It can feel as though every couple of days a new "revolutionary" social media platform pops up. Some have disappearing content or limit you to text only, while others are almost a tiny version of the internet with every conceivable type of content and person available to friend you.
With such rapid change, how do we navigate this new world without sinking under the ever-rising sea of social media? How do we enjoy the benefits without starting a fight? And, how can adults both appropriately engage with kids and protect their children from the dangers that lurk in this new frontier?
The Rev. Robert Sturdivant, minister of students at Trinity United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, has two simple rules to help navigate the choppy seas of social media. Both focus on thinking about what we are posting before we post it.
Social media is about sharing your life. "We just start there," he says. "We encourage our volunteers to share their life."
Unless we are paying attention, our presence on social media can make a quick turn from sharing our life to merely posting links to news articles. Often the articles can be offensive to some or many of our social media connections. When we share a polarizing article, these platforms meant to connect us with each other turn into tools to divide us. Most of that completely disappears when we choose to share what is happening in our life rather than post an endless stream of news links.
After we shift to focusing on what social media does best – sharing our life – Sturdivant has a second rule to help avoid the complications that arise from doing just that. "Share what is universal," he says, "share things that do not require a backstory."
When we write a post about something from our life, we want to do it in such a way that it is understandable by anyone who reads it. It is understood without needing to be explained.
Why? It's simple, Sturdivant says, "People don't ask for a backstory. They just create their own."
That's how most of the social media-fueled rumors begin: Someone creates a backstory from an ambiguous post. You can avoid much of the drama by asking the simple question: "Does this require a backstory to understand?"
These two rules help us navigate the often dangerous sea of social media. We will find our lives enriched as we use these channels for their intended purpose while avoiding the dangerous regions. Happy posting!
The Rev. Jeremy Steele is Next Generation minister at Christ United Methodist Church, Mobile, Alabama. He is also an author, blogger at jeremywords.com and a frequent contributor to MyCom, an e-newsletter published by United Methodist Communications.