Whether you are a tween, a teen, a pastor, a politician, a grandma, or a grad student, whether you blog, tweet, post, or pin, here is the one indispensable social media rule you must follow if you want to be wise, edifying, and save yourself a lot of anguish:

Assume that everyone, everywhere will read what you write and see what you post.

No matter your settings or how tight your circle is, you ought to figure that anyone in the world could come across your social media. All it takes is a link or a search or a bunch of friends you don’t know gathered around a phone that belongs to someone you do know. Anyone can see everything. Your pastor, your parishoners, your ex-whatever, your boss, your prospective employer, your spouse, your kids, your in-laws, your I don’t know if people forget  fans, your constituents, your opponents, your enemies, your parole officer, the girl you like, the dude who freaks you out, the feds, the papers–assume everyone can read your rant and see your pics.

I’m not a conspiracy theorists or a worry-wort. I’m not saying the IRS is spying on you at this moment or That Guy is stalking you. But you ought to assume that any of them could if they really wanted to.

It’s amazing what some people post online. Do we forget that a thousand other folks are reading this intimate declaration of marital affection or this lambasting of all that their family holds dear? I wonder if people realize that what we post is who we are to hundreds or thousands of people. So no matter what we think we are like in real life, to most people who know of us, they only know us as that guy obsessed with Ron Paul or that girl obsessed with dieting or the pastor who seems to hate everyone or the cynical college kid or the older checking out strange things through Socialcam.

Remembering this one indispensable rule should remind of us two related guidelines for Christians.

First, you represent Christ in a real way even if it is in the virtual world. Most people will know that you go to church, what church you go to, and that you claim to be a Christian. So let’s all think before we post. If we go by the name of “little Christ” we ought to be careful to show a little more Christ.

Second, if you need to be critical (and my blog is critical at times) write in such a way that you would not be embarrassed to have the object of your criticism read it with his mother nearby. This doesn’t mean we have to be lily-livered or call for the nice police every time a Christians disagrees strongly with some other person or idea. It means we should be humane and remember we are writing about other humans. By God’s grace, it took me only a week in blogging to learn this lesson. One of my first blogs (now deleted) was a snarky post about an author I wasn’t too keen on. Several days later I was speaking at an event when one of the close friends of this author came up and rebuked for my snark. I have to say he was right. Even though I had legitimate criticisms of this author’s views, my post didn’t edify and didn’t take into account that a real person would read what I wrote.

This was a valuable lesson for me as a blogger, one that I still need to recall and one that many authors, bloggers, pundits, and critics never seem to heed. In our internet age even the most famous people can come across what some unfamous person says about them. And just because someone is famous or rich or powerful or will never meet us doesn’t mean our words can be careless and callous. Even though my writing can be polemical I always try to keep in mind: how would I feel to meet this person face to face or have him call me up sand say “I just read what you wrote on your blog.” Rick Warren, John Piper, President Obama, Lebron James–love ‘em or leave ‘em, agree or disagree, commend or criticize, they still deserve to be treated with basic human dignity.

So be careful little fingers what you post. The internet is like God and like the devil. It sees all and forgives nothing. Knowing this, I will still tweet and blog, and I’m sure I’ll make mistakes from time to time. But I hope I wont forget the one indispensable rule. Remember, the web that gives you access to the world allows for worldwide access to you. And if you don’t like that bargain, you can always shut the screen, put down the phone, and stop feeding the beast.

 

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Comments:


33 thoughts on “The One Indispensable Rule for Using Social Media”

  1. Brilliant, Kevin. Ironically, I suspect, lots and lots of people will read and circulate this one! They should.

  2. That is a great reminder. It is good to watch our words and as social media more and more envelops what would rightly be constituted as our mouths (Proverbial speaking), we need to be careful and show wisdom in what we put out there in relationship to ourselves and to others.

