Most people are quick admit that they rarely ever spend time on social media without something ruffling their feathers, and this should be expected. Research shows that posts that cause anger are more likely to be shared, liked, or commented on than any other kind of post. This is why, as Psychology Today reports, “Users with more radical opinions get larger followings, precisely because their tweets use expletives and polarizing rhetoric. More radical individuals have more social influence.” This type of behavior is virtually unavoidable online.
Jesus has called us to live lives of meekness. It is something all believers should possess and cherish. Meekness is closely related to humility, and one of ways it should play out in our lives is in a quiet and gentle spirit. The perfect example of this is Jesus himself. The sinless Lord of Righteousness takes on flesh, dwells among sinners, and he is gentle and humble of heart. As seen in his own life, there is a place for righteous anger, but regular outrage is not the proper demeanor of the Christian.
Jeremiah Burroughs once said, “Learn to set a high price on the quietness and sweetness of your spirit.” In practicing the beatitude of meekness, this means we should guard our peaceful demeanor and strive against being stirred to anger over trivial and unimportant things.
It is true that many of the topics on social media that raise our passions are not trivial, but the format in which it is being communicated usually is. The people or tweets that move us to outrage are people who have as little influence on the outcome of a social debate as we do. Our anger in this situation will almost always be in vain as it will have no real influence in their lives or the culture at large.
Burroughs goes on to say, “Oh the poor trifles and toys that men and women cast away their quietness for!’ Then he give us an analogy that drives it home. Imagine you have a ball of pure gold. It is a treasure you keep in hand because it is so precious to you. Now imagine that someone comes along and throws dirt on you. How foolish would it be to throw your golden ball at them in retaliation. Yet we do this repeatedly.
Someone says something online that we find offensive, and we retaliate with a harsh word, a quick jab, or a joke a their expense. What we have done in that moment is allowed them to steal our blessing of a quiet and gentle spirit to pay them back for their worthless words.
This is a spiritual battle that tends to rage every time we are on social media. It also happens in many other contexts our our lives. The world does not understand meekness. Like all of the beatitudes, it is upside-down compared to cultural standards. Most people believe the way to be happy is to demand what you want through a spirit of proud agitation. Only then will you find the blessed state you seek. Jesus tells us the exact opposite.
This is not a post to tell you that you should never be on social media. However, if you find your time online stirring up passions and moving you from a spirit of humble quietness to one of contemptuous frustration, realize what you are throwing away. Blessed are the meek. Is that blessing something worth casting aside because someone said something offensive online? We must learn how to control our anger or we need stay away from the temptation.
There is a time and place for righteous anger, but rarely is the frivolous nature of social media worthy of it. Finally, never forget, many of the people who stir our passions online are people like us who were moved to anger and were lashing out because of other radical tweets they saw online. Maybe our enemy is more like us than we realize.
As mentioned in a recent post entitled Social Media is Brain Poison, where I used hyperbole to lay out some of the problems with social media, I mentioned that there are some real benefits to this new technology. Connectivity to family and friends is always at the top of the list. The problem is the costs often outweigh the benefits. The reason why we tend to lose with social media, despite what it can offer us, is because we tend to use it incorrectly which the designers of these platforms hope we will do. So how do we use social media in a way that allows us to tap into the benefits while mitigating the costs?
I conjecture that the vast majority of regular social media users can receive the vast majority of the value these services provide their life in as little as twenty to forty minutes of use per week.
We need to start by using it less. There are benefits, but those benefits do not merit hours of social media time per day. I have found his conjecture to be true. I have not abandoned social media altogether. Instead, I check it once a week and usually spend less than 15 minutes doing so. Any other posts are sent through a free posting service that avoids interacting with these platforms directly. You can receive the benefits you seek without spending hours online scrolling the infinite feed and checking your likes and comments.
Of course, you may ask, what is wrong with spending more time on social media? To answer that question I leave you with one more quote from Newport where he describes a conversation he had with a social media executive.
[The executive was] just raving about these people spending twelve hours a day on Facebook . . . so I asked a question to the guy who was raving: “The guy who’s spending twelve hours a day on Facebook, do you think he’ll be able to do what you’ve done?”.. . ..You can’t, in other words, build a billion-dollar empire like Facebook if you’re wasting hours every day using a service like Facebook.
The only way it would not cost us to spend long hours distracted on social media is if we literally had nothing better to do with our time. As Christians, we have a much higher calling.
Social media is brain poison. That is what runs through my mind every time I see one of the those nicotine commercials. Yes, I see the irony in that there is a good chance you found this post on social media. I am not saying that every aspect social media is negative. There are good things that social media can do for us, but my time on social media usually cost me more than it gives me. What I am getting at is that most people are not aware of how this relatively new tool is effecting them.
