From the 2020 last presidential election and rioting after the death of George Floyd to the debate surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have taken to social media to get the news and voice their views.
But at what cost?
The internet was originally intended to bring people together. Now it seems to be doing the opposite.
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“The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart,” former Facebook employee turned whistleblower Frances Haugen told lawmakers in Washington.
Haugen recently shared on CBS’s 60 Minutes and during testimony on Capitol Hill that the social media giant manipulates the platform to make it more contentious and angry.
“Facebook makes more money when you consume more content,” Haugen explained. “People enjoy engaging with things that elicit an emotional reaction. And the more anger they get exposed to, the more they interact and the more they consume.”
That anger has even boiled over into relationships between Christians.
One woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that she and a friend who attended the same church posted on Facebook differing views regarding the 2020 presidential election and the Black Lives Matter Movement. She said it was enough to end their friendship which had endured for years.
That problem highlights how political and other viewpoints seem to outweigh biblical precepts on reconciliation and peace.
Matt Ward serves as associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Thompson, Ga. He says the disconnect shows just how toxic social media can be.
“I look at the effect that it’s had on my friends, church members, how it makes them feel,” Ward told CBN News.
Daniel Darling, author of the book, A Way with Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good, agreed, saying some Christians are fueling incivility.
“We tend to forget that the people we’re interacting with are not avatars or pixels but they’re human beings made in the image of God,” Darling said in an interview with CBN News. “And so, I think we forget all those things when we go online and as a result, Christians often act as uncivil and uncharitable as anybody in the world.”
After a time of reflection and conversation with church members, Ward came up with a helpful way to get believers thinking about their time on the web.
“In many churches, they do have a formal social media policy for staff members to follow,” said Ward. “Where they fall short is offering guidance for church members.”
He admits that the proposal isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but encourages pastors, church staff, and members to use their social influence to reflect biblical values on the web.
‘You are a Christian and you are always a Christian even when you’re online,” Ward urged. “You are always a follower of Jesus Christ. So, let’s word these guidelines in such a way that you can see oh this is what the bible says. be truthful. Be compassionate. A gentle answer brings down anger. Don’t stir up controversy.”
He also suggests using social media to promote the gospel, showing kindness, courtesy and respect. And logging off when necessary.
“The equivalent of walking away is simply not clicking send and not responding at that time.”
Darling says as followers of Christ it is vital that we uphold and keep the peace.
“One of the things I think is really unhelpful is when Christians not only say, ‘Hey I disagree with this but,’ they sort of attack the motives and the motivation making the argument. I think we need to resist that.'”
Darling said the quality of our online life is proportional to the quality of our lives offline.
‘Someone who has regular spiritual disciplines, who’s living in community, who has a good network of friends, who’s living a healthy, balanced Christian life, that will impact how you interact online,” commented Darling.
He also pointed out that he is not suggesting that Christians not engage in important topics of our day.
“I do think that we can have really robust substantive conversations about politics,” said Darling. “I think we should be outspoken about what we believe, stand up for the truth. We can even have really spirited back and forth debates. It’s not important just that we say the right things and we stand up for the truth – but how we say it matters.”
It is a sentiment Ward agrees is what is most important.
“The Bible is a great reference for all things communication,” said Ward. “Social media is simply another platform of communication. Let’s investigate what the Bible says. And sure enough, it says everything we need to know on how to use social media well.”
Meanwhile, Facebook plans to implement new tools to divert teens away from harmful content and enable people on its platform to reduce the presence of politics.
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