Solomon wisely states that we should “let another praise [us], and not [our] own mouth; a stranger, and not [our] own lips” (Prov. 27:2). Across cultures, social etiquette embodies the wisdom found here. We simply don’t enjoy the company of the braggadocios who always speak about themselves. We expect others to show some level of humility—even if it’s not sincere.
Thanks to pervasive social media and instant messaging, more people today interact with others primarily from behind the screen of a laptop or smartphone. And as a result, many think Solomon’s wisdom can be ignored. Social etiquette doesn’t seem to apply to social media. For example, the Pew Research Center recently asked U.S. teens what they post online. At almost 50 percent, the overwhelming response was the sharing of their own accomplishments. For girls aged fifteen to seventeen, this number rose to close to 60 percent.
Why is this? I call it the digital deception. When we engage through a screen, something changes. Put an iPhone in people’s hands, and words they would not dare say in person they will eagerly tweet or post as a comment. Digitally mediated communication has led to digitally mindless communication. We don’t think before we speak online. We sit in front of a keyboard and deceive ourselves, suppressing the knowledge of God’s presence and assuming we are alone. But we are not alone on social media. God is there. And so is a potential audience of billions of people.
As a result of this deception, our words online are full of boasting. Our comments seek to tear down instead of build up; they serve self instead of serving others. If Twitter was a physical place, I don’t suspect we would desire to visit it or spend time with many of its inhabitants. In some ways, social media has become the worst dinner party you can imagine, full of uninvited guests complaining about the food and insisting that they could cook it better.
Is this really the pattern Christians should follow as they communicate online? Regardless of how the world acts and what it embraces, Christians have a higher authority. We refrain from boasting not because society frowns on it; we refrain from boasting because God frowns on it. The same standard that guides our behavior in public should guide our private lives and all our actions online. As Dr. R.C. Sproul says, “A fragmented life is a life of disintegration.” He exhorts us to “live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.”