Once, on a trip to a foreign country, I stayed in a place where the owner assured me that my things were safe in the room while workers fixed the air conditioning. Taking him at his word, I went out for the day. A few hundred dollars were stolen from me by people whose faces I wouldn’t recognize, but who were allowed into the sanctity of my space because someone else vouched for them. I felt so violated. Because I didn’t take responsibility for my temporary home I have to take responsibility for the fact that I was robbed.
Once, after I had whittled down the number of my Facebook friends to people who I thought I could trust, a picture I posted with visibility limited to the privacy of ‘Friends’ was Whatsapped right back to me from someone who was blocked on my FB. The message behind the picture I received was, ‘You may block me but I have spies everywhere, even on your Facebook’. Once I uploaded that picture I gave up control of what my ‘friends’ could do with my picture, including forwarding it to someone I didn’t want in my space. I felt violated by someone I trusted, but didn’t know who that person was.
Once, on an ADO bus from Belize to Cancun, I sat behind a man who was scrolling through Facebook. From where I sat I could make out his phone screen. He sat back, seemingly relaxed and nonchalant, and used his thumb to scroll. At every female’s picture he stopped, used his thumb and index finger to expand the photo, and then moved the photo in every direction to see all that he could see. Our bus ride was hours long, and he used the time to carefully examine, as if under a microscope, every women who passed through his newsfeed. I felt violated even though his is a face I do not know; but his actions gave me insight into how some people handle social media.
These three lessons taught me that I had to do things differently. I used to be indiscriminate about who I added on Facebook. I thought I had a social responsibility to add people, even if didn’t know them. I either trusted the fact that we had so many mutual friends, or thought I could be an example to them. I kept some people on my Friends list because I believed they had my back. I assumed that my photos were safe with them.
When my FB photo was Whatsapped back to me by someone I had blocked on FB, I knew that I had to change how I allowed people access to my life. In that heated moment of anger I deleted most everyone that I knew to be a mutual friend with that person. After I cooled down I began dealing with this problem methodically.
I whittled the number of my Facebook friends from over twelve hundred to under five. Over the years I’ve come up with a few criteria that determine whether a person stays or goes, and I use the analogy of my yard, (as is appropriate when assessing any boundary). I will only allow certain people in my yard. The fence is intact and the gate is kept closed. Anyone passing by may see the house from the outside, but only a select number of people are allowed into the yard and even fewer, into the house.
My Facebook is a fenced yard. For now, I try to keep the number of friends I have there below five hundred. I’ve tried for three hundred but that is extremely difficult. (I’m still trying). This isn’t done out of anger, just like building a fence isn’t done out of anger. It’s a matter of being practical and protective. The more people you have in your ‘yard’, the less safe you are.
Here are some of my criteria:
- I play a game sometimes that I call, ‘Recognize that face?’. I scroll through Facebook and before I look at the name of the person who posted the picture, I try to see if there’s anyone in the picture I recognize. If I do recognize the face, the person is someone I know personally. If I repeatedly don’t recognize a particular face, then the person approaches my chopping block.
- When I pass you on the street, in the market, at the bank, at the airport, or wherever, and you look at me as if you don’t know me, or don’t acknowledge me in anyway, it’s instant chopping block. I look at it this way: if you don’t know me, pretend to not know me, or totally dis me, why should I give you access to my life by letting you into my FB yard?
- I do not accept friend requests from businesses that have a personal page as opposed to a business page.
- One of the most important criteria is that I get to determine the content I want to see in MY newsfeed, and that is not limited to profanity and nudity. Your FB posts can, and do, influence me by having an impact on my day, my thoughts, and/or my feelings. Also, your Facebook posts can show me whether you are someone I should or shouldn’t trust to allow into my FB yard.
Maybe because it’s digital and intangible we think it’s okay to allow people we don’t know, and people we don’t know if we can trust, to have access to our comings and goings.
The Proverbs repeatedly give direction about how to choose our friends, to guard our hearts, to not go certain places, to not hang with certain people. Using those same principles, we get to set up the boundaries of our Facebook perimeter, and protect it however we see best as we look out for our own well-being. They offer help in deciding how to manage our social media interactions. Here are examples:
Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out. (Proverbs 17:14).
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin... (Proverbs 18:24a).
The righteous choose their friends carefully… (Proverbs 12:26a)
We sometimes have it backwards: when choosing to accept friend requests we think about the sender and how they would feel if we don’t accept, instead of thinking about our own safety. What we put on social media inadvertently becomes the property of anyone who can see it. We lose control of it the minute we hit ‘post’.
‘Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces, (Jesus said that in Matt 7:6). As this pertains to social media, the swine will go through your things, steal from you, and/or carefully dissect every picture you post.
It’s time to take back your social space. Design and erect a fence, and make sure your gate is functional. You can’t control every aspect of your social media, but there are some things you can, and should, absolutely take responsibility for. Set a number as a goal that you think you’d like to reach. Determine the criteria you will use, and get clicking.
The world doesn’t end when you unfriend a whole bunch of people; in fact, there is a freedom that comes when you do. You can acknowledge a person in public and be comfortable knowing that they don’t have to have access to your child’s graduation, your vacation pictures, or your time of bereavement. You should be respectful to people, but you don’t have to ‘friend’ them all.
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