Without going into incriminating details, I’ll just say that someone on my Facebook feed is really bothering me. And what makes it confusing is that, in real life, I actually like them a lot. I feel silly asking a question like this but, is there anything un-Christian about unfriending or blocking someone on social media?
Unfollow, everything in me didn’t want to answer this question. Not because it’s not a great question (it is), but truthfully because my thinking is, “Who cares?” However, I’m 36, and grew up in the last generation of High School students who had to get updates and spread gossip the old-fashioned way—by a locker, between classes.
Yet there is a different reality today, and a lot of people care a lot about your question.
You, many others and now even old-man-Eddie, are considering how to be relationally above board in an era of complete connectedness. Unfollow, you’ve ask an insightful question, and I’m glad you care enough about your relationship to your community, as well as with God, to email me.
In preparation for my answer, I scoured the Bible. As it turns out, there is not a single mention of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, block, unfollow or hashtag. Shocking, I know. So, because God didn’t see fit to give us clarity on social media etiquette, we have to look at the bottom-line truths of what a friend is. Here’s Jesus:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.
You’ve read this passage before, right? If not, you should read all of John 15—all of the book of John really—because it is packed with wisdom for how we are to treat each other. And as we see here, friendship isn’t defined by a connection on Twitter, it’s defined by love for another person. That’s what a friend is. Someone who you are caring for, as Christ cares for you.
Now stay with me here, I’m getting back to the social media question.
The Bible also gives clarity, a lot of it actually, about the beauty of a friendship—as well as its destructive powers. Enter, Proverbs:
Proverbs 18:24: One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 22:24-25: Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.
Proverbs 12:26: The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
I think that’s enough for now.
But what does all of this mean? John is saying to lock arms and be Jesus with each other, yet Proverbs is saying that friends can derail you and to be careful who you link up with? Furthermore, how are we to answer, in an age where the term “friend” has transformed from a biblical title to a social media construct—what is a friend?
And that’s the answer to your question. Is the person who you’re considering deleting from your social media sphere a friend? Not like a Facebook friend, but like a real John 15 kind of friend? You’ll need to determine the answer to this before knowing what your best option is.
If that person is a random Facebook connection (i.e., that dude from that one thing that you kind of remember), than just stop following him. It’s not good for you, it’s not helping him, it’s not pursuing purposeful friendship together—so what’s the point? Just erase that temptation to judge from your life and unfriend into the sunset. Remember, social media friendship isn’t real friendship. Say it with me …
If the person is a friend, a real friend, and you’re just kind of annoyed by the stuff they post (not hard in this political season), I’d still end the social media connection and focus on the real friendship. Sometimes—and this is another article for another day—people who are great in person are not so great on the Internet. To that end, I’d always, always, err on that which is real. Things like eye contact, a shared meal, laughing. These are the things that make a friend a friend. If they’re bugging you on social media, remove that distraction from your friendship.
If the person is a real friend, but unfollowing them seems like more than just an attempt at removing some annoying posts from your feed, I think you need to do something difficult. Really difficult. Talk to that person, in person, and sort it out. To unfollow a friend on social media is one thing, but to unfollow them in your heart is quite another. If you sense that you’re heading down that road, switch to the text app and set up a time to hang out.
Unfollow, social media will come and go, or take over the planet Terminator style—who knows. But what is certain is that real friendship will always be one of the great gifts that God has given us as a community. Always tend to the friends who God has encircled you with, and relentlessly pluck the weeds that harden your heart and cause you to forget those who are real.
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.