Social Media? Friend or Foe?

Yesterday, I was blessed to have two folks respond to my request for topics. Here is the second that was submitted by Andrea. She wrote: “I am thinking a lot about social media influence and folks who claim to be more open to all walks of life but, if you have a question, they slam you for being uneducated. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for people trying to figure things out and learn in a safe environment. It feels a lot like the popularity clique back in high school where the loudest, smartest, and wittiest person wins; and we all must follow along with pom-poms, or we are losers. I am at the point in my journey where I am willing to do what it takes to find myself despite opposition or closemindedness – but what if you are not as brave as I am? I don’t mean that in a narcissistic way. I am almost 50 and done being a follower. I am concerned, however, for the younger generation who might feel they have to either just go along to get along or suppress questions. I’m terrified people are not allowed just to think and feel. This lack of connection has people doing crazy things like picking up guns. Again, I did not mean to sound dramatic. It’s just what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?”

Thanks, Andrea, for bring up the topic of social media and its impact on our lives. I have two thoughts regarding social media that I’ll share, and then I’d like to open it up to my readers to share their thoughts as well.

The first thought Andrea’s comments raise for me comes in the form of a question: what is the purpose of social media?

Of course, I can’t answer that question for everyone – but for me, social media serves two purposes. First, social media is a platform that informs me about what is going on in the PERSONAL lives of those I care about (be they personal friends or celebrities whom I respect). Second, social media provides a platform for entertainment. Through social media I can be exposed to memes, videos, and articles that I would otherwise not see. Much like the listings of a TV guide, I get to scroll through posts and check out those items I care to see. Those are the two purposes social media serves for me.

What’s missing?

You will notice that I didn’t say social media is a place for me to learn. I don’t, for instance, use social media to tell me which candidate to vote for; which theological or philosophical tradition is best; or how I should feel about social issues. If I find a post that triggers my interest, I will leave social media behind and do my research elsewhere.

Why?

Because in my experience, people post or share only those things that fit their bent on a subject. The material is either incredibly slanted in its perspective or comes from a questionable source. That’s why I don’t use social media platforms as a learning tool.
I can’t tell you how helpful it has been for me to keep these two purposes in mind. It prevents me from getting sucked into conversations and debates that are hurtful.
This takes me to my second point (which is a sort of extension of my first). When it comes to matters of my personal development on various topics, I try to NEVER go through that process on social media.

Why?

For two reasons. First, since social media is largely a platform for entertainment, most folks don’t communicate in ways that are helpful. Rather, their goal is to get as much attention as possible (or – to use Facebook lingo – get as many likes as possible). Because of this desire for attention, people tend to resort to the sort of childish, crass behavior Andrea described above.

And secondly, the kind of sensitivity and support that one needs during periods of growth and transformation is rarely – if ever – exhibited on social media. That’s because that sensitivity and support is the kind borne of intimate relationships between two individuals (or, in some cases, a small community). That’s why I’m careful to use only things like Instant or Direct Message on social media platforms; texts; phone calls; or – gasp! – face to face encounters when I need sensitivity and support from others as I grow.

What saddens me most about social media is the way it brings out aspects of loved ones that I rarely see otherwise. For instance, I’ve seen some of the most kind, gentle souls who are tireless advocates for social justice and inclusion be instantly transformed into dogmatic, raging individuals who embody the very behaviors they are so quick to criticize in others.

So those are my suggestions, Andrea, for how to build a constructive relationship with social media: (1) remember what its purpose is (and ISN’T); and (2) know where to go to find the sensitivity and support you need during period of personal growth (here’s a hint: it’s rarely if ever social media!).

How about you? What issues do Andrea’s comments raise for you?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 51-year-old single, gay man who lives in Los Angeles, CA. My passion and vocation involve spirituality. I live with my Italian Greyhound Tupper and my passion for Houston sports. I'm looking to start wonderful conversations that spark spiritual growth in all of us!
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3 Responses to Social Media? Friend or Foe?

  1. Andrea Frazer says:

    Wow, GREAT response and not something I had considered. I will absolutely use these questions when thinking about social media. I have learned a lot in “closed” groups: private forums. I have one myself for staying positive and issues like that. As a writer, it’s kind of a necessary evil to have people with similar views built in for book sales. I hate that, but it’s true. That said, maybe I need to consider other ways to do this? Lots to chew on. Thank you.

  2. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    Personally I have found social media very educational. Friends with similar views and interests often bring things to my attention that I would otherwise have missed, and I can follow people with different backgrounds and perspectives and learn more about what their lives are like.

    The trick to using social media for education, though, is to do as Craig suggests and take responsibility for educating yourself. Use people’s posts as springboards to show you what you don’t know, and then investigate it for yourself via other sources.

    Part of the reason for doing that is because asking a question is asking someone to do the emotional labor of explaining something to you, and while some people welcome the chance to expand on their thoughts, others don’t have the time or energy at that moment, or are tired of answering the same questions repeatedly, or have been asked the same question by someone with hostile intent and are wary of it now. You have to “read the room” to determine if questions would be welcome, which is of course easier the better you know the person.

    Unless someone has agreed to teach you, they aren’t responsible for creating a safe learning environment for you. In my experience, real learning has seldom been safe, and people who have told me to educate myself—even when they said it with hostility—have often been the ones who pointed me toward the things I most needed to learn.

  3. Stevie says:

    I think that an important thing to remember is that you can control social media to fit your intentions….I may use it just as a social outlet and you can use it to learn. For me…it’s almost all social with a little focus on a couple causes I believe in. So…most of my “friends” are really my friends. I don’t argue and I don’t converse with folks I don’t know. And this has been a process for me. It bothers me when people confuse real life with social media….saying the world is going to hell. If it stresses a person, he/she needs not to engage.

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