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Everyone laments the effects of social media on society. Yet we all still use it. Yes, your second cousin twice-removed in a work of supererogation has deleted all his social media apps. We mere mortals, however, remain on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. And yes, I know these apps are for old people. But that’s who I am writing for—digital Methusalahs like myself! 

Us digital greybeards know self-discipline matters. Peter even tells us that “self-control” (in part) confirms our salvation (2 Pet 1:3–11). Yet this old-fashioned virtue—self control—has fallen, not by the wayside, but into the oblivion of a black hole. We rarely laud self-control. We forgot about it. Amazon now delivers packages in two-hours in some places. Why exercise self-control when everything is that easy? 

Self-control or self-discipline in social media use may look a lot different than we might expect

Yet we need self-control. For many of us, self-control could sound like deleting our social media apps. But I do not believe that usually represents self-control. Those who lack self-control, well, cannot control themselves. So deleting an app is a way to avoid needing self-control. Sorry, but it’s often true. (Exceptions abound, but you see my point).

Self-control or self-discipline in social media use may look a lot different than we might expect. It means mastering the technology we use so that we can avoid viscous (unvirtuous) use of it and controlling the technology of social media so that we can use it for good ends. 

Self-control for social media is an act of technoculture as agriculture means mastering the field or horticulture the garden. Make social media bear fruit and not be choked out by the weeds. 

Let me be ultra specific. Here is how we can use social media in a self-controlled way:

  • By learning how to mute people, words;
  • By learning how to change timelines so that they do not feed you algorithmically but according to your choices;
  • By creating lists, pages, and groups that help you accomplish specific goals;
  • By using a third-party application to share content instead of logging onto a social media app;
  • By scheduling when you will use social media; 
  • By most importantly, having specific goals for social media; 
  • By blocking anyone who impedes those goals;
  • By only accepting friends who contribute to these goals.

Lest these concepts fall prey to the gravitational pull of a mental black hole, let me talk through these one-by-one. 

1. Mute words and People

Twitter lets you mute people and words. Let’s say you rode a horse as a child, were bucked off, and hurt badly. Horses might trigger a race-pulse and memories you’d rather forget. Okay, use Twitter to block the words “horse” and “bucked off.”

(To learn how to mute accounts on Twitter, click here. To learn how to mute words and hashtags on Twitter, click here. As for Facebook, Google it. I am not sure if Instagram has the same features, but I’d guess it does.) 

2. Change how your Timeline works

The Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma has shown how algorithms in social media aim to exploit users for the app’s financial gain. Now, given that this is so, it may not be wise to allow the social media application to control your timeline. Twitter lets you only see tweets from people you follow.

Click the button that looks like a star with two crosses on the upper right hand of the screen to do so. If you cannot find it, Google or YouTube will have a guide. Other social media applications may not have the same function. That’s okay though, as the next point will make clear. 

3. Create lists, join specific pages and groups. 

Only follow a select few people that fall under your specific use of social media (whether for family connections, for mastering a hobby, etc.). I’ll dedicate a point to this below. For now, just get the gist of the point. 

Beyond your primary use of social media, you might have specific interests like foreign wars, the stock market, or unicorn sightings in Utah (the truth is out there!). Instead of letting these side-interests jam up your timeline (since timelines usually populate with who you follow and what the algorithm feeds you), create specific lists of such groups of people. Then click into that list only when you want to see this sort of content. 

I do this on Twitter. And it makes it really enjoyable. Curious about new books? Check out a publisher’s list. Want to know why your favourite stock fell in value, click the investor’s list. And so on. Click here to learn how to create lists on Twitter. 

I don’t have the same amount of free cash that many Canadians seem to have. So on Facebook, I have joined groups and use marketplace to buy and sell used products in order to save money and recover money. This is one primary use of Facebook that I have. It works really well and it benefits my family.

Pages might also be of benefit to follow if it’s a person or group you are interested in. Speaking of which, follow the TGC Canada page here.

4. Post with a Third-Party Application

You login. You see a cat video. Eight-hours later, you wake up in a techno-daze with Cheetos all over your nice white (now orange) shirt. That’s not a good look. So instead, use a third-party application like Buffer to post to your social media. 

