Who are you online and who are you talking to? Would your friends or colleagues say that you’re the same when they interact with you online as offline? Perhaps you maintain multiple online personalities?
The rise of online social media has created new extensions of ourselves in virtual environments of our own choosing. Do we behave the same online? Is it a problem if we do and what may be the challenges to Christian living?
I’m sure many are familiar with the social media personality stereotypes, of the lurker, the liker and the attention seeker. If not, a quick search will soon fill you in and probably provide a few laughs as well. In psychology there is considerable interest, with many suggesting identifiable personality archetypes. These archetypes manifest themselves in our online presence.
However for example Suler points out that people may change their personality depending where they are, or by choice. This shouldn’t be surprising though, since many of us can attest to behaving differently at work vs. at home or with an acquaintance vs. our best friends.
What is different about social media though is that much of our communication which is publicly broadcast is composed and then sent, giving us pause to check what we say, to portray ourselves as we choose.
Casserly reports on a selection of business representatives and how they use social media. Many of them attested to maintaining multiple personalities, ranging from social to business to in some cases partitioning their followers into common interest groups.
This highlights the trend of tailoring our personal images to achieve our goals. Whether they be acceptance or self-assurance, conscious or subconscious, our mental processes for composing a post or status are different to when we talk face to face.
A projection of self
The internet also brought with it another fascinating extension of our personalities: the potential for anonymity. While social media ties everything to our virtual presence, there are countless forums and sites where one can put forward ideas and critiques while keeping one’s identity separate.
Additionally this is another reason why some users of social networking sites create alternative online personalities. Behind these masks and behind these walls who are we really? By creating these alternate realities or segments of ourselves are we lying to others? Are we lying to ourselves?
Children of light
I would suggest that it is a fine line to tread. A theme used commonly throughout the Bible is that of light being synonymous with truth and Christ, for example both Matthew and John make frequent use of it.
In 1 John chapter 4 we are given comfort that we are children of light and in Ephesians Chapter 5, verses 8b – 9 (NIV) we read “Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)” .
Although this is by no means an extensive overview quite quickly we can see how as Christians we are to conduct ourselves in the light so how then is your Internet personality different to a mask you might wear at work? It seems apparent that we must be consistent as Christians both on and offline.
Caring with more than upvotes
Taking this another step further though is the potential to make a difference to others. While social media is great it, like words, as the writer of James suggests, do not feed a starving man.
We should care for those in our online communities, being ready to get up out of the comfort of our virtual worlds and help them when they need it. What a great opportunity to pray for those whose hearts are questioning or who are suffering or sick or in need?!
Living in truth
While it is easy to be passive online and not say things so as not to offend we are Christians first, both online and offline and forevermore washed by the blood of Jesus Christ. This is not a new challenge to Christian living, it is the same challenge and the same opportunity to show God’s love as has been in front of us since the great commission.
So let us acknowledge his presence in thought word and deed and in posts online.
This article was first published on 30 September 2014.
Sam Gillespie is a postgraduate research student at the university of New South Wales.
Sam Gillespie previous articles may be viewed