Digital Footprint RFI

3d people and symbol Internet
Image by 姒儿喵喵 via Flickr

Hey readers,

I am beginning to gather some thoughts for a message I’ll be giving in the near future about teenagers and the digital footprint they leave as believers in Christ. I’d love some input.

I hope to impress upon them the fact that nothing posted online ever goes away, and that the way we conduct ourselves on the Internet should reflect Christ in the same way the lives we live IRL should.

  • Without giving details, being too graphic, and/or without ignoring the planks in our own eyes, what behaviors have you witnessed online that could be detrimental to someone’s testimony?
  • Do you know of anyone that has had repercussions to something they posted online?
  • Has your opinion about someone ever been swayed based on a Facebook/Twitter comment or picture?
  • Any FLAME stories (wrote about my opinion about that topic here)?
  • What do YOU do to remind yourself that absolutely everything said/posted online LASTS FOREVER and can be SEEN by EVERYONE?

PLEASE comment below. Thanks!

JW

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11 thoughts on “Digital Footprint RFI

  1. Jon, here are some of my thoughts about what i have read on some youth’s fb pages. I don’t like the use of OMG–they say, I mean oh my gosh, but people reading it don’t know that. It seems that young people think that if you type it, you are not really SAYING it. It is the same. Sometimes it also gets confusing when they post song lyrics as their statuses. Now, if it is a praise song and they are glorifying God, I am all for that. But, sometimes the words are like, “lying her next to you”, etc., etc. I read that and since I don’t know secular music, I think they are doing something inappropriate with a significant other. I also believe that many times a conversation should be a message between the two people not so everyone that is your friend can see it especially if you are trying to help someone see something in their own life that is not appropriate. Don’t drag other people into it. I have seen adults do this WAY too many times. There was a girl who used to be in my SS class and was in college. Someone posted pictures of her at a party and tagged her in them so i could see these pictures also. She was drinking, talking about getting drunk, etc. I wrote her a MESSAGE on facebook and tried to encourage her in her Christian walk. She was very upset with me and so were her parents. They said she was going through a difficult time. We don’t have the relationship like we used to have. There was another time a girl in my SS class wrote on myspace. The language was AWFUL, very foul. The next Sunday, online blogs “came up” during SS and not by me! (I love it when that happens.) I told them about reading someone’s blog recently and the language was so bad that if I was in a movie with that kind of language, I would walk out. The girl was “shocked” that a Christian would do that. After class, I pulled her aside and did a Nathan to David, “you are the person I was talking about.” She was caught! She cried and told me about what was going on in her life and that she was just lashing out at her mom. It did open up the door for future conversations.

    1. Good stuff, Stephanie. I’ve seen examples of the same types of things. I don’t think people realize the impact a comment that hasn’t been considered carefully can have, and that we may never know who will see the things we post online. Gotta control those (virtual) tongues!

  2. I find Rom 14 challenging in a digitally exposed world, and am not happy about it.

    Beyond that, agree with Stephanie that it also highlights inconsistencies in our lives–no matter how you may try to prevent it.

    I recall a “Christian” forum I frequent ( http://community.logos.com/forums/t/8337.aspx?PageIndex=1 ) where a poster became, in perpetuity, a great example of a failed example of being like Christ. See if you can figure out who. I still remember nearly a year later–and this turned off some great contributors.

    Thought: Does God get trumped in your Temp folder?

    Well, I’d better stop there–after all, the persistence of this post is as certain as the policy under the law of the Medes/Persians.

    1. I read Romans 14 after you mentioned it. “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

      I read some of that forum, and I see what you mean. That’s a shame.

      I’m gonna use that thought for sure! I’ll give you credit.

      I’ll get you to explain that Medes/Persians thing to me later. Thanks Ward!

  3. I recently saw a very positive post from one of our own godly young men regarding his own life. Two friends commented then began a string of comments between themselves that included foul language and sexual innuendos. I debated inserting an opinion but refrained since I was not part of the discussion but a reader. The posts with the foul language were deleted but the young man didn’t come back with a “warning” to his friends. I don’t believe we need to friend everyone we meet. Just as we are careful who we hang out with physically we need to be cautious with who we hang out with online. Who we allow as our friends speak volumes as to who we are. I have personally de-friended facebook acquaintances for language and continued opinions that are inflammatory regarding Christianity. I don’t see facebook as a witnessing tools. Jesus was personally among the lost loving them, and meeting their needs. How do I do that behind a computer monitor? My posts are itended to exhort, uplift, be funnt or pass along information. Correction and differences of opinion need to take place in person at best or by private message at least.

