Sharing Responsibly Online
For many of us, the technological advancements of the past decade have engendered a seismic shift in the way we live our daily lives.
We are inhabitants of a digital world; technology is now so seamlessly woven into our everyday experience that we could say that we live ‘hybrid’ lives – switching effortlessly between online and offline realities. This kind of hybrid living calls for consistency in the way we follow Jesus – our online and offline lives must match up. As disciples, we are called to reflect the light of Christ in the whole of our lives – this is what we mean when we talk about being Lights for Christ.
This blog series is for all who are living hybrid lives.
For many inhabitants of our digital world, sharing snippets of our lives online is now a matter of course: it’s normal and has become part of our culture. It’s how we share news about our achievements, milestones and big life events. Keeping up with friends and family has never been easier, even when they live on the other side of the world.
Having the ability to share information so widely comes with responsibility. We are called, even in the intricacies of our online presence, to be Lights for Christ; representatives of Jesus. Each time we log on to social media, we are faced with the question ‘to share or not to share?’. I’d like to suggest three things to consider when trying to answer this question.
TMI = ‘Too much information’. I wonder if, like me, you have ever accidentally shared a photo of someone online without their permission? It’s easily done – perhaps they’re in the background of the photo and you didn’t really notice them. Perhaps they’ve been happy to share photos online before so you assume they’ll be fine with it this time. Maybe you didn’t even think to ask because it wouldn’t bother you.
However, the longer social media is around, the more I’m becoming aware of other people’s differing views about sharing their information online. Sharing a post including information about someone’s birthday, their full name, a place they’ve been or even the fact that they’re ill might seem innocuous enough, but I think it’s important to ask first. This is one way that we can think of others before ourselves when seeking to be Lights for Christ online.
Linked by Association
I often like to re-share articles and other people’s content online. Perhaps you also enjoy sharing things you’ve found funny or helpful or interesting with your friends and family. But have you considered who originally posted these things, and what their intention might have been? I think we need to be aware that in sharing someone else’s content online, we may be seen to be endorsing them and their message. Of course, this is less important if we do indeed agree with them, but I think it’s worth making sure that the original author of the content, and the message itself, are someone and something we’re happy to be associated with. Perhaps we could ask the questions: ‘as a follower of Jesus, is the message and source of this content something I can share in good conscience? Does what I’m about to share align with the values of the gospel?’
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
My final suggestion may seem incongruous with my first one – earlier on in this blog post I wrote about the perils of sharing too much online, especially when other people’s information is involved. Thinking carefully about what and how much we share is important when sharing about ourselves, too – each one of us will have a slightly different threshold between ‘just enough’ and ‘too much’.
However, if you are someone who likes to share your experiences online, then I wonder how much your online life reflects your real-world one? Both Elliot and I have written in previous blog posts about having integrity and coherence between our online and offline lives. It can be tempting to only share the positives online – the new job, the holiday, the happy times with friends. Social media offers us the opportunity to carefully curate the image that other people have of us, and if we’re not careful, this can lead to vanity.
We are of course entitled to share only the positives online if we so choose, but if you feel comfortable doing so, sharing some of our disappointments and sorrows as well can remind the people who see our posts that we are ‘real’, three-dimensional people just like them: being followers of Jesus doesn’t make us perfect or mean that we lead perfect, easy lives – we too experience suffering and sadness. Integrity and honesty in our hybrid lives is an attractive quality, and sharing something of our struggles can be encouraging for others going through a similar experience. Perhaps you have been encouraged or relieved to see online that you are not the only person to be struggling with a particular issue – be it bereavement, mental health difficulties, or something else.
Ultimately, these kinds of things may (understandably) feel too personal to share online, but presenting a balanced and realistic image of our lives is one way that we can seek to be integral as we live our hybrid lives.
In summary, I think that pausing briefly before we post or share something online could be a helpful habit to get in to – just as we may pause before we speak to consider our words, it might be useful to pause just long enough to think through these questions:
- Is this my information to share? Do I need to ask for someone’s permission?
- Am I happy to be associated with the source and message of this content? Does it align with the values of the gospel?
- Does what I’m about to share contribute towards a realistic representation of my life, in all its wonder and imperfection?
Having the ability to share information so widely presents us with countless everyday opportunities to reflect the light of Christ to others. Let’s make our online decisions (including ‘to share or not to share’) in view of our calling to ‘shine as a light in the world to the glory of God’.
This Lights for Christ Online blog series has been co-produced by Hannah Sandoval, the Diocese of Sheffield Lights for Christ Enabler, and Elliot Hyliger, the Diocese of Sheffield Digital Mission Development Advisor. We’d love to hear from you so do share your thoughts in the comments below or get in touch directly.