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We know that we should practice physical distancing. But have we considered that it might be time to start social media distancing?[1] Social media affects our well-being and our ability to empathize with each other. Many of us have practiced physical distancing during the pandemic, but have we let ourselves become too close to social media?

Strain

The number of people in social media networks as well as the even larger number of ideas and articles shared on social media networks can lead to significant personal and social problems. In a recent OneZero article, Eric Ravenscraft explained, “A growing body of research highlights the strain on our ability to read, understand, process, and take action on the flood of news with which we’re confronted.” And social media itself  (a delivery platform for the news) contributes greatly to this strain: “Sites like Twitter — which can be stressful on a good day — become overwhelming with a constant flood of new things to be upset or dismayed about.”

What makes this stress and strain even more acute is that it leads to misinformation. Ravenscraft notes, “The more stories there are to read, the harder it is to process any of them.” He then summarizes research that shows that the longer someone can read research, the more likely that person will change their mind to align with truth. The opposite is true, however. The less time we have to read and process articles, the more likely we are to believe mistruth or at least we become overly credulous.

It is better to self-isolate and read one well-researched article a day than it is to skim over twenty-five articles rapidly. The viral load of social media forces us (or at least feels as if it forces us) to pursue a rapid and shallow reading program.

Society

The potential to be misled in our thinking and the propensity for accelerating mistruths (falsehoods or alternative facts) is not the only problem. Another problem is the social degradation that arises from our social media use. In a recent article, Bridget Phetasy explained, “Social media escalates the tensions. It’s a hotbed of anonymous trolls, agents of chaos and bad-faith arguments. It brings out the worst in us because the algorithm rewards us for being tribal, divisive and emotional.” She is right. And Christians are no exceptions to this rule. 

One only has to encounter the various Christian social media networks in the world to realize that often they become “tribal, divisive, and emotional.” The Holy Spirit is meant to renew our minds to discern good from evil (Rom 12:1–2). Social media, in contrast, trains our minds to accept good and evil—and it does not even give us enough time to think about what we are doing!

As the Corinthians were condemned who lived under tribal lines, saying“ I am of Apollos” and “I am of Paul” (1 Cor 3:4) we may fall into the same kind of tribalism through social media. Unfiltered and unanalyzed data, selectively chosen and presented as fact in a million different contradictory snippets, train us to believe what is false and foments tribalism. The internet has made us a digital Corinth. “I am of this ideology!” “No, I am of the other ideology!” And as we continue to miscommunicate online, we create larger and larger trenches

One Christian writer recently shared a quote online to the effect that we ought to befriend and empathize with those we disagree with. The Facebook comments were shocking if not predictable. This faithful elder and writer suddenly became a compromiser who works for George Soros!  

Soul

If you know me, it may not be surprising to discover that I identify the above as primarily a theological problem. God created us as an irreducible union of body and soul. And through the Holy Spirit, the Lord renews our inner person day-by-day specifically through the “mind” (Rom 12:1–2; 1 Cor 2:16; Phil 2:5).

By mind, I do not mean brain but rather an invisible property that Paul and most Christians have spoken about as a part of the soul. While we are the union of body and soul, we do have properties proper to each of these parts. How else will our body remain on earth while we appear before the Lord if there is not some immaterial part of us (the “we” that appears), which persists beyond the death of the body (see John W. Cooper). 

As Paul declares, “to be away from the body” means to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8 NIV). We will be with the Lord. And with the Lord, we will wait for our resurrection body when our soul once again will be united to the glorified body (cf. 1 Cor 15). 

If what the Apostle asserts is true, then the renewal of our inner man means something like the renewal of the mind. Or to cite Paul directly, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). 

In light of what I have said so far, consider these three conclusions. First, when we let social media shape us and when we let disunity reign, we not only allow the world to conform our minds but we also deny the unity that we must have as “one body” (Eph 4:4).

Second, it means that while we have access to the Holy Spirit (which Paul identifies closely with “the mind of Christ” in 1 Corinthians 2:16), we let our mind become conformed to the world through an uncritical reception of data.

Third, through our tribalism we deny the unity that Christ bought by uniting Jew and Gentile together into “one new human being” (ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον; Eph 2:15).    

For these reasons (more could be given!), please consider distancing yourself from social media. Read one article a day, consider what it says, reflect, and then decide. Do not let the algorithm control you. Deny the flesh. Say, yes, to the Spirit. And live into the theological requirement for Christian unity. 

It may prevent stress, might just make society better, and will help you grow into the image of Christ. Here, you gain everything by simply giving social media up. You gain by loss. So why not begin social media distancing today? 

 


[1] I am borrowing this helpful phrase from a recent article by Bridget Phetsay, which can be found here

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