We all know a Facebook cynic. Maybe you've even been a Facebook cynic. If you're not in a relationship, you might hate reading the statuses on Valentine's Day or anniversaries; if you are childless you might be tired of seeing friends post about their babies; if you hate cats, you might even condemn the pet-lover who shares too many photos of Mr. Whiskers.
Defenders of Facebook, even in Christian spheres, emphasize the community-building power and togetherness of the platform. As we scroll through updates, we ought to have the capacity to , they say. But sometimes we're not being invited to share in the celebration or the mourning. Instead, as we review what's become a digital curation of people's lives, we get roped in as involuntary witnesses.
So, let's talk about the real problem here: "public displays of affection" through lovey-dovey messages on social media. Facebook PDA has a bad reputation for a reason, and it's not just because exhibitionist couples annoy us, both offline and on. Couples' Facebook updates can seem detached from the rest of the world, shared without inviting advice, perspective, or feedback from the close friends and elders subjected to each. (Who among us has something wise to say in response to a photo of a friend kissing her boyfriend on Facebook? If someone does, I'd like to know what.)
"Facebook official" isn't enough anymore; nor is tweeting from the altar. Now couples are "racing to share social media" by setting up joint Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other accounts as a sign of how in sync they are.
Maybe this will do away with some of this groan-inducing Facebook PDA, showed off through complimentary statuses, love notes, and kissy-face selfies on each other's walls. Typically, this type of shared content says nothing more loudly than "look upon us and be excluded." Here's a handy rule of thumb: If you wouldn't want anybody there in person – whether because you really do consider it private or you're afraid they'd protest – don't force them to be present on Facebook.
But some PDA can be sweet, endearing, and even insightful to the friends following our updates. Posting on Facebook can be an opportunity to introduce friends to part of our stories and the significant people in our lives. I noticed this around Mother's Day, Father's Day, and Sibling Day (?!) this year, when many of my friends posted about their family members on social media.
At Forbes, Giovanni Rodriguez compared this kind of collective, themed sharing that we see on holidays like Mother's Day to "going to a museum for a special exhibit on a holiday." In other words, it's far more edifying than any social media relationship play-by-play could ever be. (Plus, it only happens once a year! I might even get tired of yo mama if you posted about your relationship with her on a daily basis.)
It's rare, but Facebook users also use the site as a platform to openly share the less-than-perfect relationships or struggles in their lives. I've seen updates with moving tributes on the difficult story a family member's battles with addiction or PTSD. This approach seems so different than the over-the-top boyfriend-girlfriend exchanges or the albums of photos of anniversary gifts. Honest but heartfelt sharing proves that social media can be a powerful tool for uniting people or opening a window into lives we might not otherwise see.
As Christians, we know that our confessions have the power of life and death, and that ought to make us more self-aware about our communication, even of Facebook. When we celebrate our loved ones, are we inviting others into our celebration or just showing off our relationships? Like the worst of Facebook PDA, we may mistakenly speak about another person to others when we really only intended it for their ears. We make a point to highlight their qualities as if we're complimenting ourselves for by being in a good relationship. That kind of glorification can have a very selfish motivation cloaked in the guise of a pious "thank God for this wonderful relationship" status.
There's nothing wrong with speaking well of our loved ones in front of other people when we're intentionally doing it to magnify their best qualities rather than the ones that might make us complain.
Thank God always. Thank the people in your life constantly. I am a fervent advocate of heaping praise upon others, friends and strangers alike. There are times—a wedding, a baby, a job, a big move, are all possible examples—when it's natural to share our news on the street corner for all to hear.
But if it doesn't matter who sees or hears you—only that anyone does—that defeats the definition of sharing. We can't always choose who will witness our actions, but when we can, we ought to take the ability seriously. And as for how to handle the social media offender who doesn't check their motives before posting? I'm sure there's a Proverb I haven't found yet about not trolling your friends' Facebook statuses when they get obnoxious—something like, "Blessed are those who ignore, for they can still be friends later."