The Constant Clang of Conflict
This is part four of a five-part series on Christian Twitter.
The fifth and final part will arrive next Monday.
Last week, we explored “performative grievance” and why it is so appealing on the social internet today in general, but especially on Christian Twitter.
Perhaps the strongest reason performative grievance is appealing is because acting like you’re offended or hurt when you’re not is a sure way to ignite conflict, and conflict helps us earn the primary currency of the social internet: attention.
This entry in our series of reflections on Christian Twitter will be mercifully short.
What is the problem? The problem is that Christians fight on Twitter. It’s really as simple as that.
If you spend enough time following and engaging with Christian Twitter you’ll develop a form of tinnitus, a ringing of the ears, that is actually the din of the constant clanging of conflict toward which we are perpetually drawn like mosquitos to a bug zapper because of our sinful lust for attention and affirmation.
I think the root of my discouragement with Christian Twitter is the perpetual, pointless conflict that accomplishes nothing but makes everyone feel productive. It’s not that “Christians interacting on Twitter” can never be edifying or good—it can be!—it’s that often the dominant theme is conflict, not community. Here are a handful of examples from the top of my head:
Someone insulted Beth Moore? Let’s rush to her defense or pile on with our own criticism.
An evangelical influencer affirmed gay marriage? Let’s don our sackcloth and/or shame them publicly.
An evangelical leader endorsed a politician? Praise them or cancel them, depending on your convictions. Apathy isn’t OK.
Someone is leading their church out of the SBC? Pat them on the back or push them out. You pick.
A musician is releasing “Satan shoes”? Commence outrage at the downfall of society.
Almost every day something like this is happening on Christian Twitter.
The constant conflict and commentary is exhausting. Why? Because it is futile, pointless, and doesn’t accomplish anything. It can be added along with all the other hevel of Ecclesiastes.
Conflict on Christian Twitter is a dramatic pseudo-battleground that serves no purpose other than to let its actors shake their tail-feathers in an attempt to impress one another. This problem is, like everything else, not unique to Christian Twitter, but we should honestly be better than this.
So why even is this a problem?
The Heart of the Problem
The root cause of the constant clang of conflict on Christian Twitter is pretty easy to identify:
In our sin we lust for attention and affirmation, and the best way to acquire attention and affirmation on social media is to fight with others.
When I consult Christians or Christian organizations on social media strategy, one of the most common questions I get is, “How can I grow my following on social media?” My first response to this question is always a bit tongue-in-cheek: “Just be mad,” I answer before giving real advice.
But really, the best way to grow a following on social media is to just be mad.
More specifically, the best way to get likes and retweets on Twitter is to just be mad.
Conflict is the best kind of online content for engagement. It has been this way since the beginning of the social internet, and whether we recognize it or not, we are often willing to start fights to earn likes. This is, obviously, a problem.
Twitter is inherently performative. It is a means of using words on a stage to influence others in exchange for attention and affirmation. There are certainly ways in which this can be constructive, but we often care more about accruing as much attention and affirmation as we can regardless of whether or not our methods are constructive.
We come to accept destructive methods of communication if they go toward achieving our secret pursuits of attention and affirmation.
So what do we do?
A Solution to the Problem
Let me encourage you to take some time off Twitter if you have identified with anything I’ve written here, either as someone who has perpetuated conflict (like me) or you’re simply an exhausted observer of it (also like me).
Log off. That’s really it.
You don’t even have to stop using Twitter entirely. If you enjoy a lot about Twitter outside the Christian neighborhood, create a new, anonymous Twitter account and only follow accounts that you enjoy.
I can speak from experience, going on an indefinite vacation away from Christian Twitter has been a glorious, relaxing experience.
Only when you do that, I think, can you begin to realize how trivial and disconnected from the real world Christian Twitter really is.
I love how optimistic* you are about Twitter. And I don't say that tongue-in-cheek. I just can't find it in me to spend anytime on there until the entire website is completely overhauled. Even if you create an anonymous account, I've never found any "subset" of the Twittersphere to not fall into the outrage and performative cycles you're rightfully pointing out. This is not to say there are no benefits to social media, but rather, with the state of everything now, I just have to ask why we keep trying to justify our time on there is all? But again. If you're able to do it, that's great! I just look at all of the people complaining about how bad it is, people who are quite clearly not emotionally/spiritually healthy but spend so much time on there... And think, "The answer is pretty clear."
* I don't like the phrase optimistic, but I can't really find an alternative at the moment.