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Christians, delete your accounts?

Mark Hemingway | Social media platforms and Christian responsibility


An iPhone displays the Facebook app. Associated Press/Photo by Jenny Kane (file)

Christians, delete your accounts?
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In late September, a journalist at Politico confirmed what voters outside of D.C. had long known—the story about Hunter Biden’s laptop that roiled the 2020 presidential campaign was, indeed, genuine. The most disturbing aspect of the story is not that the entire media establishment reflexively denied the truth of the New York Post’s initial reporting. It was that social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook immediately censored a story about presidential corruption because they were nakedly trying to influence an election.

Whether it is social media companies censoring the Biden laptop story and the Wuhan lab leak hypothesis, or their banning of voices critical of transgender ideology, it’s become patently obvious that social media is a corrupting influence on our national discourse. But changing this corrupt system is hard to do because, ultimately, the problem is us—too many people are eager participants in social media, even when we know it’s bad for us.

A few weeks ago, my pastor offered up a stern admonition for his flock: “You should delete all of your accounts. You don’t need them, and you’ll be happier.” Of course, this wasn’t a strict matter of biblical doctrine, but it’s sound advice for Christians nonetheless.

Much to my chagrin, this was one of those times in every churchgoer’s life when you’re forced to contemplate whether your pastor is using his sermon to make an example of you personally. I have over 80,000 Twitter followers, and my wife, who works for a cable news network, has a whopping 670,000.

Having a large social media presence is seen as a measure of one’s influence, particularly for journalists. Setting aside the gratification of our egos, it’s hard to deny social networks such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have become important centers for discourse. Some of you reading this may even have jobs or businesses that are heavily dependent on social media.

But since its inception, social media’s business model has always been about driving “engagement”—the goal is to get you to log on and never log off. This was never healthy, and increasingly Silicon Valley engineers have admitted that their business models depend on maximizing addictive algorithms that provoke anxiety-inducing dopamine spikes.

A lot is happening in the real world to be anxious about, and we don’t need social media to make it worse. Last year’s heated election, nationwide rioting, and COVID-19 pandemic were a lot for anyone to endure. The fact most of us were trapped in our homes for months with little human contact and only an internet connection to process all that was happening proved to be a bigger health threat for many than the pandemic itself—suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence, depression, and mental illness all shot through the roof.

The good news is that, well, the good news can help save you from all of this. For example, a recent study from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion concluded “highly religious individuals and evangelicals suffered less distress in March of 2020” in response to the pandemic and faith “protected mental health.”

The same study also criticized religious Americans as less likely to adhere to pre-vaccine COVID restrictions, such as masking and social distancing. This may be a fair criticism in some respects, but the efficacy, implementation, and politics behind those restrictions are still debatable 18 months later. COVID restrictions that allowed casinos to operate while shuttering churches were difficult to take seriously.

While it’s tempting to think politics explains everything about American behavior in the 21st century, I submit there might be at least one other explanation for why religious Americans stayed saner during a life-threatening global pandemic: Christians felt more connected to their community at a time when, for others, fear was pervasive.

When you go to a church, you’re choosing to associate with lots of other people who you often would never associate with otherwise. But once you see that someone whose personality or politics might otherwise rub you the wrong way also shares your deepest values and beliefs, it becomes easy to overlook such differences.

And while churches are hardly devoid of damaging conflicts, in my experience, disputes between fellow congregants are usually dealt with by teaching an important Christian value for all—forgiveness.

In this respect, social media is the antithesis of Christians overlooking superficial differences and coming together in worship. Instead, social media trains us to ignore the complexity of human relationships and our good intentions, sorts us all into narrow categories, and then pits the resulting teams against each other in contests of ideological purity that inherently sinful creatures can’t possibly win.

