I love social media. When Facebook made its initial public stock offering in 2012, it was valued at an incredible $100 billion! And here’s why: it enables us to keep in touch not just with close friends, but with large numbers of acquaintances, some of whom we may not have seen for years. And that’s a great thing.
When I was called as a mission president, new mission presidents were encouraged to set up a Facebook group for their missionaries as a means of staying in touch after missionaries had returned home. I did set up a group, and I love what it does – it enables me to continue to have some regular contact with hundreds of returned missionaries. I see what they are doing, we can exchange messages, we can keep in touch in a way that was simply impossible just a few years ago. I love reading their posts, seeing their photos, knowing where they are and what they are doing. It just isn’t possible to maintain that level of contract with hundreds of people scattered around the globe without social media.
But here’s the rub: the virtual person I see on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pintrest, and other sites may not resemble very closely the real person I have “friended.” I know I would learn more about my returned missionaries in 30-seconds of face-to-face dialogue by asking a single question, such as “When was the last time you went to the temple?” But because of the impracticality of having even brief private conversations with frequency, we rely on social media. And what we see on social media is a virtual person, and over time that virtual person becomes the person we know. This raises some interesting issues. A young college student I know, and for whom I have a great deal of respect, recently told me, “Sometimes there are people that I never see except on social media. When they put something up that may be questionable, I can’t help but think differently about them.” That’s the harsh reality of social media.
What does your virtual persona look like to others? For returned missionaries this is not a trivial question – many of the people you knew and taught as a missionary still look to you as a role model. They want to be like you. They want to be the kind of Latter-day Saint you are.
Part of the appeal of social media is that it is instantaneous – that’s why it’s called Instagram. But sometimes your immediate reaction is not your best self. Sometimes the post you are forwarding or linking to contains language, photos, and other content that is inappropriate for a disciple of Christ. Taking just a few minutes to think about how your post might be seen by others can make a big difference in how effectively and accurately you are portrayed in the vast world of the Internet.
So here are five questions to ask before you click “post.”
1. Is your language refined and dignified? "Refined, dignified language will clearly identify you as a servant of the Lord" (Missionary Handbook, p. 8). You may not still wear a missionary name tag, but you do covenant every week to “take His name upon you” (D&C 20:77). Words are powerful, and the words you use in social media form a powerful image of who you are in the minds of those who read your posts. “How you communicate should reflect who you are as a son or daughter of God” (For the Strength of Youth, p. 20).
2. Is this post virtuous? “We believe in being…virtuous” (Articles of Faith 1:13). Think twice about what photos you post. While you may want to take pictures of your beach vacation, do you want all the world to see you partially clothed? Be careful about sharing links or “liking” posts that may contain language or images that are less than virtuous.
3. Is it kind? “We believe in being…benevolent” (Articles of Faith 1:13). “Avoid speaking in anger” (For the Strength of Youth, p. 20). Unkind or angry posts are almost always the result of an immediate emotional reaction. Delaying ten-seconds before clicking the “Post” button is usually sufficient to avoid an unkind, angry, or demeaning post. Our communications should build and inspire, never degrade, defame or belittle. Discipleship is about loving everyone. A mother’s daily instructions to her children leaving for school every morning is useful for all of us: “Be kind to all people.”
4. Is it true? "We believe in being honest" (Articles of Faith 1:13). Before you say something or forward a link, ask yourself if it is credible. Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true. Spreading hoaxes, false information, or untrue statements makes you a party, if even unwittingly, to a form a gossip.
5. Would you be comfortable with your employer or future employer seeing this post? Because they probably will – many companies now review the social media sites of prospective hires. But more importantly, would you be comfortable with your mother seeing this post? With the prophet seeing this post? Does this post give license to your recent converts or others who so admire you, to be less than they should be? This post becomes part of your virtual persona – and that persona should be as great as you are!
So keep those posts and tweets coming! I “friended” you because I want to hear from you, I want to laugh with you, I want to see who you are with, I want to hear about what you are doing and what you are thinking. I want to see who you are and who you are becoming. And I want to tell you I “like” you!
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