Dangers, Benefits and Precautions for Facebook-Users

Yesterday, a young man in my church asked me three questions about Facebook:
First, in your opinion/experience, what are the dangers and/or risks of using Facebook?
Second, in your opinion/experience, what are the benefits of using Facebook?
Third and finally, in your opinion/experience, what are some reasonable precautions that can minimize dangers?

Dear Caleb, Great questions! Here are my answers:
DANGERS & RISKS
Facebook, as well as other “social media” tools (MySpace, Twitter, etc.) are not evil or sinful in an of themselves but they certainly come with great potential for causing spiritual and even physical harm. I’m not so concerned that a Facebook user like you will be looking at lewd pictures or reading profane text (although both exist on Facebook and are a real danger you should be aware of). In other words, what you normally see and read is probably not overtly sinful. Rather I’m concerned that there will be an open door to be tempted to look at and/or read things that we might call fun, legal, culturally acceptable (even in the “Christian culture”), but NOT necessarily wise or helpful. This could have a “dumbing down” or searing effect on your conscience. In other words, if you look at and get used to regularly seeing certain kinds of pictures of girls — even if it is just the faces of girls at church who are FB friends — then you run the risk of wanting to continue to look … and continue … and continue. Before you know it, your mind can become hooked on both the pictures as well as the desire to continue looking. These become, at best, a distraction from what is truly important/helpful and, at worst, an idol. This kind of temptation — slow, constant, subtle, even “justifiable” in the name of wholesome Christian relationships — can be a dangerous, slippery slope. Every sinful action begins with a sinful thought… Consider: When do you stop looking? Can you stop? Do you even realize there is a problem?

Further, there’s the whole danger of spending significant amounts of time on virtually worthless activities — “folly” and the fact that FB provides what experts call a false sense of community. In other words, FB, while fun, is of questionable value to a young Christian man. Is there a better activity you could be doing to grow in faith and in sanctification?

BENEFITS
Aside from all the potential for danger/sin in Facebook, it does have some redeeming qualities, if used carefully. First, it can be a means of sharing biblical truth. You could make your status updates consist entirely of Scripture or scriptural truths, promote the gospel, etc. Second, it can be a means of providing godly encouragement. You could make your status updates consist entirely of godly and helpful words for those who would read them. Or, you could determine to follow up all your friends’ updates (no matter what they say) with godly advice or counsel. Of course you run the risk of being labeled as a holier-than-thou but this gets back to my point of FB being a false community. Really there is little true and long-lasting Christian encouragement that can occur in this kind of medium… Other benefits: You can connect with old friends (not that you have any old friends yet — but you will) and keep in touch with out-of-town relatives and provide helpful information to others about your life, assuming, of course, that you actually have good information about your life to share. Of course, there’s a point when it becomes nauseating to others to be constantly reading about you … from you.

REASONABLE PRECAUTIONS
Only become friends with females who are relatives. Un-friend every female who isn’t a relative. Un-friend everyone else whom you don’t really know or care about — those who are not in your normal sphere of influence or relationships. You’ll be amazed at how your view and use of FB will change. Then, resolve only to post status updates, pictures, links, etc. that are godly, helpful, and biblical. To say it in the negative, don’t post your emotional rants, complaints, gripes, bad attitudes, etc. unless you are genuinely asking for help. But then, if you are willing to genuinely ask for help on something you should first turn to your parents and not to your FB friends. Don’t read or look at FB users who aren’t your direct friends. If you get the idea that I’m arguing that FB has very little redeeming value and that my list of “reasonable precautions” sounds like I’m recommending to stay off FB entirely, well — I’m pretty close to that, yes, especially for a young man like yourself. The main point is to apply Proverbs-like wisdom to your life and how you use tools like the Internet, mobile phones, Facebook, texting, etc.

READ ABOUT KING DAVID…
Read the story of David and Bathsheba from 2 Samuel 11. If your dad has a copy of R. Kent Hughes’ book, Disciplines of a Godly Man, read the chapter on purity (ch. 2). In that chapter, Hughes provides the best analysis of King David’s sin — he didn’t have Facebook or a mobile phone — with Bathsheba. It is worth your time and study with regard to how you will use Facebook and the Internet … and how you will behave at church … and everywhere else. It’s simply the best teaching I’ve read on how to protect yourself from sin.

…AND THEN YOU DECIDE
All of this is just my opinion, of course, so I challenge you to think through it for yourself: Get out your Bible and use the concordance to look up verses that deal with our words, giving an account, what men look at, praise, lust, pride, greed, and genuine Christian fellowship. You won’t find a verse that outright bans FB; you will find, however, many verses that provide a lot of warnings about how a young man should live his life, what he puts into his mind, what he allows his eyes to see, and more.

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