In the last week, I’ve seen two friends announce they watched the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma and are deleting their social media accounts. I understand the sentiment. I’ve thought about deleting my social media accounts on several occasions! But I still haven’t quite been pushed over the edge just yet. The positives have always (just about) outweighed the negatives. So – was The Social Dilemma enough to convince me?
In a word, no. Let me give a few reasons why I’m not going to be deleting my social media accounts yet.
There was no new information
A year or two ago, I watched a documentary on the BBC about social media. Almost every point made by The Social Dilemma had already been made in that documentary. In fact, for that reason I felt The Social Dilemma felt a little outdated already. It felt 3-4 years old, which is probably not surprising given that most of the people who were interviewed for it left the big social media companies a few years ago.
This is not to say that their warnings do not apply today, but I do feel that social media companies have started to make changes. For example, I think Facebook has become aware of being a political echo chamber – lately I’ve seen more posts on my news feed which I disagree with. (Actually that’s why I blogged about hiding political memes).
You can mitigate against some of the problems
As I said, all of the issues raised by The Social Dilemma I was already aware of. In fact, it actually inspired me to created a couple of videos about smartphone addiction. This one below, and another one looking at a more Biblical angle.
That video was recorded a year ago, and I think even since then things have changed: Facebook and Twitter are becoming more and more annoying. The ads are getting in the way more and more. It’s becoming less easy to simply connect with other people, which is its main selling point. In other words, these days I find myself much less tempted to use it.
And for me personally, I found it really helpful to think about it from their perspective. When I knew that they were deliberately trying to get me to stay on their site for as long as possible, all the annoying things made sense. And I stopped giving into it so much… maybe it’s because I’m a contrarian, but that knowledge was very helpful.
The problems were all human problems
A long time ago, I was involved in an internet discussion forum for DJs. One day the owner of the forum basically packed up and decided to go on a year-long trip round the world. He didn’t let anyone know before he went, and the forum moderators didn’t have very much power to keep order. As you can imagine, things went a bit crazy – I remember people falling out, accusing each other of things, all that sort of thing. When he returned, after things settled down, the blame game started: was he to blame, for leaving the forum without giving appropriate power to the moderators? Or were the people to blame who’d actually done the things they shouldn’t have done?
I argued then, as I would now, that – at the end of the day – circumstances do not cause people to do wrong. They may be a contributory factor. But we all face the choice of doing right or wrong – human beings have dignity and responsibility (as I argued last time).
I think it’s exactly the same with social media. The fact that social media may be an echo chamber doesn’t mean that we have to hate people who have different views. That’s something which is not the fault of social media – even if social media exacerbates the problem, it doesn’t cause it. Social media has been designed to be addictive – but the weakness lies within human beings.
And this is the key point: social media only has as much power as we give it. It doesn’t have to become all-consuming or divisive. It only will if we let it.
There are still positives
There are still a few positives to social media. It’s nice to be able to see photos of what other people have been up to, especially if they’re friends or family who don’t live nearby. I also appreciate the Facebook groups – I’m in a couple of groups which are really useful. And the nice thing about groups is, it doesn’t suffer so much from the algorithm problem – Facebook doesn’t hide posts which it thinks I will disagree with.
I also find Twitter a helpful resource – if you use an app like Tweetdeck rather than the standard Twitter app, it won’t prioritise tweets it thinks you will like. You’ll just be able to see your “vanilla” feed, without promoted tweets etc. Twitter is still a really good resource to find articles and pieces which I wouldn’t see otherwise.
So I think social media still has its uses, even if there are real issues with it to contend with.
It’s important to be a witness
As a Christian, I think it’s important to be salt and light in the world. Basically what this means is, I think it’s important for Christians to try and show the world the right way of doing things – however imperfectly. We need to try to love each other, even our enemies. I don’t think social media is so irredeemably broken at the moment that it cannot be used in the right way. I think Christians should use it, but try to use it in a right and godly way.
For example: not calling someone names if they disagree with you or even are rude to you. Not getting into fights about trivial issues. Trying to seek the truth rather than post fake news.
At the moment, I think it’s possible to use social media in a good and godly way. If it becomes impossible, I think that would be the moment to leave.
It’s where people are
The final thing I wanted to say is, it’s just where people are at the moment. A lot of people do spend a lot of their time online.
As a Christian minister, I think it’s important to be with people where they are. That’s what Jesus did: he didn’t stay in the synagogues and preach there. He went into the towns and villages. His most famous sermon is the Sermon on the Mount – because it was preached outside! Where would the equivalent location be today? I don’t know, but I think social media would be part of it.
My other site Understand the Bible started life as a YouTube channel. I wanted to make videos that would reach people where they were. These days I also upload videos to Facebook. Social media is actually a good platform for sharing the gospel – it allows a lot more people to see and interact with Christian content.
A few weeks ago I read an article where someone was talking about the Reformation. They mentioned that the printing press was a key part of the Reformation. I think social media could be something foundational for a new, 21st-century reformation: Lord knows we need one! Social media means the gospel can get into people’s homes, onto every computer and smartphone. Who wouldn’t want that opportunity?
As Paul says in Ephesians 5:
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.