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When Social Media Determined A Teen’s Death

Written By Shu Huan, Malaysia

On 13 May 2019, 16-year-old Davia Emilia from Sarawak, Malaysia posted on social media expressing her weariness at life. Via an Instagram story, she requested that her followers vote on whether she should continue living or die: “Very important. Help me choose D/L”. Sadly, 69 per cent of those who responded voted for “D” and as a result, she jumped from the third floor of a building, bringing her short life to a heartbreaking end.

When I saw this news, my heart tightened. In addition to grieving the tragedy of this young girl taking her own life, my heart also went out to the followers who participated in the poll. How would they respond after finding out the girl actually committed suicide? Perhaps they had treated the poll as a joke, thinking that the girl was simply one of many youths seeking attention—that “choosing life or death” was simply a ploy. And yet, irrespective of intentions on either side, the painful conclusion was that her young life ended.

It’s a heart-wrenching situation that convicted me to reconsider how very powerful our words are. James 3:5 says:

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

Indeed, a small spark can set on fire a great forest. It’s terrifying to think that a simple tap on the phone might be able to determine whether another person lives or dies. In this verse, the apostle James reminds believers to watch our words—because a single sentence can build up or destroy a person’s life. What if the followers had chosen instead to encourage the girl with words such as, “How can I help you?”, “I am here to chat”, or, “You are not alone”? Perhaps then there would have been a chance of re-writing the tragic ending to this story.

Of course, the votes from her Instagram followers likely wouldn’t have had the same tragic impact if she didn’t already feel trapped and suffocated by the circumstances of her life, so much so that she had no hope for the future and entertained thoughts of bringing her life to an end. Ultimately, it was her decision to take her own life.

In some ways, I can relate to how she felt. When I was a young teen myself, I also struggled with suicidal thoughts. I felt suffocated by the pressures of life and everything felt meaningless. I was also upset at my family for not giving me the wealth and happiness I desired. Yet every time I thought of suicide, I could not work up the courage to do it, and so I never followed through. Looking back, I am so thankful for that.

In retrospect, I realize that it was all the grace of God. If I had chosen to give up my life then, not only would I have caused immense sadness to my family and friends, but I know now that I would have regretted it myself. Although there are seasons of life that are disappointing, discouraging or hopeless, I’ve learned that life is also full of seasons and experiences that can be exciting and joyful, and these are worth exploring and cherishing. Having experienced both the highs and lows in life, I now know that life is a gift from God.

I have been married for many years, and my husband and I have always hoped for a child. Although we have gone for physical check-ups and are both very healthy, we have  experienced disappointment over and over again. We are left mystified as to why we are unable to conceive.

This struggle with infertility has helped me further realize how precious each life is, and to not take it for granted. If not for God granting us life, we wouldn’t be able to exist on this earth for even just one more second. He has breathed life into mankind, and it is in Him that we live and move and exist (Acts 17:28). Life is God’s grace to us.

As Psalm 139:13-14 says:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

May we cherish our time on earth. After all, it was not in vain that God brought us to this earth. He has beautiful plans for each of us. We are children beloved by God, and we exist with value and purpose. If we chose to obey God and remain in His love, then we will experience true joy in life (John 15:9-11).

I pray that as we enjoy the pleasures of life on this earth, we will also courageously face the difficulties and challenges that may come our way—learning to appreciate our gift of life, and may we use our words well to love those beside us so that we may be a blessing to the world.

 

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, we encourage you to reach out to a church leader or look up your local suicide helpline to seek professional help. 

Social Media Outage: Can I Survive Without the Internet?

I thought my Facebook account had been hacked when I failed to log on to it this morning.

The disruption was one of Facebook’s most “widespread and persistent system outages”—with the outage stretching beyond 10 hours for some. The timing of the news seemed particularly ironic, considering the fact we had just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web yesterday.

Unbeknown to me, Instagram and WhatsApp were also down since yesterday evening, frustrating faithful users who were unable to access their social network application for hours.

Though I was only minimally affected by the outages as I was sound asleep for the most part of it, I can imagine what must have been going through the minds of those who were affected by it, having had a similar experience just a few weeks ago when I was confronted with the possibility of not having access to my favorite web applications for a few days.

