According to the latest research, 77% of Americans are social media users, with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest serving as the most popular sites of engagement. The growth, popularity and influence of this forum is staggering, especially when you consider that back in 2005, only 7% of Americans had any type of social media account.
Clearly, not all social media users are equal. Many of us primarily use it to stay in touch with family and friends, sharing pictures, stories and other points of interest. It serves as something of a snapshot, a modern-day version of a diary, albeit with an exhibitionist flair.
Then there are the super users, those who seem to live in this digital space, seemingly chronicling their every moment or move, often leaving no thought captive.
On its face, social media is a neutral medium. It’s like any other tool. If used properly and wisely, it can be a source for happy, healthy, harmonious and even productive communication. Focus on the Family has millions of social media followers, and we’re grateful for each one of them.
But as we all know, social media is often misused, instead serving as a platform for spewing negative and even vile opinions. It’s given voice to the aggrieved and a platform to the perpetually furious.
Just this past Monday, two national reporters, within just a few minutes of one another, and from two ideologically disparate news organizations, had this to say about Twitter:
“To a large degree, Twitter has become a toxic cesspool of anger, hatred and intolerance,” tweeted John Roberts of FOX News. “It brings out the absolute worst in people, and is rapidly leading to the decline of civility.”
Maggie Haberman of The New York Times echoed similar sentiments: “With exception of breaking news and my own stories, taking a break from this platform. No reason or prompt other than it’s not really helping the discourse.”
Sadly, I tend to agree with both Maggie and John. But surely Christians are more responsible users of social media, yes?
I sure hope so, but we’re all human. We’re all susceptible to getting drawn into very public disputes that can quickly deteriorate.
Let’s face it, in my own circle of social media users, I’ve observed many Christians arguing with each other about matters that are both substantive – and frankly, others that are pretty stupid.
There’s not enough space in a short blog post like this to debate the merits of specific arguments, but I would like to suggest that I think it’s generally both counterproductive and unwise for Christians to run down other Christians or their opinions in the very public setting of social media.
Indeed, with the surge of social media has come, even within the Church, the rise of the irritating self-righteous pontificator, the person who seems to look for things to be angry about, who slashes, bashes and trashes people or groups and then rails against those who won’t pile on and do likewise.
In self-defense, many of these people say they are activists serving a good cause – but very often they’re actually agitators and hecklers in search of a fight.
This “fighting” mentality is how the world engages – but it’s not how believers are commanded to interact, especially with one another – even on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, the Bible is full of practical counsel regarding how we should engage on social media. In Proverbs we read, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15:1).
Inclined to fire off an incendiary post or response? In Ecclesiastes, Solomon advises, “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools” (7:9). The apostle Paul, a man well familiar with strain and strife, who both persecuted and was persecuted, writes, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6).
Throughout my time in ministry, I’ve worked hard to try and not ascribe motive to people with whom I disagree. Surely, Christians as a whole should do likewise and maybe go one step further, giving one another the benefit of the doubt.
Don’t assume the worst.
Or how about this: when you’re tempted to tee off on a fellow believer, how about asking more questions and making fewer declarative statements?
When Christians publicly run down other Christians or their opinions on social media, they’re giving non-believers plenty of reasons to stay away from the Church. I’m not suggesting we need to avoid or sugar coat disagreements or tip toe thru life with a Pollyannaish naiveté. When our faith is being grossly misrepresented or basic Christian doctrines are being turned on their head, we may have a responsibility to inject truth into the dialogue. But in any case, I’m suggesting Christians would be wise to consider the impact of their witness to the world when tweeting or engaging in social media.
Are you growing wearing of the animosity on many social media platforms? How are you and your families navigating these trends?