  3. Brian says:

    Great reminder, Kevin. My senior pastor often reminds us who are on the church staff that we should write every email as though it will show up as a headline in tomorrow’s newspaper–because it just might.

  4. Doug says:

    Great post Kevin. I liked that last line especially.

  5. This of course is very true and has practical applications—e.g., if you’re a conservative Christian young person, you might not want to blog under your real name if you’re saying things a potential future employer might use against you.

  6. Jeff Baxter says:

    Absolutely True. Everyone needs to read this post. Like a billboard on the side of the road is the social media of our day. Everyone sees it!

  7. DRT says:

    Thanks Kevin. And folks, please do not post any picture or bad comment about your friends either. The seemingly silly picture of your friend sleeping in an odd place can wreck havoc on them some day.

    One more, I am 50 and know what I care and do not care to have known about me. If you are young, be extra cautious because you may turn into a prudish secret service agent some day and you won’t want any of that stuff around.

  8. just some guy says:

    One slight addition I would make: Follow these same guidelines when posting blog comments. Just because you can hide behind anonymity doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want, however you want, whenever you want, on whatever topic you want.

  9. Suzi says:

    In keeping with Kevin’s blog read “Killing by the Little Cuts,” written by Walter Wangerin, found in his book Ragman. “At the end of our least act, still affected by that acts stands another. Always. And that human was made in the image of God.”

  10. kim mast says:

    thanks for the reminder! good stuff to think about….

  11. Dan Lohrmann says:

    Excellent advice. Very relevant wisdom for everyone online.
    I would add one corollary. Follow the same rule for emails – especially at work when you are sending to multiple people. Ask yourself: could this be misunderstood by someone not on the original ‘To’ line? I have witnessed hundreds of examples where emails are forwarded to others – causing major problems at home or work.

  12. Agree. Always a needed reminder! I am also concerned with Church leaders sending subtle indirects aimed at issues or even members in their Churches; fishing for affirmations or even donations. This is what motivated me to do a piece on 7 Do’s and 7 Don’ts for pastors who update and tweet. You might find it interesting (http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/facebook-guidelines-for-pastors-and-others/)

  13. JR says:

    Kevin, I keep hearing you and others say that “anyone can see anything” we do online. You wrote, “No matter your settings or how tight your circle is, you ought to figure that anyone in the world could come across your social media. All it takes is a link or a search or a bunch of friends you don’t know gathered around a phone that belongs to someone you do know. Anyone can see everything.”

    It would be interesting if you or someone with a high level of technical expertise could further explain this. A friend of mine said that everything I do on the internet is traceable by anyone. I find that hard to believe, and at the same time, want to know if it is actually true and exactly how works?

    Thanks.

  14. Kyle says:

    Thank you for the reminder! I just started a blog a week ago. Your warning has been aptly noted.

  15. Chris from Canada says:

    Great post Pastor Kevin! Very good advice for our social media age

  16. Meg says:

    Amen!!! I’ve been trying to communicate this effectively to friends and family for years. Thank you for explaining this so clearly!

  17. Helen Knapp says:

    I very much agree that is why I get upset when things are posted with my name as if I posted it EX: Filthy pictures !!!!!

  18. Dr Bex Lewis says:

    Nice blog, and a simple golden rule. We’ve sometimes said, “are you happy for your mum, God, your worst enemy to see it” & would you be happy to see it on the front page of a newspaper? Same rules apply to letters sent back/forwards.

    My other rule is ALWAYS remember that there’s a human being at the other end of the machine!

  19. AFBlair says:

    So well said! Our digital footprint is such an important aspect of our witness. As humans, the online disinhibition effect often causes us to say and do things on social media we would never say or do in person. Our university president recently spoke on the vital importance of the “and” in “conviction and civility.” His words further inspired an election season reflection I was already writing on four “tests’ to consider before you post. It’s a nice companion to your piece. http://www.ashleyfblair.com/2012/08/how-shall-we-then-post-conviction-civility/

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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