People LOVE to complain about social media. It has become the favorite whipping post for all the things we find wrong with society. I have often felt overwhelmed and beaten down by the level of conversation online. I have taken breaks from Facebook and sworn never to return to social media in the past. I affirm the choice to do what is best for yourself and make healthy boundaries related to online activity.
I do agree that social media tends to heighten the conversations. It can create an echo chamber and polarize us. However, I want to push back some for those reading at home. This line of thinking continues to place the blame on social media and allows us to pretend that we ourselves are not to blame. So while social media can be a difficult place to have a good dialogue that seems to be primarily because all of our worst tendencies are given free reign. This has been the case online for a very long time. When I say all of OUR worst tendencies, I mean all of MY worst tendencies. The solution is to take ownership of how we allow other people and the forum of social media to turn us into our worst selves, NOT other people (again that is just passing blame), but OURSELVES.
I have made a concerted effort over the years of blogging and engaging online to try and have good, thoughtful, and respectful dialogue online with people with whom I disagree strongly. I’ve worked at this in my offline life as well. This is a skill. It takes practice and effort. I have found Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication to be a very helpful tool. I also am part of a faith community that tries to practice better ways of disagreeing.
I have failed early and often in my attempts to do better. I continue to fail and make missteps… BUT I have also had enough experiences disagreeing with people online who at first appear to be trolls, that I think it has been a worthwhile effort. It has taught me something and made me a better person. I think I have learned from people and think I have made people think differently about my perspective.
It might not be for everybody and again I want to affirm people making choices and boundaries that are healthy for them. I do want to suggest that social media, while difficult and treacherous terrain, is actually a great opportunity for us as Christians to learn how to be in the world but not of it, how to engage difficult topics and people without reverting to the internet’s lowest common denominator. If we run away from this opportunity we should ask ourselves how we are learning to do this difficult thing in our offline life with family, friends, co-workers, etc. Jesus never shied away from difficult conversations with difficult people, but usually found ways to subvert the prevailing narratives and shed light and life on all sides. May we yearn and learn to be more like that, online or off.