    If I want to “check out” a friend or friend of a friend, I always read their info page for likes/books/movies/music etc. I have raised quite an eyebrow on several occasions when looking at friends and friends of friends.

    I also agree with everything Stephanie wrote (oh and Ward too)

    1. I agree, though you could argue that, to a certain extent, we need to be a positive influence to those who disagree. We’ll talk about that Sunday night. Thanks, Renee!

  4. Jon,

    First, let me apologize for the length of this post. You know how we preachers can get when it comes to brevity!

    My wife and I have recently been discussing this very topic, and have made some observations along those lines. What impresses me is that the overwhelming prevalence of technology in our lives (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) has in some ways intensified what I call the “first impression factor.” We don’t have to leave our homes to be faced with the minutiae of other people’s lives, and we tend to believe even more what we see in print (digital or otherwise), coloring our opinions about others accordingly.

    The more like the world we talk/type/behave, the more that opinion is reinforced in the minds of others. Example: a group photo from a restaurant, most everyone is partying/drinking, but one person is just there innocently socializing. Someone tags the photo, captions, “Everyone partied hard!” and guilt by association is inferred; “Oh! I didn’t know that Sally Church-goer did that kind of thing! Guess they don’t really walk the talk.” This also goes for postings that, in the mind of the poster seem innocent, yet are taken to be the worst it could mean.

    I suppose that the real issue comes down to being able to properly contextualize the situation. We can’t get a proper view of the circumstances, the before-and-after, and this can be devastating when one thing is taken out of context. We get to the place where we say, “Well, So-and-So does this, so it must be okay.” Be it the language we use, the subjects on which we speak/comment, just one thing can make all the difference in someone’s opinion of us.

    What is also deadly for a testimony is the freedom most people feel they have when hopping online. Just a brief perusal of a Twitter account or a Facebook News Feed shows that on the whole we feel comfortable posting just about anything, anytime. Most times it is innocent enough, but I’ve been personally shocked at subjects that are discussed in such a public forum, where anyone can comment any way they want, where “little eyes” can see (our seven-year-old son likes to play some games of Facebook, and we’ve had to “unfriend” some people we know because what they post isn’t appropriate for our son to see).

    What also adds to the issue is the ease with which we can say and do things. If a person is in a real-world situation, they tend to pause for a moment, think things through, maybe stop themselves from saying the wrong thing. With online things, we feel something, think something, we spend a few seconds typing it out, press “Enter,” and WHAM! It’s out there, and we can’t stop it.

    The Internet is perceived as very “anonymous,” and I think that we have carried that perception into the new personal media. Our names, our pictures, our words and actions are there for truly anyone to see. It’s not just about friends lists and associations. As Mark Lowry recently “retweeted” (from @ScottRJones, from @brettfjones, from @chuckcolegrove — quite a thread!): “Watch your words – someone you trust may trust someone you don’t.” Once we put something out there, we truly do lose all control over it, with no way to adequately explain or defend it. And all it takes is someone “forwarding” it, and it spreads like wildfire.

    People follow the footprints we leave for them. In years gone by, it was about what they saw in our life. Today, they’re following the footprints we leave digitally, and too often those footprints are leading away from the Lord, even if we don’t intend them to. The Internet, Facebook, Twitter and such, these are great tools through which we can reach more people for Christ than at any other time in history; we can be sort of missionaries to a foreign country without ever leaving our home. But those advantages also create an even greater need for us to be vigilant about how we think, what we say and where we go. It’s no longer just about where you go online; it’s about what you say and share.

    The world will always think the worst about anything and anyone, especially the Christian. Satan will make sure he capitalizes on every possible chink in our armor and use our own words to bring dishonor to our Lord. It’s all about speed these days, but slowing down and truly considering what the Lord thinks, truly considering WWJD, might save us all a lot of worry and grief in the near future.

