Recently I canceled my LinkedIn and Plaxo accounts. I had previously canceled my Twitter account, but now have one under @PeaceFriendsCom to promote my blog, PeaceFriends.com.
I mostly look at my own family’s Facebook postings and photos and spend almost no time posting to Facebook, except for my blog posts, which go up automatically. In short, I’m pretty unsociable about social media.
Here are some of the pitfalls of social media, as I see them, especially for pastors:
1. You think you’re anonymous.
“Public anonymity” sounds like an oxymoron. You know, like airline food, military intelligence, hot ice and so on.
But Twitter, Facebook and others, while appearing to really connect us with others, don’t. What social media do is create an exchange “as through a glass darkly” to quote the Apostle Paul.
There is a sense that one can post comments or quotes that would not be said or shown in a face-to-face encounter. Hence, public anonymity.
How else can you explain today’s “boy behaving badly,” recently resigned U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner? Either he has a political death wish or he thought somehow he was anonymous. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” comes to mind here for some reason.
2. Nuance is lost in social media.
The raised eyebrow, the tone of voice, the wry smile, the sense of humor are all lost in social media. Emoticons, I’m sorry, are not good substitutes for human facial expressions, even if they do help clarify (“Is he mad or just joking?”) the writer’s intent.
I won’t even get into correct spelling, grammar, syntax and all the other skills of proper writing that are lost, but nuance is a big one for me.
3. It’s easy to be stupid.
While we might choose our words more carefully in a real-life encounter, social media is a linguistic drive-by shooting – quick, blunt and irrevocable.
Of course, you can delete your tweet, but that won’t prevent someone else from capturing a screenshot and putting it on Twitter again. Weiner, again, is a good example.
Of course, being stupid isn’t limited to explicit images or inappropriate comments. Pastors and church leaders need to consider carefully their social media interaction, whether on blog posts, Twitter, Facebook or any of the other social media platforms.
The now ubiquitous stories of employers checking out an applicant’s Facebook, MySpace or Twitter accounts before hiring make my point about caution.
Do not think that your social media account is your private business. If you’re out there, someone in your church or community will be reading and watching.
All of this doesn’t mean that pastors are limited to tweeting Bible verses or Christian platitudes. But, a good rule of thumb is “if you wouldn’t show it to your (deacons, elders, spouse, senior pastor, mother and so on), don’t tweet it.”
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia.