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 in 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 blog that raised important questions about our fallen human nature and how social media can be the occasion for sin.
Alice Ann 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.
Three 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 social media 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 these people on head-on at her blog saying, “You stole a photo of my four-year-old son.” She continued, “Say what you want out loud, to your friends, in the comments 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 what Pfeiffer syndrome is.
When I first heard about this story, my first response was disbelief. “How can people do something like this? This is just a child and they can’t help it.” Then I thought about original sin, which G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, called “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”
The original sin, or human fallenness, includes a capacity for cruelty and injustice towards their fellow-man. And for many of us, this capacity hovers just below the surface of our existence.
A large part of what restrains our sin are institutions like the Church, our families, government, and our communities.
This 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 saying or 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.
Please understand that I am not saying that social media is all bad. Social media can be a very good thing, if it is used correctly. Social media itself is like money in that it, in itself, is not inherently good or bad. It is how we choose to use it that determines that. 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.
I am not saying that Christians should not use social media. I love Facebook. It allows me to stay in touch with people who I might not normally be able to. It help me remember people’s birthdays. It gives me a forum for posting quotes and Scripture verses that my friends can see regularly. I have heard from many of them who have told me that this has been a source of positive influence on their lives. I love that. It is an easy way for me to help people. What I am saying is that we need to use responsibility with it. We need to avoid saying negative things. We need to be sure we fully understand what we’re posting before we post it.
While I doubt that anyone reading this blog would have mocked the photo of Jameson, I’m equally certain that many of us have said or done things in social media that we now regret, which is why we may want to carefully reconsider our own use of social media or at the very least, how we are currently using it.
While it is true that every one of us fallen humans are capable of great evil, we are also, because we are made in God’s image, capable of great good. In fact, Alice Ann 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, Alice Ann wrote, “The message of choosing kindness, and treating every single person with dignity and respect is one that you have empowered me to champion.”
This is just another reminder that good can come out of any evil. And that should give each of us hope. Those are the stories that should be posted on social media.