I use social media regularly to share quotes from books I am reading, or to test ideas that I am working on for a later publication. As I do this, I am creating notes and files for later writing projects. (I am weird in that I have a 56 year plan for the rest of my life, Godwilling, and that includes writing books).

If I find myself wanting to avoid social media directly, then I can load up a bunch of quotes into Buffer or Crowdfire or whatever app that I want. And it will publish the material for me on a schedule. Neat, right? 

5. Schedule Social Media use

Feeling too close to social media? Then schedule your use of it. Let’s say, at lunch hour, and the hour after work ends. There you go. Make a plan and stick to it. You can use an app on your computer to block certain sites after a specific amount of time. And phone apps will let you do likewise. I am less familiar with these, but a Google search has shown me that is all very easy to do. 

6. Make Specific Goals for Social Media

This is important, the most important thing in this list. You can never have self-control if you don’t have a purpose. By definition, you will flow in and out of the application on a whim. A purpose requires a reason and a plan. 

You can never have self-control if you don’t have a purpose.

I use social media according to the strengths of apps. On Twitter, I almost exclusively follow nerdy academic or theology types and create lists of things that interest me. I learn a lot on Twitter. And I seem to avoid all the pitfalls people lament about. 

On Facebook, I tend to connect with family and pastoral types. And more and more rarely do I use Facebook for family. That now belongs to Instagram. I have a protected account so that only people I accept as friends can see my content. This is because I share images of my family, and I don’t often want everyone to see that! In fact, I often use group chats to share pictures of my kids instead of posting to the public. 

Point is: know why you want to use an app. Then use it for that reason. 

7. Block people

I like to share quotes from church history to spur on interest and discussion in the work of Christ across the ages. If someone use social media specifically to troll people who like Church History, then I will block that person. 

Social Media is no different than any other place in society. If someone wants to verbally abuse me at the grocery store, I’d leave. Why should I stick around? Likewise, on Social Media, I’ll leave many conversations by blocking someone.  

Also, I only have so much time. In a small group, I can easily talk to three people. But the internet wants me to talk to fifty people at once. I cannot do that. I am under no obligation to do so even though someone will say, why doesn’t he respond! He must be afraid. No, I am changing my kid’s diaper. And I am not going to spend time responding to every possible comment ever. Why? See the whole article on self-control! 

You have no obligation to do the impossible—interact with all and sundry in an endless Social Media network.

The point is: just as you would not let ten people verbally abuse you in public or draw your attention away from your friend whom you are sharing a coffee with, be specific in who you interact with online. Lots of people should be blocked on the internet. You have no obligation to do the impossible—interact with all and sundry in an endless Social Media network. 

8. Choose your Friends

If you have a purpose for your Facebook use, then don’t accept friends that don’t contribute to that purpose. It’s not mean. It’s the reality that you cannot do it all. If I get ten friend requests on Facebook, it may not be wise to accept those requests. Who are they? Why are they adding me? What’s the reason? 

This one is more subjective, I admit. But I recently witnessed someone on Facebook lament at how many people post on his page that he doesn’t even know. Well, then make your social media more of a tight-knit community. It’s possible. We do that in real life by necessity. I’d argue that the same necessity exists on social media, but we fail to recognize it. Why? Lack of self-disciple! You knew I’d go there! 

Conclusion 

Self-control means more than simply deleting an application. That act could signal the inability to control oneself. (It could also be one strategy of self-discipline too, depending on the circumstances). 

In my estimation, a self-disciplined use of social media primarily involves mastering the applications that you can use with a specific purpose—a virtuous one. That way, we can say with Paul, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). I’d add whether we tweet or share an Instagram story, do all to the glory of God.  

That requires the virtue of self-control (among many others!). Hopefully, the above eight ways to use social media in a self-disciplined way will help spur you along as you aim to take mastery over your thoughts and actions. After all, it takes “constant practice to distinguish good from evil” and thereby have our “powers of discernment trained” (Heb 5:14).

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