T. David Gordon, in an episode on the White Horse Inn called “Distracting Ourselves to Death,” pointed out that you cannot use a tool without that tool shaping you and the culture in which you live. For example, imagine a nomadic hunter-gatherer culture being introduced to good land and a shovel and a plow. If this group of people begin to use these tools repeatedly it will change them. The muscles used working these tools will develop. Their backs could grow stronger and their hands could end up with new callouses, and they would begin to spend more time in one place instead of moving around.
If the use of these tools is effective enough, it could even change the values of the culture. Once, the lean quick hunter was the most valuable body structure because it could provide food. Housing and supplies that could be quickly packed up and moved would also have been more valuable than those that are permanent. Now that these new tools have been introduced, and the people are settling into a specific place, the easily moved supplies are no longer as important. Along with that, the stocky strong body becomes better able to provide than the lean quick body. All of this change happens because of the introduction of new tools.
Social media is a new tool, and we must be aware of how it is changing us. Christians especially. Changes brought on by new tools which are positive or neutral are fine, but if you see changes taking place that move you away from what Christ has called you to be, it is time to either change the way you are using the tool, or abandon it altogether.
There have been enough studies conducted on the use of social media that the negative effects are unquestionable. Long use can cause anxiety, depression, unhealthy sleep patterns, negative body image, and unrealistic expectations. One of the most counter-intuitive effects is loneliness.
Social media is also addictive. Have you ever posted something and repeatedly gone back to check to see how many likes and comments it is getting. This is not something that has happened accidentally. It was designed to get you to do that. Posting is like inserting a quarter to a slot machine hoping you hit the jackpot. You sit and watch the wheels spin to see what is going to happen. One more quarter, one more post, yet the viral jackpot rarely ever arrives, but there are enough little wins to keep you coming back. It is addictive, but did you know it can also diminish your ability to concentrate?
When was the last time you spent 20 minutes on social media and had sustained concentrated thought on one subject? That is not how it was designed. It was designed to have your mind flit from one unimportant piece of information or entertainment to the next, rarely spending more than 30 second on each new thing. What this does is it trains your alert attention to be at full strength; constantly looking for the next shiny object presenting itself for your consideration. All this happens without a single deliberate thought. If you do this for hours and hours, your alert attention grows stronger, but your executive attention grows weaker.
Your executive attention is your ability to stay focused on one topic or task at a time. Nicholas Carr, in his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, points out that long hours on social media, and even our constant alerts and notifications on our smart phones, programs our brains to be more focused on alerts, while at the same time diminishing our ability to concentrate. If you find it more difficult to maintain deep thought on something for a sustained period of time, social media may be one of the reasons. The good news is that this can be reversed by changing your habits. Knowing this, it is easy to see how social media effects productivity in more ways than one.
I could go on and on with example after example of the negative effects of social media, but let me end with just a few more points. Social media was supposed to help give a voice to the people, which is does to some effect, but have your noticed that we seem to have made it more of a megaphone for the fool?
Social media has become a bullhorn for ignorance, and it is our fault. This is how it works. Some person, way off their kilter, says something ridiculous, and they hold an opposing political view to our own. In order to show how stupid the other side can be, and to lump our opponents all into a nice stereotype, we share this person’s stupidity with all our friends and followers just to point out how bad the other side is. Our followers, in-turn, share it, and before long, this unknown person who has no grasp on reality has gone viral, and not everyone will think their idea is ill-advised. And we gave it a voice.
The fact that social media can be a megaphone for ignorance is one thing, but it leads to a greater problem because, as mentioned earlier, people are always hoping their next post will hit the viral jackpot. As they look around, they begin to notice that sane and normal thinking does not gain much traction in the likes and comments department. If you want your posts to rise above the noise, you will have to stoop to the level of social media, which usually involves half-truths, outrage, offense, and quick demeaning comebacks for the other stupid people on social media. It seems not even our president is immune.
Finally, have you ever noticed that cowards are courageous on social media? That is what trolls are. That is because social media gives a false sense of authority without vulnerability, and functioning this way will always fail to satisfy. As Christians, we are called to function with authority and vulnerability. The anonymity of the internet often causes us to act in ways we would never act in person. Social media, even with the good things it can bring, is mired in a cesspool of powerless tyrants. Then again, maybe they do have some social media authority because we continue to use social media like it is a tool we cannot live without, and they have figured out how to get their voice heard. Get enough of them together and you have an social media mob. This leaves us with a few options, either stoop to what works for them, or begin to devalue the importance of social media by changing the way we use it, or by abandoning it altogether.
Lets also not forget that these platforms are collecting all of your activity into a persona so they can market to you. They exist because you are a commodity. That is how they make money. They offer you their tool at a price, and that price is information about yourself harvested and sold. These platforms are also becoming more authoritative in the types of speech, or should I says views, they will allow to be communicated. Christian beliefs often fail to meet their standards of conduct. Even if you do have a multitude of followers and influence, if you continue to communicate the truths of scripture, it could all be taken away in a moment.
I have personally given too much of my life to social media. I have since made significant changes to how I use it. I only check my accounts once a week, and I spend no more than 15 minutes doing it. I still post continually throughout the week, but that is done through a scheduling tool which allows me to schedule posts without directly interacting with anything else on these platforms. I know you may actually be using these platforms for the sake of the gospel, or some other worthy endeavor, but that can continue without spending long periods of time scrolling through infinite feeds. Since I have made the change, it has been wonderful. I have been freed up to focus on things of greater importance. What about FOMO (the fear of missing out)? Well, I don’t fear missing out on brain poison.
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
You may easily be sure that most quarrels online tends to the ruin of the Church, and the hindrance of the gospel, and the injury of the common interest of Christianity. You know ungodly divisions are greatly condemned in the scriptures, and that they are usually the result of pride, uncharitableness, and temper, and that the Devil is best pleased with it because he gains the most by it.
If arguments cause any divisions, be sure to look first to the interest of common truth and good, and to the exercise of love: and do not become passionate contenders for any party in the division, or censure those to do not enter the fight, but join rather with the moderate and the peacemakers than with the contenders and dividers.
I understand that those who want to draw you into a combative fervor will tell you that their cause is the cause of God, and that you will betray him if you are not zealous in it. They will tell you that it is your sinfulness that makes you selfishly desire moderation and peace. They will also condemn you by saying you are hypocrites, that you are lukewarm, and that you agree with error. And they are right, if it is indeed the cause of God, but upon great experience, I must tell you, that of the zealous contenders online that claim the cause of God and truth, there are very few that know what they are talking about.
Some of them claim the cause of God, when their cause is the spoiled spawn of a proud and ignorant mind. Some of them are impassioned before they have even had time to give it any serious thought. Others are lead astray by some person or tribe that fascinates their minds. Many are blinded by their carnal interests, and many of them, in mere pride, think highly of an opinion because they believe they know more than ordinary men do. Finally, many of them are simply looking for likes and retweets.
As far as my judgment has been able to reach, the people that have stood for restraint have been the most sensible, and have had the best understanding of the controversies that are under debate among good Christians. Those that castigate them as lukewarm or corrupted have been people that have had the least judgement, and are usually full of proud and foul mistakes in the points in question.
In all this, I do not deny that every truth of God is to be highly valued and that those that plead for neutrality, whenthe essential doctrines of the faith are being disputed, are false-hearted hypocrites. However, some truths must be silenced for a time, (though not denied) when contending for them is untimely and tends to the injury of the Church. Take heed what you do online when God’s honor, and men’s souls, and the Church’s peace are are at stake.
-Richard Baxter (edited and updated for today’s reader)
Whoever utters slander is a fool. – Proverbs 10:12
If you want to see every one of God’s standards for communication violated, spend a few minutes on Twitter. All you have to do is read what people are posting about the trending topics. Sometimes the topics themselves are violations of God’s word.
The verse above is devastating to the way many people use social media, and this includes many professing Christians. Left and right, users fill social media with posts that try to damage another’s reputation, and I am not including all the times where the truth is properly spoken about a public figure, even if it is negative.
Think about it, every meme we share that is directed at a person, even if it contains 80% truth and 20% misleading characterization is an example of slander. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the temptation. I have had to delete tweets I have regretted, and there still may be some in my feed that shouldn’t be there.
It is so easy to succumb to the temptation. There is so much noise on social media that the only way to be heard is to be bombastic by spouting half-truths that raise controversy. We sometimes justify it by saying we are simply trying to get the conversation started, but, according to Proverbs, we are acting like fools.
Attempts at humor can also fall into the category of slander. It usually happens like this. Someone we have never heard of before literally says something ridiculous, and the funniest comeback comes to mind. You know it will make people laugh and probably get shares and likes. The only problem is that it communicates something derogatory about the person which may or may not be true. If we even stop to think about it long enough, it is here that the justifications start to kick in. “Everyone is already doing it,” or “they will know I am being funny,” but these do not exempt us from the guilt of damaging someone’s reputation, even if they have already begun to damage it themselves.
When we are not the ones to post the misrepresentation, we participate when we share it and like it. It shows up in the feeds of our followers because we have given it a thumbs up, after all, it made us laugh and pointed out just how stupid someone is, and the world needs to know.
Someone might say, “the opposition is always making up stories and smearing people who hold godly views; it is no big deal if we respond in like manner, this is how our culture communicates. It is a propaganda war and we need to participate in order to have a voice.” The biblical response to that is, if we have to make alliances with evil to promote the kingdom of God, we have already lost.
Why do I bring this up? It is simply to remind us that we need to guard our hearts in what we communicate. The scripture was not joking when it said: When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent (Proverbs 10:19).
We should take this to heart because we have all fallen short. We should carefully consider our words. However, it should not always cause us to remain silent, after all, this is an article full of words which were posted on social media, but it would not hurt us to be more mindful in what we post online. It may just help keep us from imitating the company of fools.
And when we miss the mark, the good news is that, in Jesus, there is forgiveness even for fools like me.