I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I suspect many people share this sentiment.
One multiple occasions, I have considered not only removing the apps from my phone for facebook, twitter and instagram, but deleting my account altogether.
For me, the reasons usually look like this:
- The unending information can become a mindless distraction when I could be doing constructive activities instead.
- When I'm in a funk, the illusion that everybody else is happy and on vacation makes me feel even worse.
- I get tired of people shouting their political opinions into my face.
- Threads that devolve into insults and criticism don't seem to have any redemptive value to me.
Maybe you have a few more reasons as well. When I start feeling overwhelmed by this feelings, I can often wonder whether Jesus can use facebook for any real good in our world.
But I never end up deleting my apps or accounts. Maybe it's an addiction that I'm not willing to admit, but I don't think that's the case. The reason I stay involved (at least as far as I tell myself) is because social media allows me to stay connected to people who I would otherwise never have any contact with. It has allowed me to have a wider community than my everyday life would allow and I like having contact with people from various stages of my life.
Once I realized that humans were literally created to be part of community (first God, then each other), I understood that social media platforms like Facebook are a valuable tool.
(By the way, I primarily use facebook for my social media interaction. From here forward, I'm going to say "facebook" instead of "social media", but it can apply to any social media platforms.)
Here are some thoughts in my attempt to engage with facebook in healthy ways as I try to let the example of Jesus influence my life:
1. Realize that facebook is unhealthy because people are unhealthy.
Look. I get it. Loving people is super not-easy. I can have a hard time doing this with individuals who are inconsiderate (like on my local freeway). Now you're throwing me into a pool where I may interact with almost anybody in the entire world.
With the Colin Kaepernick protests, I've spent some time on Twitter reading conversations about this topic. I usually come away without much hope in humanity. The conversations often devolve into name calling and political rhetoric. Important topics go unresolved because of the issues everyone brings to the table, and this is a BIG table.
The essence of social media is the opportunity to have conversations with a more diverse crowd than anyone in history has ever had. In order to take advantage of this, we need to be skilled at having conversations. The training we have received from 24 hour news networks has not helped: to scream about our opinion, demonize those who do not line up with our opinion, and refuse to listen other perspectives.
Facebook isn't the problem, it reveals the problem.
2. Realize that Jesus literally threw himself into unhealthy community.
So now we realize the problem isn't a program or an app, but rather the human heart. Funny how that always ends up being the problem. And it isn't the heart problem of "those people out there". It's the problem we all have.
If we get off facebook to avoid unhealthy people, we are certainly not following the example of Jesus who "gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being." (Philippians 2:7)
The Apostle Paul walked through the same Athenian markets which Socrates frequented to introduce his Christ centered beliefs to the local community. Facebook/twitter/instagram/snapchat/etc are the marketplaces of our day. We will not be able to create healthy community if we refuse to go where people are.
3. Realize that it isn't my job to "fix" facebook, but simply to be a healthy influence to those I connect with.
I mentioned the twitter conversations I read which discouraged me (Normally, I'd link to it, but they are pretty rough. I'm sure you can imagine.) After seeing them, I decided to try to create some healthy conversations through my facebook and twitter accounts.
I put up a post about the same issue: Colin Kaepernick and a number of my friends who have different perspectives interacted. There were some rough points, but overall it was respectful and informative. I specifically thanked a few people for their courage in sharing their viewpoint, seeking to encourage conversation.
On another day, I saw a post by a news organization about some new protests over the national anthem. The first 5-6 responses were critical/mocking. I responded pointing out how frustrating it is when we don't have healthy conversations. It started a conversation between myself and a person who had a different perspective. We each asked the other to explain our conclusion and ended up chatting over private message after a few tweets. It was respectful. I can't say that either of us changed our opinion, but that is not the point of conversations. The point is to gain perspective. We had a person respond halfway through our exchange making fun of us. I invited him to join us instead of mocking us. He said that if one of us held a different viewpoint from the one he held, there was no point. I immediately responded that these are exactly the kinds of conversations we need to be having.
Social media let me have multiple conversations, some with people I know, some with people I didn't know. In each case, I was able to gain new perspectives. That's the beauty of social media: I get to have conversations, which includes listening to others so that I can understand and empathize.
I believe all this reinforces my initial thought: The problem with social media isn't inherent to social media itself, the problem with social media is that it is filled with imperfect people, like me.
It isn't my corner of the world to control, it's the entry point into interaction with the rest of the people in the world. I have to be okay with letting other people be imperfect as I expect them to handle my imperfections; To let the redemptive work of Jesus show up in my interactions as a signpost pointing to the power of the Gospel.
So can Jesus redeem Facebook? Yes, because Jesus redeems people, and social media is people.