On a quiet Monday evening, I shared this picture of two of my children holding hands on the front step of our house. Little did I know that with an innocent click of the “post” button, something strange was about to happen.
The next morning when I logged into Facebook, my eyes widened as I realized what had transpired while I’d been asleep. Overnight, my picture had gone viral. Over the next 3 days, it had over 18 million views, over 290,000 “likes,” and 29,000 “shares.” Perhaps even more intriguing were the 12,000 men and women who shared their (very candid) responses in the comments section.
I never could have imagined that a simple picture of my children might be controversial. But then, that was before I learned what an ugly place the internet can be.
The caption read, “This might look cute, brother and sister holding hands on the front step. But it’s actually our new punishment. Sibling fighting = time outside holding hands. Best consequence ever.” As people began to stumble across my picture, tempers started to flare. Without warning, a debate about parenting and discipline began to rage. Apparently, everyone had a deeply-rooted opinion that they fiercely held to. Peppered by colorful language, a hoard of self-proclaimed experts who believed me to be the Joseph Stalin of parenting began to tell me in no uncertain terms what a miserable excuse for a parent that I was.
Social media is a funny thing.
Here’s what I learned from my 15 minutes of internet notoriety:
- We need to learn how to disagree. As Chris Horst pointed out, the comment section is where civility and respect die a slow and painful death. We hide behind our screens and lob verbal grenades at others though a veil of anonymity. We emulate talk show hosts by combatively disagreeing and trample on the art of dialogue. If you truly believe that I am permanently damaging my children by three minutes of hand-holding, please let me know. But offensive language isn’t helpful and it makes your listener much less prone to hear what you have to say.
- Don’t read the comments or attempt to defend yourself. Jen Hatmaker, certainly a person well aware of how vicious the internet can be, graciously encouraged me to simply “close your laptop and walk away.” Good advice.
- Remember that behind every avatar is a real human being. In a society where almost everybody is “online”, we desperately need to remember that people aren’t profiles. Let’s refuse to interact with our online communities differently than we’d interact with our literal neighbors. As Glennon Doyle Melton once observed, “If you’re not kind on the internet, you’re not kind.” Together, let’s inject some humanity back into the internet.
- One real friend trumps 1 million “likes.” No amount of virtual connection will ever be a substitute for real, true human connection.
- People are passionate about their kids. There is more pent-up passion on the topic of children than virtually any other topic.
- You never know what will go viral. I post about my kids frequently, but for some reason, this one hit a nerve. You don’t get to choose what catches on—if I did, I would have chosen this video of Myles singing Amazing Grace or the release for the book my son and I recently wrote. Since the response is so unpredictable, I’m finding that I need to be totally certain any people in my posts are in favor of the content. My kids are at an age when we’ve had the conversation about what I post about them. (Also, I discovered it’s a good idea to make sure I ask Laurel first before posting pictures of her in high school during her “high hair” stage.)
- The “ban” button is a wonderful thing. For those people who are simply mean-spirited, use the ban button liberally.
- Like a bad case of dysentery, the attention passes quickly. After three days, my Facebook activity has returned to normal. Quickly come and quickly go.
- Social media has left us saturated in communication, but feeling lonelier than ever. As Dr. Sherry Turkle, author and a professor at MIT, described it, “We are tempted to think that our little ‘sips’ of online connection add up to a big pile of real conversation…Connecting in sips may work for gathering discrete bits of information or for saying ‘I am thinking about you.’ Or even for saying, ‘I love you.’ But connecting in sips doesn’t work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another.” Friends, let’s never allow screens to replace faces.
- Being a real celebrity must be terrible. I had my 15 minutes of internet fame, and I was immensely relieved when it was over. Imagine what it must be like to be bombarded by this craziness each and every day. Ever wonder why child celebrity stories rarely end well? Perhaps part of it is the inescapable pressure coming from online insanity.
Most of all, though, I’ve been reminded that because of what Christ has done, we have something better than “likes.” We are fully known, and perfectly loved. There can be no better intimacy than that. So close the computer. Open up Scripture. And remember you are loved.
If you’ve walked through your own 15 minutes of internet fame, I hope that your experience was better than mine. However, much more than that, I hope that you regularly disconnect from social media so your conversations (and healthy disagreements) run long and deep. Those are the moments in life worth treasuring, and they can’t happen in 140 characters.
Here’s to more people and fewer profiles!