Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Anti-Social Media

Nine suggestions for a healthier online community.

I remember when I first joined Facebook—I certainly wasn’t early to the game in 2006, but it was still fairly new and simple. People who had an email that Facebook would accept (usually associated with a school at first) could join, post notes and then pictures, and stay in touch—particularly keeping aware of things in my kids’ lives. Memes weren’t a “thing,” nor ads on your “wall” (I don’t remember if it was called a “feed” back then).  I joined Twitter a few years later, more as a curiosity, and then as a way to get news and messages to and from people about things we cared about. Then came Instagram (all about the pictures) and more recently, Snapchat—not something I’m particularly adept at.

Fast forward 11 years, and now I almost dread getting on Facebook or Twitter. The number of flaming stories, memes, and otherwise undesirable or offensive material is growing by the minute. I must scroll through any number of posts I don’t want to see in order to actually discover something from a friend, or a helpful link from an uplifting publication.

Worse, it seems that many of those who are my friends on FB (and I have a lot of FB friends for various reasons), have decided that they must repeat and repost every “news” story from Buzz Feed or Young Conservatives or Vox or IJR that agrees with their political position. Every pronouncement of the President (Obama first, and now Trump) must be met with scorn, suspicion, and hyperventilating that would have you believe that this person is the ANTICHRIST! or HITLER! The Republic is DOOMED! And if you support that person you are EVIL!

So, in a last ditch (and probably pointless given the small reach of this blog) effort to try to make our social media a little less anti-social may I suggest the following as the start of a list of “checks” to consider before posting?

1. If you are posting 100% of the time in line with your political party, you probably have stopped being a critical thinker. And if all the posts are from opinion sites, then you are letting someone else do your thinking for you

2. If your posts are mainly reposts or memes, stop. Social media is meant to be social, not some sort of echo chamber circulating others’ ideas. I'm not saying don't repost, but tell me why you think this is worthy of my time. And let me know that you are there, behind all the memes, by sharing something that is from you.

3.  I’m happy to see pictures of you and your loved ones. I like you telling me what’s going on in your life. I don’t mind seeing recipe videos you decide to share (in moderation). But your need to feel affirmed by my copying and pasting your status to show I read it and am your friend is not appropriate—in fact, you may be sure I will never honor that kind of request.

4. If you post a constant stream of political comment, don’t be surprised if I or others “unfollow” you, which means we are still friends, but I’m not viewing your posts. Social media isn’t my source for information about political issues—and it shouldn’t be anyone’s.

5. Think about what you “like” or “retweet.” Do you really want to endorse that idea or post, or do you just like the person who posted it?

6. What if we all simply decided to use social media to be sociable? We can say what we are doing, and ask others questions and seek responses. We can let people know of events in our lives, and we can ask for prayer. We can discuss our own actions and decisions, including political ones—I can handle hearing about your attending a rally for a cause, even if I don’t agree. But don’t pontificate, telling me how this means you are righteous (and implying those who were not there are not). We can tell funny stories, or if we read something online that is inspiring or thought provoking, we can share it with our own comment as to why we are doing so. We can post a verse of Scripture or a quote that is meaningful to us—and be sure to say what makes this important to you.

7. We don’t have to preach, but work to make our posting redemptive and helpful. Don’t pretend to have a better life at the moment than you do. Instead, remind yourself and others of the grace you find God gives in less than perfect circumstances, often through the people you are connected to. We can speak a good word about our Savior, we can encourage with Scripture, and we can be kind to the others who join us there.

8. I know there are different ideas about Jesus’ caution about being held accountable for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:36), but something to consider is that such words can be a part of what we write as well as what we say. How would you evaluate your social media output? Does it reflect good fruit produced from a heart changed by God’s salvation?

9. Consider using blogs or other long forms of communication to actually talk about what you think, rather than the short bursts that the more common social media prefers. OK, that's probably not going to happen. But it's a thought.

Let’s see what we can do to make social media sociable again, and in so doing make it a tool for good things.