Canadian media theorist Marshal McLuhan is famous for his observation “the medium is the message.” It should be obvious to anyone who spends minutes perusing Twitter. The medium is toxic to earnest discourse. Of course, most people know next to nothing of McLuhan’s work, so they don’t know he was a devout Catholic who also made this observation: “In Jesus Christ … it’s the one case where we can say that the medium and the message are fully one and the same.”

In this respect, it’s worth noting how Jesus’ message stands apart from what happens on social media. “Love your neighbor” is pretty much a direct contradiction of “argue with strangers on the internet.” Instead, let’s spend the time and energy most of us spend on social media building trust and persuading the people closest to us in real life. It’s certain to be more beneficial to our community, politics, and mental health than attempts at winning over someone you’ve never met with “based memes” and angry ripostes about immigration policy.

So yes, if you can, go ahead and delete your accounts. You probably don’t need them, and you will be happier. And if you must remain on social media, try to ask yourself if you love your neighbor every time you want to hit “send.” Even though I have a hard time practicing what my pastor is preaching, we all know he’s right.


Mark Hemingway

Mark Hemingway is a senior writer at RealClearInvestigations and the books editor at The Federalist. He was formerly a senior writer at The Weekly Standard, a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Examiner, and a staff writer at National Review. He is the recipient of a Robert Novak Journalism fellowship, and was a two-time Global Prosperity Initiative Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He was a 2014 Lincoln Fellow of The Claremont Institute, and a Eugene C. Pulliam Distinguished Fellow in Journalism at Hillsdale College in 2016. He is married to journalist and Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway, and they have two daughters.

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April

I agree this is a hard thing. We just turned off our teenagers iphones and disabled wifi on their computers. Social media even with limits was damaging us, our children, all of our sleep, attitudes and family peace and cooperation. After just two days both teens are sleeping earlier at night and better. We have less quibbling over what they're doing since no one can zone out on YouTube or check Instagram. They are less distracted too.

KKOS9726

Bravo,Bravo,Bravo for the Opinions section and the constantly evolving World News into a complete and competitive news site. Also, nice piece Mr. Hemingway. You hit the nail on the head.

JSCHULTZ

Check out the "Wisdom Pyramid' by Brett McCracken

AlanE

"COVID restrictions that allowed casinos to operate while shuttering churches were difficult to take seriously."

I found them very easy to take seriously. Casinos produce tax revenue; churches don't. For most in our culture, churches are irrelevant. And that's partly our fault. And not because we don't engage enough politically.

Laura W

I've had the most success connecting online when it's been most personal (texts to the family group, a Discord group full of mostly people from my church, a video call to a friend). This is the only site where I comment on news articles, because most of us have at least some common ground about God and the Bible to build on. That's worked pretty well for me so far, and I have other ways of keeping tabs on the news. (I'd rather read the original article than second-hand commentary on it anyway.)

MLuther1517

Repying to CDIF8410: I quit social media three years ago, and I was fully aware of the Hunter Biden laptop story and the media's attempted suppression of the story, and I do not have a single newspaper or magazine subscription. Where there's a will, there's a way. It pains me that so many people I speak to share your sentiment that social media is the only viable avenue through which to get access to news, and without it you'll be shut out of the news of the world's happenings. I guarantee you that I am aware of every news story that you are following, in spite of the fact that I'm not on social media and have no news subscriptions. The fact is that I live in community with real people, have real conversations, I can use a search engine to research news and topics, I follow numerous blogs (one of which led me to this article that I am reading for free as a guest), and I subscribe for news updates from numerous local, state, and federal elected officials. I've structured my life in such a way that social media cannot control my access to news, because they play no part in delivering news to me.

CDIF8410

A drawback to completely disengaging from social media is that, despite Big Tech's efforts to suppress and silence anything that runs counter to our cultural zeitgeist, it's often the only place you'll actually see stories such as the Hunter Biden laptop story - unless you individually subscribe to dozens of newspapers and magazines, you'll miss stories that Big Media decide to suppress - and they've been doing it a lot longer than Big Tech.