Instagram, Snapchat, and Shutting Down the Internet
Call me an old guy, but I don't Snapchat. I don't use Instagram. Really, the more I use social media, the more I'm convinced that it's the worst. If I weren't so addicted to it, I would only use it to share pictures of Lincoln. Because that guy is awesome. Anyway.
Snapchat. Instagram. Social Media. Let's get real for a minute.
Something I've seen far too much lately is a relentless defense for various social media platforms. Specifically Snapchat, but that's not all. If you've ever had a conversation with me about Snapchat, you know that I'm a hater. Big time.
There are plenty of reasons to hate it, especially if you're a Christian. Even more so when you look at the initial purpose. I won't get into that here, but a quick search will tell you all you need to know. (Spoiler: accountability-free sexting for college guys)
Aside from that, it just isn't safe for believers. By that, I mean you cannot guard yourself. In fact, you don't even have to be looking for inappropriate content. With a few innocent taps, inappropriate content from around the world will be delivered straight to you, with ZERO content filtering.
Parents take note: You cannot choose what your kids use or see on Snapchat or Instagram. And make no mistake, there is inappropriate content on both.
It's not like the internet, where for the most part, you have to actively search for crap. No, these apps are designed to deliver it straight to you, sometimes unsolicited, and with very little effort on the user's part.
I am a firm believer that any Christian has a lot of explaining to do if they're on the platforms. Maybe that makes me a fuddy-duddy, but it's always safer to err on the side of more accountability and protection.
Here're some numbers, if you're into that kind of thing:
90% of boys and 60% of girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18. And the lines between what is and isn't porn grow blurrier every single day.
How about this stat: 71% of teens have hidden online activity from their parents.
If the struggle is that real, then should we freely expose ourselves to that kind of content? It's all easily accessible, unmonitored, and untraceable. And we're somehow okay with it.
(Make no mistake, though Instagram slips under the radar often, the content is still questionable. Tiny emojis covering up the sensitive bits to prevent bots from the removing the content doesn't do much. And if you think it does, you're not giving your imagination enough credit. Not to mention the live videos, which by nature are difficult to police.)
But there's always a defense
Often people defend the use of Snapchat with an, "Okay, well, where do you draw the line? Do I get rid of the internet or TV because they have bad things?" Obviously, they're saying this to be obnoxiously tongue-in-cheek in an attempt to appeal to ridicule (for you debate nerds out there). But I usually calmly nod back at them and say, "Sure." That's perhaps not a bad idea. ("Down with the internet," says the blogger.)
In fact, Jesus talks about some effective ways to weed out temptation:
“And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” - Matthew 5:30
Let's think about that for a second.
My right hand is pretty useful. It would take me quite a while to write this post with only 1 hand. In fact, I can't think of a single thing that would be easier if I only had one hand.
Cutting off the hand is an aggressive and painful imagery—not by accident. Should we all lop off our hands? Probably not. But the metaphor is unambiguous: we should be prepared to cut things out of our lives, even things that hurt to remove. Things that can be beneficial, useful, even something that might cripple us (from our perspective) for the sake of our spiritual integrity.
Let that sink in.
It's easy to justify tools like social media and junk, especially when we get hyper-spiritual about it. "Think of all the new and exciting ways to share The Gospel with it!" you say. And I agree. The Lord uses new and innovative tools every day to reach people for His Kingdom purpose.
But here's the unavoidable truth: if those tools draw into temptation or cause you to sin, they're not worth it. Back to Matthew 5, you don't think my right hand or eye can be an effective tool for the advance of the gospel? It absolutely can be, but the Bible makes it clear that it's not worth the cost of my own spiritual integrity.
As useful as tools and resources are, the most useful tool for the sake of The Gospel is a disciple above reproach. You cannot sacrifice the latter for the former.
Should we give up the internet? I'm not saying or even proposing we should. But maybe that’s a conversation we should have. There should be nothing in life that we are unwilling to consider giving up. So often we write off the very idea of cutting something out of our lives as if it’s the basest folly before we've even given it serious thought. Here's a tough word: double check what you're defending because this is very likely an idol. We defend the objects of our worship with an unrivaled vehemence.
