A Cautionary Trail: Social Media & the De-Construction of Relationships

This past week, country music artist Joey Feek lost her battle with cancer. I had never heard of Joey Feek until a few months ago and likely still wouldn’t know her were it not for a widespread social media campaign surrounding her illness. I struggle for a better word, because campaign sounds so strategic and exploitive. But it’s clear that her husband, Rory, was both transparent and intentional about sharing their struggles and victories. A jaded media professional might see this openness as an attempt to sell records, to garner fame. But I believe it was a grieving husband’s desire to see his bride encouraged, celebrated, and, yes, healed. Joey Feek lived her last months well. Her struggle was painful, beautiful, and inspirational. Her husband’s love and attention, noble. She leaves a legacy that the public is allowed to share in because of the power of social media.

But this post isn’t really about Joey Feek. It’s about the power–and pitfalls–of social media. We’re all aware that social media allows us to paint the sort of picture we choose, realistic or not. I have no reason to believe what we witnessed in the Feeks was anything but genuine. Their love was real, but hard. And if I’m being honest, I would rather read light-hearted, funny, or even–dare I say–bumptious posts from my social media friends. Whether it’s gushing over a child’s achievement or sharing photos from a picture-perfect romantic getaway, I’m a sucker for a positive spin.

But there’s a darker side to social media. It’s often where we first learn that our favorite celebrity has died. Or we’re made aware of someone’s suffering, as in the case of Joey Feek. And sometimes, it’s where we have a front row seat for the destruction–or “de-construction”–of a relationship.

It can take on many forms, this cautionary digital trail. Maybe a sudden uptick in posts linking to articles on marriage. A few extra “Girls Night Out” photos. Cryptic posts about love, trust, betrayal. Selfies of Dad and the kids, minus Mom. Urgent requests for prayer with little or no explanation. A sudden decline in mention of husband or wife. Perhaps even silence. Or, most telling, a change in relationship status.

Please understand that I don’t mean to be flippant about this. Rather, this post is a call to action. Recently, our pastor was speaking from Philippians 2, and expanding on what it means to encourage one another and look out for the interests of others. He made a bold, poignant statement: “Be nosy for the right reasons.” Yes. This.

When you see something troubling or amiss on social media, step up and speak out. Show your concern. Offer a friendly ear. Not so that you can get fodder for gossip. Not so you can live vicariously through someone else’s drama (’cause we all know someone who thrives on drama, am I right?). But so that we can encourage each other, carry each other’s burdens, and yes even hold each other accountable.

I recently learned of the death of one of my high school classmates. It would be an exaggeration to say we were friends, as I hadn’t seen or spoken to her–other than on Facebook–in over 25 years. She didn’t leave a decipherable trail of digital clues…only a few posts over the last year or so…growing concern over her father’s failing health. Nothing too telling. But it does make a person wonder…Did anyone reach out? Take an interest, shown concern? Did anyone know the depths to which she was sinking? I certainly didn’t.

Don’t ignore the cautionary digital trail. Let’s all start being nosy for the right reasons. Let’s follow up and check in with our friends, maybe even face-to-face (novel idea, I know!). Let’s encourage one another, spur one another on. Ask the tough questions, point each other to the Scriptures. And let’s remind each other that now matter what we’re facing today…it will get different.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” –Philippians 2:1-4