The Curse of Social Media

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I am a big fan of social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook. Instagram, or Pinterest because it allows me to communicate with friends in America from Australia. Technology has also taken great strides towards making the world a smaller place; It’s amazing being able to send text messages from one country to another, or see my nephew an hour after he was born using FaceTime. Yet this freedom to communicate with the touch of a button also creates a great curse that transforms the way we communicate with one another.

All of us go through emotional experiences in life that creates the desire to vent our frustrations or feelings. This is nothing new since people have struggled with the desire to release pent up emotions for many years, President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War would write letters detailing his frustration with those opposing his decisions, but always ended up throwing them into the fire. There are many other venting techniques that release our pent up emotions in a healthy way so that we can move on with our lives.

Social Media however gives us the ability to vent our feelings and emotions with hundreds of people, or thousands of it goes viral (this is when lot’s of people start sharing the some post with their friends, then those friends share it, and so on) by clicking one button.

This freedom definitely is a blessing since our needs can be shared with those who genuinely care about us….but there is a curse since it’s incredibly easy to send a message we never meant to share in the heat of the moment. In recent years this had led to many inappropriate statements or jokes in poor taste shared in a moment when a person truly thought they were funny (not thinking things through before they shared the update).

Such was the case with Justine Sacco PR rep for a major media company who while boarding a flight to Africa made an extremely racist joke about the possibility of her getting AIDS. Almost immediately her message went viral as her followers shared the message with other people, then it was eventually picked up by websites, and nightly news broadcasts (it was resent by at least 1,103 different twitter users). The interesting thing about this is Sacco had no idea what her one Tweet had created since internet can’t be used during an overseas flight.

It didn’t take long for her employer to express disapproval of the message saying, “Unfortunately the employee in question is unreachable on an International Flight, but this is a very serious matter and we are taking appropriate action.” The rest of the night people sent messages on Twitter using the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet (Hashtags are attached to Twitter messages so they can all be organized as a group, and individuals could read messages from people around the world could be part of the conversation). Google even put up a real-time flight tracker so people would know the moment her plane hit the ground (and Justine would lose her job)!

Obviously she was fired for her message, but the story doesn’t end there. There is an interesting article on the NY Times website (written on Christmas Eve) that describes how the situation went from people wanting justice (Justine Sacco to be fired) to something much more violent. Nick Bolton writes, “Within hours, people threatened to rape, shoot, kill and torture her. The mob found her Facebook and Instagram accounts and began threatening the same perils on photos she had posted of friends and family. Not satisfied, people began threatening her family directly. The incident was a trending topic on Twitter and a huge forum thread on Reddit.”

So before landing in Africa (her flight lasted twelve hours) not only had this woman lost a job, but her family and friends were being threatened with physical harm. Thankfully none of these threats were actually carried out as police and other organizations helped to protect Mrs. Sacco’s loved ones; however it’s amazing to think that all of this happened because she clicked a button on her smart phone.

Don’t get me wrong I love Social Media and Technology but it also creates a curse for me because in my darkest moments (when I’m frustrated, annoyed, depressed, lonely) it’s incredibly tempting to go on a long Twitter or Facebook rant. Of course there are times when those feelings should be shared…but not in a way that looks for the sympathy and pity of others (so I feel better) instead of Godly Wisdom or counsel. Social Media does give us great opportunities to share our daily lives with others; but it’s important to remember it also gives others the opportunity to become our judge, jury, and executioner with the click of a button.

Published by

John Wilburn

Church planter, teacher, and disciple-maker in Barrouallie St. Vincent

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