Social Media and Original Sin

The Temptation of Anonymity

If you ever doubted the reality of original sin, just check the comment section on any website.

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Eric Metaxas

Chances are, you’ve never heard of Pfeiffer syndrome. It’s a rare genetic disorder that’s characterized by the “premature fusion of certain bones of the skull.” This fusion “prevents further growth of the skull and affects the shape of the head and face.”

This rare condition was the subject of a recent episode that raised important questions about our fallen human nature and how social media can be the occasion for sin.

AliceAnn Meyer’s four-year-old son Jameson was born with Pfeiffer syndrome. For the past several years Meyer has been chronicling her experience with Jameson in a blog entitled “Jameson’s Journey.”

Two years ago she posted a photo of a happy Jameson with his face smeared with the remains of s’mores. To Meyer’s horror, people posted the picture on sites such as Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook with the caption “Your pug . . . is amazing.” Almost as bad as that were the thousands of “likes” the picture and the caption received.

Meyer asked the social media sites to remove the picture and caption and they complied. But like a demonic whack-a-mole, no sooner would one site remove the picture than it would appear somewhere else.

daily_commentary_03_08_16She took the miscreants head-on at her blog saying “you stole a photo of my 4-year-old son.” She continued “say what you want out loud, to your friends, in the comment box, but do not take my photo to degrade my child.” And then she challenged them to understand what they were laughing at by talking about Jameson and explaining Pfeiffer syndrome.

When my colleagues at BreakPoint first heard about this story, their first response was disbelief. “How can people do something like this?” Then we recalled original sin, which G.K. Chesterton, in his book “Orthodoxy,” called “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”

This original sin, or human fallenness, includes a capacity for cruelty and injustice toward our fellow men. And for many of us, this capacity hovers just below the surface.

A large part of what restrains our sin are institutions like the Church, our families, government, and our communities.

Which brings me to social media. The anonymity of social media undermines the operation of these institutions. Friends and family cannot hold you accountable if they don’t know what you’re doing. Shame has no meaning to someone hiding behind a username. And of course virtually none of the people who trampled over Jameson’s dignity would have done so if they were face-to-face with him and his mom.

At this point, you might be expecting a disclaimer about how social media can be used for good as well as ill. And that’s absolutely true. But it’s also true that Christians are called to avoid those circumstances that, because of their structure, incite or entice us to sin. And it’s indisputable that social media often brings out the worst in people.

While I doubt that anyone listening to this would have mocked the photo of Jameson, I’m equally certain many of us have said or done things in social media that we now regret, which is why we may want to carefully re-consider our own use of social media.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that while we fallen humans are capable of great evil, we are also, because we’re made in God’s image, capable of great good. In fact, AliceAnn Meyer says she received an enormous outpouring of support as she stood up for her son and for children with Pfeiffer syndrome. In thanking those folks, AliceAnn wrote, “The message of choosing kind[ness], and treating every single person with dignity and respect is one that you have empowered me to champion.”

Well done, people! And well done, AliceAnn.

Further Reading and Information
Social Media and Original Sin: The Temptation of Anonymity

Eric provides a valuable caution: consider carefully your posts and comments as you use social media. As the Apostle Paul said, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Philippians 4:8


Jameson’s Journey

Texas mother fights back after photo of son with rare disorder used in cruel meme
Dan Good | New York Daily News | February 3, 2016

Anonymity limits civility in online discussions
Ryan Graham | thedailycouger.com | January 29, 2014

Is Twitter Making Us Meaner? Uncivil Discourse In The Age Of Social Media
Christopher Zara | ibtimes.com | December 1, 2012


Thank you from Jamesons grandmother for a great commentary!