Everything is worth scrutiny for the cause of obedience.
To further illustrate the failure of that reductio ad absurdum argument, the claim that if we should eliminate things like Snapchat, we may as well eliminate the whole internet, let's look at the two closely. (Spoiler, it's a dumb argument)
We'd actually have to go to some really weird places to conflate the two topics. Snapchat is designed with lack of accountability and ease of access in mind.
There is a tab in both Snapchat and Instagram called "Explore" that, with the push of a button, will show you a random assortment of content from the platform, with no safety controls whatsoever. Which means I can't filter what they might show me.
To make the internet, as a whole, equivalent to that experience, it would be akin to me only using private browsing mode and leaving a tab open on my browser with porn on it. The adopt the mindset of those who defend Snapchat, "I just don't click that tab."
But check it out: there's no accountability and nothing to stop me from clicking the browser tab. No Christian in their right mind would do what I'm describing. Yet, many defend Snapchat with their dying breath as if Jesus' return depends on it.
I've argued with dozens of parents, church communications guys, youth pastors, and teenagers and all jump to the defense and often adopt that hyper-spirituality I mentioned earlier before they've even given themselves half a second to consider if there's anything negative that could come from it. It's utterly nonsensical.
Nothing is more annoying than blindly defending something before you've even considered it. That's a textbook "High Place" from 2 Kings. "I don't want to tear that altar to sin down, but I promise I won't worship at it." That mindset didn't work too well for the Israelites. What makes you think you'll do better?
If you can't beat 'em, join em
Another defense I see a lot from church leaders, youth pastors, and parents is, "My kids are going to use it whether I like it or not, so I might as well see what it's all about."
Excuse me, what? Since when do parents and leaders adopt that mentality? Only when it's fun and comfortable, I guess.
"My kids are going to do drugs whether I like it or not, so I might as well get high too so I can relate and spend time with them." (Okay, maybe that's an appeal to ridicule just like I pointed out earlier. Even still, I think this is a better corollary than the other arguments.)
Sorry, but dumb.
Full-disclosure. As a preteen, my parents caught me with porn. You know what they didn't do? Start watching it too, just so they could see what it's all about.
As parents and leaders it's our job to shepherd, instruct, and influence kids in our lives, not just let them do what they want, as long as we join them to see how bad it might be. Yeah, it's uncomfortable and yes it takes a special (supernatural) boldness, but read James 3:1 and tell me you're okay with the consequences of not doing so. I sure as heck am not. We will be held accountable. For me, I'd rather play it safe than have to give an account to the God of the universe.
Heaven forbid I ever catch Lincoln with something like that, but you better believe I'm not going to join him. On the other side, I will do my best to protect and guide him from the perils the enemy is slinging at us like monkeys throwing, well, you get the idea.
It's our job to set the example for the young folks in our life. I'm not going to take financial cues from Lincoln and try his methods to see what's there. Otherwise, I'd spend my entire paycheck on Pokemon and Hot Wheels. As awesome as that sounds, it's my job to be an example to Lincoln and teach him these things in a way he wants to model.
The same is true for navigating the wilderness of technology and the internet. I lead by example, not by just cutting my losses and diving in.
I've given Twitter and Facebook a little grace here (though they're annoying in other ways). The difference is that as of the time of this writing, neither platform has a magic "show me the nasty" button that drops random content in front of your eyes. If/when they add that functionality, I may have to jump ship from them as well.
Safety is actually a good thing
Here's the thing. As Christians, we have to protect ourselves. We put up walls, not to box ourselves in, but to prevent us from falling off the balcony. It's about safety, not restriction.
Sure, there's an element of truth (even a good Biblical case) for God being able to use even bad things for his purposes. Totally agree. But I think the Bible is clear that we have to draw the line somewhere, and we have to be militant about protecting ourselves from temptation and sin. Just because God can use bad for His good, it doesn't mean we should rush to invite the bad into our lives, ready to embrace and defend it.
My parting scripture for this angry rant is Hebrews 3:12-13: "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."
Sin has a great way of hardening our hearts and tricking us into embracing it. Don't let it win. It's time to draw a line.