Social media can be a pretty harsh place these days. Death threats, bullying, shaming, and the ever-present Twitter feud. It’s exhausting. Many folks I’ve talked to admit to feeling emotionally frayed, spiritually frustrated, and frankly fearful because of it.
And as I was sitting in an Ash Wednesday service, I began to think about how, during Lent, we tend to focus on disciplines IRL. But increasingly, we are living our lives online, as much as 4.7 hours a day in some cases. While some chose to fast social media for Lent, I began to wonder what Lenten disciplines for social media might look like.
Now, I’m not interested in tone-policing how folks engage online. But I know that over the past year, I’ve pulled back somewhat from online engagement because it was becoming unhealthy. When what’s happening on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments on my blog disrupts my ability to help my kids with their homework, I knew it was time for a change. Here are some boundaries, disciplines, and things I tell myself that I have found helpful personally.
1. You don’t have to engage with every person who disagrees with your Facebook post, tweet, or blog. Let it go. You’re actually not that important. Not everyone is going to agree with you, even if you are CLEARLY in the right and they are CLEARLY in the wrong. And don’t play the role of persecuted social media Christian to your fans and friends. Make a practice of engaging with the intent of listening rather than being heard. Make a discipline of exiting unproductive conversations without parting shots across the bow — either direct or passive aggressive attacks. In the heat of the moment, open up a Word document, write all the responses you would like to tweet, and come back to it in the morning with thanksgiving that you had the courage to be quiet.
2. Social media is not a place for personalized theological, social, or racial education. That’s what libraries, Google, and classes are for. If you are *really* interested in an argument or a perspective someone puts forward, I’d be willing to bet there are lots of books, essays, and even easy to find blog posts on the subject. Develop an inquisitive spirit but not an entitled one. Don’t expect the person you follow on Twitter to be your professor or personal trainer for more just living. Unless you want to pay them to be your life coach or something.3. Walk away. Having a terrible, no-good, awful day? Instead of doubling down, try closing the laptop, opening the Prayer Book, going for a walk. Better yet, don’t even log in. Something will rankle you and you might be more likely to pop off without thinking. My worst, snarkiest, most critical social media behavior tends to come after a long day, when I’m really tired, or am dealing with other issues in my life. Had I just chosen to take a nice hot bath, I probably would have saved myself a lot of online stress.
4. Fast from outrage. This doesn’t mean to stop being angry or upset over injustices, but maybe raging out online isn’t the most productive thing to do for your cause. Know what your triggers are and steer clear of them.
5. Create safe spaces for yourself online. We all need to vent every now and then. That’s okay. We just don’t have to do it in front of everyone.
6. Use the World Table commenting system. As bad as Twitter and Facebook can be, the comments sections on blogs are often the worst. They are no longer safe spaces, and it takes quite a bit of emotional effort to moderate vicious and specific death threats and vile, hateful slurs. So like many Patheos bloggers, I’m trying out the World Table commenting system in hopes of doing something to systemically address the brutal nature of the behavior in the comments section here.
What do you do to set boundaries for yourself online? What helps you step away and engage in a healthy way without betraying who you are and what you are passionate about? What does Lent look like for you on social media?