I joined Facebook in 2005, Twitter in 2009, and Instagram in 2013. I enjoy each of these social media platforms for different reasons, but one theme has stuck out to me recently: I’m least like Christ when I’m on social media. I’m more selfish, defensive, narcissistic, and proud when I’m reading or interacting with others online. Social media doesn’t make me sin in those ways, but it does provide plenty of provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14).
At the turn of the year, I made a promise to myself—I would spend less time on social media, and I would stop engaging in or starting long debates. I wrote about it first in September last year, and then tweeted a thread about it again in January of this year. Here’s the third installment, I suppose.
Ever see those 20-tweet back-and-forths or the 80-comment Facebook posts? Yeah, that was me. I’ve kept the above promises to myself by-and-large this year, but I’ve still struggled to find the balance of using social media sparingly and most importantly, wisely.
So, over the past few months, I began asking those closest to me to speak into my social media activity and growing writing career (which provides more provision for the flesh). My wife, my friends, my pastors, my bosses, and my community group all worked through this with me in different ways. Two main observations came out these conversations:
- I love debate, dialogue, and interactions about thoughts and ideas—for better or worse. Social media has always been a good place for that. But though good conversations happen on occasion, social media isn’t really built for thoughtful, winsome dialogue. One person told me that when they think of Brandon Smith on social media, they don’t really think of self-promotion or controversy—instead, they think of “gotcha” replies to people and trying to put down others to make myself look smart. I’d never thought I did this, but they’re right. I do.
- Social media is a great place to share ideas, projects, etc.—for better or worse. As a writer and author, social media helps me share my work and the work of others. But social media also tends toward self-promotion and is used by many to fight their fear of man. Every “like” or retweet offers us a little glimmer of hope that we’re more special than we really are. Oftentimes I’ll share a quote or a Bible verse, and be more obsessed with retweets than with whether or not it might’ve helped someone.
Coming out of these conversations, I decided to take a week off from social media a few months ago. I took the apps off my phone. I stopped checking it on my laptop. I only checked in a few times to reply to private messages related to work.
Amazingly, the world went on without me. I gained a few new followers, a few people shared tweets or posts I’d written, and a few people “liked” some Instagram posts. Otherwise, I was a ghost. And it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. In fact, I was overjoyed to find out that I missed a bunch of “controversies” that I couldn’t care less about.
The Way of the Lamb
On top of all of these conversations, I recently read The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It (which I highly, highly recommend), and a particular passage stuck out to me in relation to social media:
In our day and age, it is easy to find people who speak truth (at least what they think is truth) by rejecting love and thereby the way of Christ. They lay their convictions bare, while forgetting they are engaging the family of God. Some people believe their function is to serve as God’s arbiter of truth, doling out critique and personal aspersions to any who dare hold competing theological views. Others stand against those who embrace power to control, but seek to crush them with their words, verbally employing the very power they desire to resist. Some troll for the errors of others, not out of a desire to lovingly correct or reprove, but in order to create their own platform; they call themselves prophets, but they are self-aggrandizing charlatans.
On the other side, we find those who refuse to speak critically for fear of offending others or being viewed as judgmental. Their avoidance of truth-telling is baptized by axioms such as “Nobody is perfect” or “Every church has its problems.” They keep the peace at the cost of truth. Their commitment to love is properly primary, but ultimately the unity they seek to maintain is a façade.
Rarest, perhaps, are those who understand when to be silent and went to speak. (p. 208)
If I’m honest, I am at times both extremes, but hardly ever the “rarest” balance. On social media in particular, I can be a wannabe prophet and self-aggrandizer, and other times I can be Mr. Bridge-builder who doesn’t want to disagree with people with whom I should probably disagree. Strobel and Goggin are right here: there’s a time for speaking truth boldly and keeping peace—but most of us don’t know where the line is. And most of us don’t know where the proper place is to do that, but I’m personally realizing that it’s not on social media.
The way of the Lamb—generosity, self-sacrifice, wisdom in speaking truth, love, etc.—wouldn’t be a good way to describe my social media activity. I’m often the way of the dragon (Satan himself)—selfishness, pride, vitriol, hate, etc. This made me strongly consider deleting all of my social media accounts. So even before the latest “platform” hubbub, I took off a week to ask myself the question, If I stay on social media, what’s the cost?
Counting the Cost
Social media is not evil. I’ve made legitimate friends with people I’ve met online. I’ve learned as much about racial reconciliation and politics and theology on social media than just about anywhere else, if nothing else because it’s a great place to find links to articles and more substantive thoughts. Also, I write because I want people to read my work, and I’m able to share my work on social media.
On the other side, I’ve made borderline enemies online, have seen true hate and vitriol in conversations about race and politics and theology, and have been prone to give and desire undue praise to my work. But social media isn’t the problem—my heart is. Social media, like most things, is redeemable. (I think?)
So after that week off, I decided to keep my social media accounts, hoping to absorb the good and reject the bad that comes along with them. But in the week I spent almost entirely away from them, I counted the cost of a life with almost no social media engagement, and I was richer for it. And if you asked my family, friends, and people I do offline life with, they’d agree.
So, the social media apps are still not on my phone and won’t be. I now use Buffer to post almost anything, from thoughts to links to articles (my own and others’). I’ve also re-developed my Feedly—with whom I once had a bad breakup for somehow deleting all of my blog’s subscribers, which proves my point about pride, doesn’t it? Feedly has helped me keep up with good blogposts and articles, news, and opinion pieces without needing to endlessly scroll on social media feeds. I check in on replies, messages, and friends’ posts on occasion.
Frankly, I’m generally more relaxed and joyful away from social media. So, instead of checking it 12,394 times per day, I don’t check it even daily, and not more than twice a day. That week off, by God’s grace, showed me that I don’t need more than that. I’m not an exemplar or a pattern for you to follow, but I think we should all take time to evaluate our social media habits, ensuring that we’re not addicted or enslaved by it.
If this is even a slight move toward the way of the Lamb, I’ll take it.