I need first to state the obvious: social media is a tool. Social media is a tool that is often used poorly, and social media is a tool that lends itself to misuse by nature of its ease of access. Social media has not necessarily made people more self-involved, more antagonistic, more impatient or more polemical, although it has certainly made it easier to revel in those temptations. The pitfall of social media is not that it has invented new and exciting sins, but rather that it is a new and exciting invention with which to sin more publicly, more permanently and with the illusion of fewer repercussions.
So, naturally, Christians should avoid it. If the iPhone in your right hand causes you to sin, cast it away, right? Well, maybe, and I really do mean that. Maybe we’d avoid a world of trouble if we eliminated the tool with which we so often harm one another—and ourselves—so badly. I’d certainly be willing to make that argument regarding firearms, but that’s another editorial for another time.
But the tricky truth is that social media is not going anywhere, and slinking away from it will both burn useful cultural bridges and miss opportunities to proclaim the Kingdom. If we believe that Christ redeems every square inch of creation, we have to assume that the realm of social media represents at least a few inches. And, perhaps, social media is one avenue by which that redemption can unfold to other square inches, too.
Knowledge is power, and while the gobs of information perpetually whizzing through social media airspace can be trivial, incomplete or downright wrong, social platforms have become the newspapers of the millennium at tremendous rates. People—young people in particular—are turning to Twitter for their information, so we might as well show up and contribute something valuable.
Social media has birthed a phenomenon that I love to hate called “slacktivism,” which essentially equates an article share, a page “like” or a tweeted affirmation with real social change. It’s easy to feel like we’re doing something good when we post a comment or click a link, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of patting myself on the back for quoting Mandela and then continuing about my business.
But consider this: In the same way that our liturgical rituals shape our hearts over time, constant exposure to online petitions, human rights stories and political discourse can shape us to be more globally-minded. Social media lowers the hurdle for anyone—literally anyone with an online device—to engage with global issues in
ways that we never could before. Without social media, Christians in the West likely would not know to be interceding for our sisters and brothers brutalized by ISIS, we likely would not know about the beautiful adoption journeys of families across the country, we likely would not know the full merits of supporting local farms.
Yes, we all must wade through a sea of clickbait to encounter fruitful information on Facebook, and yes, the temptation to type without thinking or click without engaging is pervasive, but if our call is to proclaim the good news everywhere we go and to seek the flourishing of all living beings, let’s be good stewards of every tool at our disposal.
By Jordan Humm