3 Reasons to Use Social Media for Good This Year
We need to care about others more than we care about ourselves.
Around Christmastime I was joking with some students in our youth ministry about the New Year and the reality that nothing was really going to change when the clock struck midnight on 12:00 on January 1, 2021. (Some of us joked that maybe we would all wake up from a dream the night of March 12, 2020.) For all of our jokes and memes about the tragedy of the year 2020, the reality that the changing of the year doesn’t really mean anything was perhaps no more clear than Thursday night when we left 2020, entered 2021, and nothing really changed about our global predicament or personal problems.
In regard to social media, 2020 was defined by lots of time online and even more misinformation, deception, and fighting. The term “fake news” may have been popularized because of Russian efforts to affect the 2016 election through social media, but one could argue that fake news had its biggest year in 2020. Not only was there another election around which misinformation could proliferate, but there was a global pandemic blooming, ripe for all kinds of misinformation. Sara Fischer, media reporter for Axios, said of the information economy and 2020, “The information economy definitely favors speed and scale, as well as hyperbole. It does not favor facts and measured reporting.”
So, for as much as 2020 was a disaster in a myriad of other ways, it was also not a great year in the world of social media. All the more reason you and I should resolve to use social media for good this year. Why? Here are three reasons:
1) Social media is real life now.
Truthfully, social media has always been real life, but for a long time we have often treated the online world as different, separate, and perhaps less real than our embodied physical lives. Depending on what stat you look at, as of 2019, the average American spent 2-3 hours per day on social media. That number was certainly higher in 2020. There aren’t a lot of things Americans spend 2-3 hours per day doing other than sleeping and working and maybe sitting down for meal times if they aren’t eating in the car on the way to their kids’ extracurricular activities. If you spend 2-3 hours per day doing something, it is a significant part of your life. Even the most active fitness fiends aren’t spending that much time in the gym each day!
What this means is that if you don’t already see social media as “real” as your embodied, physical life is “real,” it’s time you start. Why does this matter? Simply, it matters because what you and I do online has real, lasting effects on our offline lives. It isn’t some separate kind of existence that runs parallel to our physical existence. Our online and offline lives are intertwined, each affecting the other. They always have been, but it hasn’t always felt that way. The more social media evolves and becomes more interwoven into our offline lives, the more the two become indistinguishable.
2) Being negative on social media hurts you as much as others.
As more research is done on the relationship between social media and mental health, a link between poor mental health and negative social media interactions is emerging. Obviously, those who are on the receiving end of negativity would be prone to experience negative mental health effects. No one likes to be criticized or bullied on social media. But there is also reason to believe that being on the “giving” end of social media negativity has poor effects.
This sorta goes back to the first point, that social media is real life now. If you’re negative online you’re more likely to be negative offline. If you get in arguments in the comment section of a Facebook post in the afternoon, you’re more likely to be amped up and argumentative at the dinner table with your family. If you gossip in Twitter DMs with colleagues and friends you’re likely already doing the same thing offline, but if you aren’t already, you likely will.
When we get in fights online or otherwise hurt others, we usually feel righteous in our actions because we’re standing up for something we believe or defending an ideal we hold. What we don’t realize is that the fighting we believe is a sort of “righteous battle” on behalf of our worldview is eating us from the inside. When you’re negative online, it will inevitably begin to spill over into your offline life. And even if it doesn’t, the damage it did to you by being only online was bad enough.
3) You will answer to God for how you use social media.
A number of non-Christians read this newsletter, so I try to do what I can to not make this a “theology of social media” publication and more of a general view on how social media is affecting our hearts, minds, and souls from my Christian worldview. But on this final point I want to be very clear: whether or not you are a Christian, we will all give an account to God one day about how we behaved on social media. God is not absent from the internet, as much as it may feel that way sometimes.
The internet, generally, is a common grace. It has done so much good in the world and has provided humanity with so many ways to help and serve each other. But it has also, of course, provided the most efficient outlet for collective sinful behavior the world has ever known. Social media platforms are full of negativity, misinformation, deception, and evil because social media platforms rely on mass amounts of activity from sinful people.
God is not uninterested in what we do online. He cares about how we conduct ourselves in comment sections. He actually pays attention to LinkedIn. We will explain our social media conduct before God one day, and praise God that we have a hope for forgiveness in Jesus Christ, because none of us can give a flawless defense of our online conduct.
Care About People
We are called to care about other people more than we care about ourselves. What we do on social media is not except from this calling. At the heart of all of the “wrong” or “bad” ways we use social media is, ultimately, a desire to use social media the way we want to use it regardless of how it may affect others.
In 2021, let’s all commit to conducting ourselves in such a way that lifts others up more than ourselves…and perhaps at great cost to ourselves. On Friday I’ll share some practical ways we can do that.