Chaplain's Corner + Social Media: The Two-Edged Sword
Most readers are familiar with the metaphor "a double-edged sword," - a blade that cuts both ways, idiomatic for a liability that can also be a benefit. The current state of social media certainly lives up to this expression.
The beneficial, favorable aspects of social media are many. Information on diseases, health, spiritual issues, charities, economic issues, current events, science, history and travel can be found and discussed online. It can also be a medium to bring people together, including family and friends. Unfortunately, the unfavorable aspects of social media are also quite apparent and often have grave consequences.
A prime example is the suicide of a 12 year old girl, Rebecca Sedwick, in Lakeland FL. After being taunted, vilified, by cyber-bullying via social media by some of her female classmates, she jumped off a nearby nearly 60 foot cement tower in September 2013. "You should die," someone told the 12-year-old. "Why don't you go kill yourself?" She was so emotionally distraught that she sent a social media message to a friend, texting: "I'm jumping, I can't take it anymore." A message that he received on Monday morning, shortly before her suicide, authorities said. It was reported that her mother spoke to school authorities and closed and re-closed Rebecca's Facebook account. However, unbeknown to her mother, the cyber-bullying continued on less familiar social media sites like Kik Messenger, ask.fm and Voxer.
From a psycho-spiritual viewpoint, the misuse of social media is a violation of the sense of the value of the person. The concept and value of personhood is common among world religions. The Vedic literature of the Hindu tradition teaches that the soul enters the body at conception; the self (atman) is the essence of human life. Buddhism teaches that all human beings share a set of psychological properties such as self-love, death-hatred, and being willing to have a good future. These psychological facts are something to be respected by other persons. The killing of others is wrong in Buddhist teaching because it violates self-love. Other moral codes in Buddhism can also be understood in this light. In Christianity, personhood is derived from the fact that God created man in His own image. The Eastern Church Father St. Thalassios gives this a philosophical-spiritual connotation by saying that "a person may be defined as an essence with individual characteristics."
A return to the sense of the personhood of each individual would dull the evil side of the "two edged sword." What can we do? Foremost, and at the very least, we can pray for both victims and their families as well as for the abusers, the cyber-bullies. Also, if we are in a position to act, we can make sure proper warnings are given to proper authorities. Not responding, and surely not retaliating, to the cyber-bully can be a form of negative punishment and, hopefully, lead to diminished harassment. Cyber-bullies are rewarded when they know they are upsetting their victims. On the other hand, holding (and promoting) the idea that cyber-bullying is "lame" behavior might be useful. Above all, in order to treat people with respect for the personhood which they, and we, have, we must see that all mankind, as is told us in Genesis (1: 26) are made in God's image. In this regard, we can contemplate Jesus' Parable of the Last Judgment: "Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me." (Mt 25: 40). These ways may help us to blunt the nefarious side of the two-edged sword of social media.
vii Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds.). (1981). The Philokalia, Volume 2: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth. London: Faber and Faber.