Facebook is the devil.
Actually, no. While that might be a convenient spin (and to be sure, it’s one that plenty of critics have drifted toward) it’s not the truth. The truth is much worse than that. The truth is that Facebook, Twitter and other social media are uniquely powerful lenses through which we reveal to the whole world the devils in ourselves.
I stepped away from social media exactly two weeks ago. I wasn’t sure if my hiatus would be a day or a month or more. My prayer was the prayer of David in Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there by any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” I simply decided to let God take as long as he wanted, and when it seemed like he had held his mirror up to my soul long enough for me to see everything he wanted me to see, I’d write my thoughts here—as much for me as for anyone else. Here’s what I saw, as well as some of the resolutions I’ve made with regard to social media:
1. More people than I really realize pay attention to what I say on social media.
Shortly after I posted my “I kissed Facebook goodbye” status, I received a flurry of emails and—ironically enough—Facebook posts and personal messages. I got a huge kick out of that, actually. I had just signed off of Facebook and at least 25 people immediately sent me messages through Facebook. (Why did they send them through Facebook?! And, more importantly, why was I reading them?…)
Because of the mystery and mystique of the Facebook “News Feed” and how that works, it can be difficult really to know how many people are listening when we’re “talking.” The same is true to a lesser extent with Twitter. What percentage of your total number of “friends” do you really pay attention to on Facebook? For me, I’d guess it’s about 5%. I currently have 1,020 friends, and I’m really interested in staying up to date on about 50 of them (You really want to know if you’re in the “50,” don’t you?). So, it’s easy—for me anyway—to take that logic, flip it around and assume that those 50 are really the only ones who are consistently listening to me.
But of course that’s not how it works at all. The majority of the messages I received from people after my sign-off were from people who very rarely (if ever) comment on my posts or tweets. They’re just out there listening. In some ways, being on social media is very much like being on the radio. People can tune in to your show, and you may have no idea who they are or what they’re thinking about what you’re saying unless they’re one of the few who call in and get on the air. At any rate, I (and perhaps you) need to remember that when we’re on social media we’re “on the air.” I need to imagine that I’m in a room, speaking to 1,020 people. Some of them will be listening. Some of them will be snoring. But I have to speak as though they’re all listening.
2. There is a species of pride at work in me that shows up most clearly on social media.
I don’t think of myself as a particularly prideful person. Granted, prideful people rarely do. But as far as I can discern, pride is not a besetting sin for me. I think I receive correction well and work hard to make my critics my coaches. That said, there is a distinctive species of pride that shows up in my social media output. This is what I meant when I said that social media tends to “reveal the devils in us.”
My social media “persona” often has a braggadocio or an arrogant flavor to it. That’s probably very obvious to many of you. Often times it’s meant in humor, but (1) that humor sometimes doesn’t come across as humorous, so my “audience” doesn’t know if I’m trying to be funny or if I really am that arrogant. I think people who know me fairly well get the shtick and know that I’m not actually arrogant—I’m trying to be funny by acting arrogant when I’m really not very arrogant. That’s the joke. Hilarious, huh? A lot of people don’t get it. You don’t even get it now, do you? And (2) sometimes there really is pride or arrogance behind the humor. This is probably the case when I make intentionally inflammatory remarks.
The assumption a person makes when they give themselves permission to make an inflammatory remark always includes an inherent sense of superiority or invulnerability to criticism. When I post an inflammatory and unnuanced “Rush Limbaugh sucks” kind of remark, I clearly do it with a heart that’s saying, “If anyone disagrees with me, they suck too, so I don’t really care how they respond.” And that’s arrogant. If I am convinced that Rush Limbaugh-listening is unhealthy for Christians I should carefully articulate why I am convinced of that, rather than just throwing a grenade into the room and slamming the door shut.
3. The virtue of charity is something I expect from others but have not practiced consistently myself.
By charity I don’t mean giving money to “charities” (although I like that idea as well). I mean charity in its “Edwardsian” sense: Christian love as manifested in the heart and life. As a Christian, how I say things is just as important as what I say. This is big for me. At least… it’s big in my mind. In other words, I think extremely highly of the virtue of charity, but I don’t practice it consistently enough. Jesus insisted that Christians should have a reputation for charity (John 13:25). Sure, truth and conviction and honesty are all good and well. But Jesus did not say, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you’re right (or truthful or honest or funny).” He said that we should be known by our love.