    Thanks, and keep up the great work!

    Chris Keeton
    Ashland, KY

  5. Hi Bro Jon,

    I’ve become cautious about using any social media. With reports of information leaks, selling our information to third parties, and poor oversight of content, I find it hard to trust these sites or the unknown people that use them. I had to have a few good talks with my older kids about joining Facebook, and will not allow my younger ones to be on it. I use it mainly as a communication tool and to be a positive Christian testimony on the web.

    I do not think most Jr Hi kids are ready for Facebook, unless their parents are going to be actively involved–that’s just the standard in my home anyway. Jesse has not asked yet, and I will be the last one to push it on him.

    Sadly, I have un-friended some of our own students (past & present) because of language or things they ‘like’ (or pictures they post) that are a poor testimony. It was very hard to do, but it was really bringing me down. To me, if you ‘like’ something, you are saying you approve of it, including lewd comments, raunchy videos/lyrics, or questionable things like partying/drinking, etc. I’ve seen other students send my son or daughter a virtual alcoholic beverage on Facebook. Why? Is that how Christians are to encourage one another? It’s not funny to me if that was the intent. There are worse things, however, that really bother me.

    Not long ago, it seemed cool to use a new term “FML”. A couple of our own college/sr hi students started throwing around this term in their status updates and such when they were having a bad day, I guess. After becoming curious, I looked it up and asked about it. What I found really bothered me…and I wanted to ‘nip it in the bud’. Right or wrong, I commented. I wanted them, their Christian friends & anyone else to know it’s not cool to use that term (btw, it’s probably against the use agreement to use offensive terms–see how well that’s enforced on even obvious vulgarity nowadays? pshhh). My only online comment back to him was “not cool”. I didn’t consider that an attack, nor did I lecture him. I took it offline from there via message/scriptures and then next time I saw him in person. He told me he knew what it meant, but I still had to help him understand why it’s just as offensive to God and others, even if he’s just using 3-letter initials for the actual filth. He understood, apologized for behaving offensively, and replaced his status.

    However, he didn’t remove it in time before another girl that went to our church and her mom attacked me over this. They ignored the vulgar term being thrown around (and yes they knew what it stood for) and chose to only focus on trying to make me out as the bad guy. Thankfully, the worst parts went off line over messaging…long and heated they were. I found out they had it in for me already, and this was their opportunity to dredge up some things from the past that I had no idea what they were talking about, which we resolved. Talk about your misunderstandings…

    Some time ago, I also had a best friend betray my confidence using Facebook. It was precipitated by a bad falling out between us. He used a false name and created a bogus Facebook account to message untruths “anonymously” to my friends about me. It was deeply hurtful and scarring to all involved.

    If you are using a computer at work or on a public network where firewall logging is enabled (and most ARE…), your conversations, comments, messages, etc are possibly being recorded and reviewed for content by nosy system administrators or authorized homeland security agents (https or not; Facebook is NOT https). And as you know, once it’s out there, it’s out there forever. Clearing your status or comment doesn’t mean you deleted it from the permanent Internet record you created when you first wrote it!!

    It’s always better to talk in person about something sensitive/personal, or take it off line as soon as possible. A phone call is next best. Email or texting are my last choice. If you must write something out, I’ve found it’s always better to let it sit for hours or a day and come back and edit it before going final. The Holy Spirit has time to work on our emotions and thoughts, and often will change our attitude about sending anything at all sometimes! Then we get to practice Col 3:13 and bear with one another and forgive.

    I’ve observed some kids will accept anyone as a friend. It’s as if they think they are more popular by the number of ‘friends’ they can tally compared to others with fewer. This is not wise because they never know who is behind that account, no matter what that person says. They give that person greater access to their personal information, and if that person(s) is out to hurt them somehow, they’ve just unlocked the back door.

    There are some good tools in Facebook that everyone needs to be aware of to lock out personal information from being viewed by everyone except your friends. I discovered that much of this info is available by-default to everyone. I try to be safe and restrict my information to pretty much friends-only. Since so many of our students use Facebook, it might be worth touching on this through a few screen-shots to help them see how to better protect themselves.

    Blessings!
    Jeff

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