Social Media and Original Sin
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.
She 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.