In my case however, it was about the need to have to pay for access (or Wi-Fi), at the Airbnb my friends and I booked at Rarotonga, one of the most populous of the Cook Islands, for a week-long retreat.

The Airbnb we booked had listed Wi-Fi as one of its amenities. But it didn’t cross our mind that we had to pay for the Wi-Fi, so the shock was rather palpable when our Airbnb hostess told us otherwise.

Of course, we could survive a week without Wi-Fi, but what was the point of holidaying on a stunning tropical island, with its white sandy beaches and clear waters, if we were unable to share photos or videos of them on Instagram? Besides, we would need to connect to WhatsApp to tell our workmates and family what a wonderful time we were having.

Disgruntled, we pulled out our credit cards and spent the next 10 minutes agonising over which data plan to buy, and how much we would need.

My experience as well as the recent social outage got me thinking about how far (and fast) the World Wide Web has evolved, since it was first proposed on 11 March 1989, by Tim Berners-Lee.

 

Growing up with dial-up

I was 12 when I first learned about the World Wide Web, and I remember being in awe of a friend whose computer was set-up with an Internet connection. Her mum bought books off Amazon, and she would have the latest novel or a hard-to-find title in her hands.

Another friend would spend days downloading her favorite songs from the Internet using file-sharing services (it took her at least two days to download a song, and a week for a movie, but it was still pretty awesome in my eyes). I also thought she was the height of cool, since she had an account for chat rooms such as IRC and ICQ.

Unfortunately, my family did not have our first computer or an Internet connection until I was about 15-years-old, as my parents didn’t want me running loose on the web until I was a little older. Needless to say, I was very excited when we finally had dial-up, and spent countless hours pinching photos of my favourite boybands off various websites. We eventually had to install two landlines, one dedicated to the Internet, and another for receiving calls.

Looking back, the dial-up was very quaint, with its trademark tone as it connects to the Internet, to the frustratingly slow download times, and its lack of access—there was no way you would be able to get dial-up on your phone!

Now, the landscape has changed completely. The web today allows me to connect with people from different parts of the world, to explore the world from the comforts of my home, and watch shows that aren’t available in New Zealand.

One of the biggest benefits is that it has allowed me to serve God with various Christian organisations that are based thousands of miles away from New Zealand. Over the past few years, I was able to volunteer my writing with two Christian organisations, one in Australia and the other in Singapore, and my sphere of influence was no longer restricted to just an hour service in a suburban church. With just a computer and the Internet, I was able to reach readers through my writing.

Having said that, the advent of the Internet has also affected the way I view life, and even the Bible—and not always positively. Here are three examples:

 

1. It has made me more impatient

The days of dial-up Internet taught me patience, but I am afraid the introduction of high-speed Internet has wiped out that virtue. It has brought convenience to my life—I am able to access any information in seconds, and able to download library books into my e-reader without the hassle of driving to the library and back.

But on the flip side, this attitude of expecting items to be at my fingertips in seconds has also made me impatient in my prayer life. I remember a time where I was not fussed on when God would answer me, but these days, I wish I am able to either WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger God with my problems—and get an instant reply.

 

2. It has made me a binger

Before streaming services were available, I remember waiting faithfully every week for my favorite TV shows to air. Wednesdays were my favorite as it was comedy night on a particular TV channel, and it was usually an hour-long line-up of sitcoms. These days, I barely turn on the TV except to watch snippets of the 6 p.m. news and programs like Border Security and Dog Squad. But oh boy, do I binge on Netflix. I can spend a sick day watching an entire season of a Korean drama or a Norwegian crime-thriller series.

However, I can’t recall the last time I have binged-read my Bible. Admittedly, reading the Bible requires more brain work than mindlessly watching Netflix. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could binge-read my Bible the way I work my way through the series on Netflix?

 

3. It has made me a serial shopper

Shopping on the World Wide Web comes with its own set of perils, such as overspending on the credit card. I can remember a time when I was clicking the “buy” button without a lot of thought, and if I saw a dress I liked on a UK website (with free delivery if you spend over a certain amount), I would make sure I’d qualify for the free shipping. Hidden costs such as exchange rates and bank fees when making an overseas purchase didn’t cross my mind, so I tend to get a little shock when I see my credit card bill. I have since reined in on my shopping habits as I am working to be a good steward of my finances (1 Corinthians 16:2).

