought that was crazy, try this: A whole 24-hour period without using social media every week! The principal of the sabbath has been practised by God’s people for thousands of years, and I believe this same principle can be applied to the much more modern phenomenon of social media. This extended period of rest from the constant noise and ceaseless digital connection of social media will create an opportunity for you to be totally present to yourself, your thoughts, to others and to God.

As I write, I’m about to finish my first full year of practising a social media sabbath, and I can tell you I am so glad I did! I have found it’s helped me to mentally rest in a deeper and fuller way. It is a life-giving practice that I would encourage every reader to go for!

3 // Think before you post

We’ve all had that experience of firing something up online in the heat of the moment that in the cold light of day we lived to regret! We can laugh, but misguided tweets and thoughtless snaps regularly lead to hurt, embarrassment and damaged relationships. That’s why I’m encouraging you to take a moment to consider the following four questions before posting…

Am I seeking affirmation?

When you get a ‘like’ it releases a chemical called Dopamine, which controls the “pleasure” systems in your brain. The more likes we get, the better we feel about ourselves… and it’s highly addictive. So we can fall into the trap of posting the kind of things that we know are going to get us likes. We crave likes because they make us feel loved. But if we are posting to gain affirmation, our personal sense of self-worth becomes rooted in what others think of us, rather than who God says we are… and that never ends well. So before you post ask 'am I posting this to gain affirmation?'

Am I boasting?

Unless you are an out of control narcissist, you would never walk up to someone and say, ‘can I just tell you about how incredible I am?’ And yet, often our social feeds are screaming just that! But boasting is boasting whether it’s in person or on Twitter. So before you post, check your motives and ask yourself, am I just trying to make myself look good?

Is it kind?

Social media is an easy place to vent. When we’re filled with pent-up frustration, the easiest thing to do is pull our phones from our pockets and let it all out. But social media should not be a live-feed of your inner-monologue! The apostle Paul encourages us to, ‘let your conversation be always full of grace,’ (Col. 4:6) and we would do well to apply that same principle to our use of social media. So never, ever post when you’re angry… it’s always a bad idea. Before venting online, pause for a minute and ask, is it kind?

Do I want this on the internet forever?

It’s easy for us to forget that everything we post on the internet could be there forever, even on a platform like Snapchat. Today, some companies employ ‘ethical hackers’ to look back on everything you’ve posted online before inviting you for a job interview.

Do you really want your future employer - or even your future self - to look back on that selfie you posted in your underwear? Sure it got you a whole load of likes, and it felt great at the time, but don’t fall into the trap of making a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion.

Social Media, it’s a wonderful thing… if we use it right. So apply these three new commandments to your digital world and you won’t go far wrong. Happy posting!

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