Practically all of us find ourselves on social media.[i] Most of us are on for longer than we’d care to admit. Why? It provides a sense of connectedness. We share and learn about what is going on with others. Perhaps we can see photos of grandchildren who live far away. Or maybe we stay informed about friends or family going through a difficult time. All of that is well and good. But the business that is social media is not so pretty.
We must acknowledge and admit that we are being manipulated and that our data and decisions are being used – commercialized – for the benefit of others. The technology that connects us also controls us, spies on us, divides us, polarizes us, distracts us, monetizes us.[ii] A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology five years ago found that higher social media use correlated with self-reported declines in mental and physical health and life satisfaction.[iii] According to an internal Facebook report from 2018, 64% of people who joined extremist groups on Facebook did so because the algorithms steered them there.[iv]
Some might say we should simply bag social media. That might not be a bad idea. We certainly must appreciate that its technology taps into some ugly areas of our humanness. The world is a sinful place. We can run and hide or try to insulate ourselves from it. What would Jesus do? Or in this case perhaps, what would Jesus post?
Paul told the Romans that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” or “that in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good—with those who have been called according to his purpose.”[v] Can we use social media to further God’s purposes? Jesus could.[vi]
Jesus didn’t just hang out in synagogues. He went where the people were. Where the people judged “sinners” lived. Social media would be as good a place as any to find people like that – people like us. I imagine what Jesus would do on social media – provide hope and healing, provide inspirational messages, share love, share the gospel. All done in a way that only Jesus could do. People would like and follow Jesus. He would friend everyone. He could use all of the platforms in a positive way.
We aren’t Jesus. “What would Jesus do” might not be the most fitting cliché. But what would he tell us to do? We can certainly bear witness to our relationship with him, how he is at work in our life, what he means to us. And we can certainly give others hope and love. We can focus on others there rather than ourselves.
Maybe we could simply pause before we react to a post or before we post a post and ask ourselves whether it is furthering God’s purposes. And maybe we could simply pray for all those that appear in our feeds without posting or typing anything. We might find that we need social media less than we thought and the time that we spend there could better be used doing something else that furthers God’s kingdom here on earth rather than benefitting a company’s shareholders.
[i] According to Pew Research Center, the percentage of U.S. adults who say they use at least one social media site: 45% of those over 65; 73% of those aged 50-64; 81% of those aged 30-49; and 84% of those aged 18-29. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/04/07/social-media-use-in-2021/ [ii] The Social Dilemma. https://www.thesocialdilemma.com [iii] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28093386/ [iv] https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-knows-it-encourages-division-top-executives-nixed-solutions-11590507499?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=1 [v] Romans 8:28 [vi] Whether he would or not is up for debate, but let’s explore this idea to see what we can learn from it.