Social media has produced some unusual fruit over the last few years. How many of us see a post, do a quick assessment, decide whether we agree, then share it or comment—all in a matter of seconds? It’s incredible how many don’t read the whole post before reacting or read the article linked before sharing. It has become almost a new cyber reflex.
Now let me say that I have been this person far too many times. I have been dragged into fights online. Actually, I have also initiated them or happily ran headlong into those started by others. Often, I have repented and sought forgiveness from those I’ve hurt in this way. I’ve even considered a couple of drastic options because of the toxic nature of social media:
- Deleting all social media accounts.
- Deleting all but a select few “friends.”
Neither is really ideal. Deleting all social media would be the worst—no matter how often I have wanted to do this. First, I have friends on Facebook whom I have known since elementary. It has also made it possible to keep in touch with family members and get back in touch with people I lost touch with decades ago. I don’t want to lose my chance to interact with people who were once so important in my life. Second, social media is a ubiquitous mode of communication these days. My wife communicates with her family in Korea through a Korean social media app. I seldom speak on the phone these days. We talk to our kids and grandkids through Facebook video chats in Messenger. Third, social media is also a form of communication for our church. Many of our first contacts with people come through Facebook. We even have a closed group where prayer reports and requests can be shared. We also share our weekly sermons on our Facebook page. I also post brief live videos to share thoughts with the church or community.
So, what about deleting all but a select group of friends? The problem is that I use social media in so many ways above. If I limit it to old friends from school and the Army, then what about church folks? But if I limit it to church folks, I lose an opportunity to interact with those who do not come to my church. I already keep my accounts locked down pretty tightly because I have been cyberstocked on several occasions. Limiting my group of friends and tightening things down further undoes all the good for which social media is useful.
There is one thing I have done that is the most helpful. I want to share that with you here. James tells us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:9). Typical social media practice has flipped this on its head. We have been quick to “reply,” quicker to anger, and reluctant to listen. Please allow me to share a way to undo this.
Don’t feel you must reply right away. It’s possible the person who posted is busy and may not even see your reply until hours later. So, chew on it for a while. Read it more than once. Make sure you understand what they are saying. Ask yourself, “Is this what they are saying or what I have interpreted them as meaning?” Then allow yourself to add a carefully worded reply or comment only after mulling it over for a while. Doing this has several benefits. First, it permits emotions to subside. Second, your response will be more thoughtful and well-formed. Third, it will likely contribute more to a conversation instead of igniting a fight. Finally, if the other person responds negatively to your comment, don’t assume the problem is them. Go back and make sure you are being understood. If not, look for a way to improve this.
Finally, there are three other things you can do and should consider. I have practiced these for quite some time. First, practice regular social media hiatuses. Pick a week or two, and during that time, log off of all social media accounts and refuse to check them until the set time is over. An example of this: as I write this, the jury is deliberating in the Kenosha trial of Rittenhouse. I know that as soon as the decision is announced, my social media will be a madhouse (from both sides). I have decided that I will log off social media when the announcement is made until the emotions fade.
The second thing you can do is to go back into your account settings. Find all the pages which regularly draw you into emotional reactions and “unlike them.” I did something similar with talk radio years ago. There were some hosts with whom I tended to agree, but listening to them either increased anxiety. I stopped listening to them at all. It’s been over twenty years since I listened to talk radio. I can assure you my emotional health has benefited. Since doing this with social media is not really possible, I can take breaks and take charge of which posts I see. If you want help in doing these things, let me know, and I will help you.
The third and final step is to be selective about who speaks into your life through social media. Too often, it is like a water hose. Anything that makes it into the hose is sprayed out. But if you have people who just want to pick a fight, block them. I have done this with old friends and family members. Sometimes they just need a break or need to know you will set limits. I even do this with people on group pages. If they call names or troll, they are blocked. No more problem! Once again, come to me if you need help.
Just because something is on social media does not mean you have to receive it. Just because it says something about which you feel strongly does not mean you need to respond. Just because someone has been friends for decades or is family does not mean they have a right to impact your emotional health.