 

Reflecting on how the Internet has evolved makes me realize that at the end of the day, it is just another tool of mass communication, and may one day be overshadowed by something else. Therefore, it’s important that I do not let my life revolve around it.

Like everything else, the Internet can be used for both good and evil, but we must not blame it for the influences it may have over the way we feel, think, and act. Let’s be careful not to make idols of anything in our life, but instead work towards a wholehearted devotion to God. After all, unlike the Internet or our favourite social media channels, God will not surprise us with prolonged outages, instead He will faithfully see us through the seasons of our lives.

Episode 1: Why Should We Be Wary of Our Smartphones?

 

 

 

Would Jesus Like Your Post On Social Media?

Written By Michelle Lai, Singapore

If God were on social media, would He like your post?

I used to take to Instagram daily. I would post a picture with a caption telling my followers what I felt at the moment. I would post sad reflections, happy anecdotes, and even angry rants. It was my way of expressing myself and dealing with boredom and loneliness. I could “talk” to my followers without actually engaging in a conversation or meeting up with anyone.

However, I learned the hard way that even though we have the right to express ourselves freely, we should also be responsible for the thoughts that we express and upload on a public platform.

I’ve since learned how to navigate social media in a healthy way, and here are three questions I often ask myself:

 

1. Will my post benefit my friends?

I like to listen to sad ballads, and would often post sad lyrics that may or may not mean anything personal. Because of the emotional nature of my posts, my friends often asked me if I was okay. But I didn’t want to explain things; I just wanted the responses. Ideally, friends asked if I was okay, but often I received uninvited comments on my life and activities instead. Also, close friends were sometimes the last to find out when something happened in my life, since distant acquaintances saw it first on Instagram.

All this led to me feeling very vulnerable and exposed to the world. It is a funny dilemma, feeling relieved yet empty if people do not respond to my posts, but feeling overwhelmed if they do.

I was not glorifying God with the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart (Psalm 19:14). Not only did my social media habits cause problems between me and my friends, they also caused me to become consumed by things such as seeking approval, explaining myself, and chasing after the instant gratification of expressing my highs and lows without much thought.

Whereas I once treated social media like a scrapbook or diary, I now treat it as a tool to connect with my closest friends. For example, I would post Christian poems to encourage my friends, or share recent milestones to celebrate with friends and offer encouragement. I also try to minimize posting about my daily life, and only post pictures with my loved ones. I remind myself not to linger on social media after I post, so that I would not feed on “likes” by my friends. When I see something interesting my friends shared on social media, such as photos from their recent travels, I try to meet up with them in person and ask them more about what they posted.

 

2. Have I taken time to process what I want to post?

Nowadays, I do not write a post whenever I feel like it. Instead, I give myself some time to think over whether the post is necessary, whether it is kind, and whether it draws attention to myself in a self-indulgent way.

I am learning that talking to someone about my feelings—instead of ranting on social media—gives me the privacy to keep the issue personal and professional in certain situations. When I share my struggles with friends or mentors, I can often gain other perspectives. This allows me time to process my thoughts. I realize that, often, when I give myself time to sit on a feeling or nagging thought, it passes and no longer becomes a nagging issue. Like “emotional eating,” many times I need to be careful of “emotional posting.”

 

3. Am I glorifying God or causing others to stumble?

I once worked with a group of classmates on a school project together. When I had a disagreement with one of them, I posted a picture of a steam engine with an angry caption in our group chat. It affected the morale of the entire group.

While social media is for sharing more than just happy things, as a follower of Christ I should not post anything that might cause others to stumble. I should definitely not take to social media and rant without considering how my words will affect others.

The psalmists in the Bible were not afraid to write sad and angry psalms, but ultimately, they always brought the focus back to God. While I do not think we should refrain from posting about issues like depression, or even sharing that we are tired or sad on a particular day, I am learning from the psalmists that my posts should always point others back to God. For example, when I write poems about depression, I bring God into the picture. I also include a link to an emotional support hotline for anyone who might want to seek professional help. I make sure I end my poems in hope.

 

While it hasn’t been easy to readjust my social media habits, I’m learning that we are called to love people around us, and guarding what comes out of our mouths (or fingers) is a good place to start.