Recently, The Blaze and Christianity Today reported on some interesting findings revealed by the 2014 Twitter Lent Tracker, a website created by OpenBilbe.info that gathers information about the top 100 things people say they are giving up for Lent on the popular social media network.
It is traditional for Christians who observe Lent to give up something that could be considered a vice, such as drinking alcohol or eating too much junk food, during the approximately 40 days from Ash Wednesday and the Saturday before Easter.. Ideally, people would devote the time and energy they normally spend on what they are giving up on acts intended to bring them closer to God such as prayer, fasting, or giving to charity.
This year, the Lent Tracker revealed that many people who responded during the first week of March wanted to give up something related to social media instead of a more traditional vice such as chocolate or cigarettes. This makes sense, especially considering how easy it is to spend excessive amounts of time on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. Instead of looking at funny cat photos or posting pictures of food they ordered at nice restaurants, people could devote that same amount of time to studying the Bible or other aspects of their religious lives.
Twitter was the third most popular thing for people to give up during the first week that OpenBible.info gathered data, with 8,504 people saying they would abstain from using it during Lent. Some of those responses may not have been serious, but it does suggest that maybe people are feeling ashamed of how much time they spend on it or possibly even some of the things they tweet. Another 1,919 people wanted to give up Facebook. Photo sharing has also been on people's minds lately, because other Twitter users wanted to give up Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr or selfies in general.
Selfies would be a good thing for people to give up during Lent, actually. Students of the Bible may remember that vanity is considered a sin. Additionally, posting selfies on the social media sites people use may lead others to judge them based solely on their appearance, which isn't good either.
Someone's online friends might find themselves indulging in the sins of envy and covetousness if they feel less attractive than the person who took the selfie or if they can't afford to do something as cool as what is happening in the picture. Going hang gliding with Ellen DeGeneres may have been really fun, but people who don't get to live that way may not appreciate seeing the pictures in their news feeds.
Many other things people regularly do on their favorite social media sites could qualify as excellent things to give up for Lent. In some cases, like with selfies, it is at least partly because they could lead others into sinful behavior, which the New Testament frowns upon as anyone could learn from a casual study of Romans chapter 14 and the eighth chapter of I Corinthians..
For example, posting pictures of interesting food on Facebook could lead someone's friends into committing the "deadly sins" of gluttony and lust depending on how easily they are tempted by photos of fancy desserts or a nice plate of paella. Those same food pictures may lead others to commit the sin of wrath (Wikipedia defines it as "as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger") and maybe envy as well if they are tired of seeing what their friends had for dinner during nice evenings out without them.
Much of what happens on social media boils down to judging people, which is also considered a sin according to many Bible passages.
In Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus said, "“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
With that in mind, it might be a good idea to spend the rest of Lent resisting the urge to share "epic fail" or "you had one job"-type posts. Other good things to give up during Lent include activities such as criticizing people who appear on reality shows, participating in that new meme about British Prime Minister David Cameron or mocking Toronto's "crack mayor" Rob Ford.
Generally speaking, if the Bible suggests that Jesus wouldn't post something on Twitter it is a good idea to refrain from sharing that thought in 140 characters or less. Lent provides people with opportunities to clean up their acts a little online and work on presenting online content that wouldn't require praying for forgiveness later.