A Case for Social [Media] Distancing
As 2020 rolls on, social media is becoming increasingly more toxic and divisive. How (and when) should Christians practice social media distancing?
It goes without saying that 2020 is proving to be a stressful year—but I said it anyway, because that is what we do with things that go without saying.
There’s been a lot of bad news, and there’s been a lot of difficult news. I am beginning to suspect the Bad and Difficult News Dam has ruptured, leaving us all to wade through the soggy and uncomfortable Fields of Introspection and Mental Processing.
We’re all dealing with it in our own ways. Some of us, for instance, are coping by shoehorning extended and extremely subpar metaphors into our writing. Others are taking stock of who they are and whether that’s the person they really want to be.
But mostly people are just posting a lot more on social media.
Plenty of avenues to express anger
It’s not surprising. Turns out, when you hand people megaphones designed explicitly for shouting thoughts and feelings into a collective void, that’s exactly what happens—and this year has produced a bumper crop of thoughts and feelings.
(I know. These metaphors are terrible. I’m so sorry. I’m trying to put a stop to them, but they just … keep … happening.)
If you want to be angry about something, you have a smorgasbord of options. You can be angry at your government; you can be angry at its citizens. You can be angry at COVID-19 restrictions; you can be angry at people who aren’t taking those restrictions seriously (and you can be angry at the people you feel are taking them too seriously).
You can be angry at the current state of race relations; you can be angry at a thousand underlying and unaddressed issues escaping the media’s notice.
You can be angry at so many different things—and what’s more, you can post about it. You can post and post and post and post (and comment) until you’ve flooded the screens of everyone you know with essays, memes and scientific studies. And it will accomplish …
The people who already agree with you will agree with you. The people who don’t, won’t. Some of them will probably get angry at your anger, and the whole thing will degrade into an exhausting back-and-forth with no clear end and no clear winner.
Eventually, someone else will add a GIF in the comments. It will be of a celebrity, staring with rapt attention while eating popcorn.
It’s just not worth it.
Who benefits from angry, distracted Christians?
That’s not to say there aren’t upsetting things happening in the world right now. Upsetting things are absolutely happening. And that’s also not to say that we should observe world events with all the detached passivity of an emotionless robot. God cares about what’s happening in the world, and we should too.
The problem is that social media seems uniquely designed to stoke the fires of our frustration, stirring up the coals and adding fuel, making it easier and easier for our anger to take center stage and consume us.
The problem is that social media seems uniquely designed to stoke the fires of our frustration, making it easier and easier for our anger to take center stage and consume us.Guess who benefits from that?
Not us. Not the people on the receiving end of our scathing replies. Not the popcorn-eating celebrities in our comment threads. Certainly not God.
Satan does, though.
The enemy of God’s people benefits tremendously when Christians become entrenched in debates and arguments—or even when they watch from the sidelines, silent but fuming. He benefits even more when those debates and arguments have little to nothing to do with following Jesus Christ.
Jesus told us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
Seeking is active, not passive. It requires our attention and engagement. Satan works hard to keep us distracted, because a distracted Christian cannot actively seek the Kingdom of God or His righteousness.
A distracted Christian is knee-deep in something else—anything else. A distracted Christian has, at least temporarily, lost sight of the things that matter most.
How to “flatten the curve” of social media distraction
So what’s the solution?
If social media helps spread anger and frustration, then maybe it’s time to consider adding some distance to that equation.Well, sort of. Social media distancing is what we really need here.
Around the world, one of the primary strategies in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus is the concept of social distancing—the idea being that if we all give each other a little more space, COVID-19 will have a harder time jumping from person to person.
Social media distancing is just a variation on that theme. If social media helps spread anger and frustration, then maybe it’s time to consider adding some distance to that equation.
What’s that look like? It’s hard to say exactly. It’s going to look a little different for everyone, and depends largely on how social media affects you.
Tips for social media distancing
Some people opt for the nuclear route, deleting their accounts entirely. That’s one option, but not the most feasible for everyone. Plenty of people use social media for positive things—to stay connected with friends and family, to keep in touch with the outside world, or to share and learn about their hobbies.
For some—especially for those who are homebound or otherwise isolated—disappearing from the platform entirely might sever a lot of important contact.
Dealing with distracting dinging
A good chunk of us have social media in our pocket. Every platform of choice has an app to go along with it, and the default option for those apps usually is to alert you anytime anyone interacts with anything you’ve posted.
That’s a lot of dinging. A lot of distraction. A lot of social media insisting that you interact with it, instead of you deciding when to interact with social media.
The good news? You can shut those notifications off, either through the app or through the phone itself. And if social media icons are still too much of a distraction, well—it’s a pretty simple process to uninstall the apps entirely. You can usually get to them through your phone’s browser, but that extra layer of resistance might make it a little easier to stay away for longer periods.
Snooze, unfollow, unfriend or block
But maybe it’s not the platform itself. Maybe specific people or pages on the platform tend to send your blood pressure through the roof and tempt you to type up an angry or snarky response. And in that case, well—you don’t have to keep them in your newsfeed. If certain people have a knack for getting you riled up, consider making use of the snooze, unfollow, unfriend and block buttons.
(If you don’t know how to unfollow a person or page, here is a quick, simple tutorial that shows you exactly how it works on Facebook.)
Go to your friend privately
Here’s one more tip. If you see a friend post something that you feel is particularly inflammatory or false, and you feel it ought to be addressed, consider taking a more private route. Public comments usually only manage to stir the pot (and draw a crowd), even when our intention is to have a meaningful discussion.
One of the biggest pitfalls of social media is that online it’s easy to type hurtful sentences we would never say to someone’s face.If you have your friend’s number and your relationship is a close one, give him or her a call. (If not, maybe send your friend a private message.)
Express, in a calm, respectful way, the issue you had with the post. Let him or her know, in a spirit of concern, how it could negatively impact others, how it impacted you and that you care enough about your relationship to take it to him or her privately, instead of through a public comment. (This is based on a principle Jesus gave in Matthew 18:15.)
Will it change anything? Maybe. Maybe not. But one of the biggest pitfalls of social media is that online, with an audience, it’s easy to type hurtful sentences we would never say to someone’s face. Making an effort to speak respectfully in a one-on-one conversation can make a world of difference that a comment never could.
Don’t just remove the issues; replace them
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. We each have to fine-tune things to a level that works for us. Social media has plenty of good and helpful things to offer, and burning it all to the ground isn’t a great option to default to.
But the more important thing here isn’t what we’re distancing ourselves from—it’s about what we’re moving closer to. It doesn’t accomplish anything to clear out one kind of clutter from our lives and then replace it with another.
Putting some extra distance between ourselves and social media gives us a great opportunity to take the time to stand closer to God and to prioritize the things He tells us to prioritize.
The pages of God’s Word are filled with things worth meditating on—but it’s up to us to make time for it.