Last week, I spent some time talking honestly about my technology use. This week, I’d like us to have a talk about social media. I want to begin with a caveat – I believe in social media. I believe it has the power to connect us in ways we previously did without. I believe it can make us closer and unite like-minded individuals But I don’t believe that’s what it’s doing in 2020.
While I have no tangible evidence to support this, I believe social media is driving a wedge between the citizens of this world. It’s giving us opportunity after opportunity to attack the opposition instead of mend the difference. I don’t believe it’s a place of genuine discussion anymore, instead it’s become a visual tabloid full of sensational accusations and outrageous propaganda.
In a word, it’s become dangerous.
Much like last week, I’d like to begin with some statistics that help set the stage. Before I list them, I’ll point you to several links that allow you to dig into the research yourself. Take a good look before you read on. After looking myself, I came away with three ideas and some thoughts to help each of us navigate our social media better. Here’s what stuck out to me the most.
As of 2020, 79% of Americans above the age of 13 have at least 1 social media account. They may not all be active, but they are present in the lives of most Americans. That number increases to 89% when we do a closer inspection of the online activity of 18-29 year olds. In what might be the most outrageous statistic, the average social media user spends close to 3 hours per day on social media. That’s a lot of likes, dislikes, comments, and scrolls. When you compare that to how much time we worship, read, and even sleep each day, it’s pretty shocking how much time (and energy) we invest in social media.
After some serious consideration, I urge you to undertake this endeavor with the most obvious reality of the whole megillah up front. Social media is a platform. Essentially an online version of Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park minus the rainstorms or cold front. It’s a place where views can be shared by a random assortment of invested believers. That doesn’t imply the views are right, well-thought-out, or even necessary. It doesn’t validate them as something worth listening to, and it sure doesn’t give them an audience. It simply gives any message at any time a platform to stand upon.
As a preacher, I can tell you, I believe in the power of a platform. A platform (both figurative and literal) has elevated historical figures like Michael Collins or Abraham Lincoln to legendary levels of respect. It’s served as a place for the Martin Luthers and the Martin Luther King Jr’s of the world to express both wisdom and outrage. It has also allowed the world’s biggest fools to speak up and leave no doubt to the rest of us. A platform is a good thing (or at least it used to be), because it separates those who have something to say from those who are just saying something.
Lately, I have longed for an old-fashioned Vaudeville Hook for some of my social media neighbors. In a serious sentiment, I wish I could have simply pulled certain voices off the stage and out of my life. Their act was DOA, yet they continued on without much concern for my ears or my soul. While the Unfollow or Block buttons go a long way, they don’t quite do enough to silence the stupidity and self-service.
Instead of bemoaning the platforms I don’t like, I have resolved to be a platform myself. There is quite a bit of Scriptural precedence for that. Consider what the Apostle Paul told the young evangelist Timothy:
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.2 Timothy 4:1-5
Knowing that we have a platform worth standing on should give us the courage to stand up and “shout it from the mountaintops.” I’m especially mindful of the thoughts of verse 3 about false teachers that the crowd “heap up for themselves.” After all, isn’t that where these insufferable know-it-alls come from – a crowd of simple-headed disciples fully willing to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid?
In their examples, we see something that isn’t lost on Christians, people are sheep (see Psalm 23, John 10). We crave leaders who rise above the crowd and demand our devotion. Predictably, we don’t always follow the right shepherd and find ourselves led by wolves-in-sheep clothing instead (see Matthew 7:15). If social media is a platform, then it can be used to share bad advice alongside of good advice, bad doctrine alongside of healthy doctrine, error alongside of truth. I believe that implies some careful consideration of who we listen to online, not just what we’re listening to. Perhaps, Ephesians 5:15 is worth remembering every time we venture onto social media.
See then that you walk carefully, not as fools but as wise.
Secondly, I couldn’t help but notice social media is an influence. In fact, it might be the greatest influence of 2020. We should know that everything and everyone is influential, if we choose to acknowledge it or not. We’re all spheres of influence because we are all inflicting some pull on everyone else. Naturally, some are more charismatic than others and pull more to them. Sadly, that doesn’t mean their charisma and message has any actual value to society.
When that many people spend that much time on those places, they become, by their very existence, influencers. And if you like it or not, the people you meet and the platforms you follow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok, or anything else is influencing you. It’s validating the choices you already made, attacking the opponents of your choice, and providing information to those who supply your choices.
It’s influencing you, if you know it or not.
So, is that good? It certainly can be, but it might take some work on your behalf. You might need to curate who’s allowed into your online social life. You might need to divest yourself of some harmful characters and surround yourself with some who are uplifting. You might need to let go and start again. Two Bible verses seem to set a precedent for our behavior among the influencers.
Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” That’s true on the battlefield, the ballfields, and your homepage. In First Corinthians 15:33, the Apostle Paul quotes Menander’s play Thais and highlights the truth of a simple statement, “evil company corrupts good habits.”
Simply put, if you play in the mud, you’re going to get dirty. Social media has become a muddy, complicated mess that often influences good behavior in a negative way. Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be the case. Because it’s a platform, influence can be found in positive places and voices as well.
Don’t forget the approval you need is from God, not social media.
Seek His thoughts, His ways, and His affirmation instead of those that come from the social media influencers that permeate your digital home.
Finally, social media is an opportunity. This idea really piggy-backs off both of the first two. You might say, they’re all connected at the hip. If you treat it as a platform, and you influence others for good, then you’ll get an opportunity to do something with that influence.
You don’t have to go very far to see the value of an opportunity in Scripture. In Galatians 6:10, we’re commanded “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Then in Colossians 4:5, we’re told to “walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.” We even see the example of Jesus in Acts 10:38 who “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”
Make no mistake about it, we are expected to do good with the time we have in this world. That good can be found in our social media just like it can be everywhere else. So go, take the opportunity to support noble, valuable causes, praise truth when it is spoken, and share wisdom as often as possible. We both now that’s something social media needs more of, because life needs more it as well.
At the end of the day, I believe social media is a great tool. One that connects people all across the world. It allows the genuine message of God’s truth to be shared, with one downfall, it also allows false teachers and Satan himself the same opportunity.
We need to be wise, prudent, and careful as we navigate social media.
We don’t need to abandon it, for then the good would leave with us, but we need to handle it with care. As one bit of advice, I ‘d like to encourage you to streamline your social media portfolio. Instead of having multiple accounts across different platforms, pick the one that works best for you and your message. Then invest in it. Make the online world of you a better place because you’re a part of it and then, see the change it brings.
All Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Coincidentally, this is not the first time I’ve felt compelled to write about our social media use. If you’d like to visit (or revisit) what I wrote several years ago, simply follow this link.