Facebook posts don’t get a pass on this command just because it can “feel” like we’re not talking to real people on Facebook. There are real people on the other end of everything we say through social media. And they are affected by it. And the lack of charity among Christians on Facebook and Twitter is astonishing. In my experience it most frequently shows up in political rhetoric and sports talk. And it has to be called what it is: sin. It is sin to talk the way many of us talk when we’re talking politics or sports. Even if I’m trying to be funny and you didn’t “get it.” Even if I was being sarcastic and the sarcasm didn’t carry through the medium (it almost never does, I’ve learned). Christians (including myself) must develop a reputation for charity on social media. There is no overstating this: It is a divine imperative.
4. I have an unhealthy desire for disputation and too weak a desire for peacemaking.
I’ve been working on memorizing the Sermon on the Mount of late and Matthew 5:9 kicked me in the teeth real hard (Is that a strange phrase to use here?): “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Does that mean there’s no room for debate? Of course not. Does that mean there’s no room for rebuke? Not according to Jesus (Matt. 12:34). Does that mean you can’t point out error as error? Definitely not (Gal. 2:11). But it does mean that as Christians the general inclination of our hearts should be toward peacemaking. We should always enter into disputation reluctantly, with gravity and prayerfulness—always clearly seeking the good of the other. If we are attracted to dispute, what we have become are warmongers, not peacemakers. There is no room in the Christian faith for dispute for the sake of entertainment nor for the pleasure that comes from demeaning or belittling an opponent in disputation.
5. I may have had a social media addiction brewing.
A few years ago my wife and I got rid of television in our home. We were wasting too much time with it and it was distracting from much more important things. The first 2-3 weeks after we got rid of it we both noticed a longing for it. That longing is called addiction. Or at least mastery. Paul tells us that we should not allow ourselves to be “mastered” by anything but Christ (1 Cor. 6:12). There should be nothing in our lives that we treat as a need that isn’t really a need. Immediately after getting rid of TV we realized that we had elevated it to a “need” in our lives and that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to have it again until it was back in its proper place. Namely, A luxury to be used cautiously and sparingly. After 2-3 weeks we didn’t miss it at all. It had disappeared from our “need list” completely. It was back where it belonged.
Just a few weeks ago we decided to buy a digital converter and antenna so that we could have the basic network channels again. But we rarely turn it on. Leslie likes watching the news here and there. I usually watch about half a football game on Sunday. The kids like PBS here and there. That’s it. It’s rarely on. Because it’s not a need. And if it ever starts to rise to that level for any of us again, believe me, the antenna will be in a box in the garage faster than you can say Chris Collinsworth.
Leaving Facebook was a similar experience. In the first 2-3 days I felt a frequent impulse (almost a reflex) to post funny things I thought of, articles I liked, photos I took on my phone… I couldn’t believe how strong the impulse (i.e. need) was—an impulse that hadn’t even existed until a couple years ago. After 4-5 days I didn’t even miss it. I had almost forgotten that I wasn’t “on” Facebook because I wasn’t feeling a need to be on. As I come back, I will be on the lookout for that “mastery” again. If I start to feel it rise, I will be gone again. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I think everyone should give up social media and television sometime. For at least a few weeks. Until the “need” gets put back in its place and you find yourself not needing it.
6. I really don’t give a rip about how you feel about my Packers posts.
Hopefully I don’t contradict everything I just said in what follows (and let me make it very clear that I’m partially joking!), but some things are clearly not meant to be taken very seriously. This was the one area where I think you probably need to do more soul searching than I do. The majority of my Facebook friends are definitely Vikings fans. And this is an especially sensitive time for the Packers-Vikings rivalry because Vikings fans had their hearts ripped out of their chests (again) a year and a half ago on the doorstep of the Superbowl. A Superbowl they likely would have won. And it would have been their long-awaited first Superbowl win. And it was largely the fault of the man who returned the Packers to prominence. And it was immediately followed by a season in which the Packers won another Superbowl. Hard as it is for me to admit, I feel for Vikings fans. It ain’t easy being a Vikings fan. After the Cubs and the Buffalo Bills, I can’t think of a fan base that’s had it rougher.
That said, suck it up. If the Vikings had won it all two years ago, Vikings fans would have been all over Facebook all year, loving on their favorite team and we Packers fans would have just had to deal with it. So, deal with it. Be a man. If you don’t like what’s on the radio, change the station. No one’s making you listen. Check your heart and ask yourself why you’re really that upset. Was what I said really out of bounds? If so, you should have the backbone to call me and let me know. If not, and you’re just sad about your Vikings… What can I say? It’s just sports. And it’s really not my problem.