The Perils of Social Media

I’ve got one last Q&A to share from my time in the Philippines (where, over the course of the event, I spent a couple of hours answering questions). In this clip I was asked to comment on the ways Christians conduct themselves online. Here is what I had to say.

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How should Christians engage with current issues of the day using social media?

I think we’re starting to realize that social media has some real limitations built in. Twitter may have doubled their character count from 140 to 280 but I think we’re still realizing it is not a very serious medium. It cannot do very serious things. In many ways, it’s not a very helpful medium. I think in some way we’re learning that about FaceBook as well. That there’s certain ways, there’s certain media that are helpful for some purposes but not for others. So Twitter I think is very helpful in some ways, it’s very helpful for sharing news, very helpful for pointing to other things. I don’t think it’s very helpful for engaging in back and forth debate. I just don’t think it’s the right medium for that. Right, not every medium can carry out every purpose. I don’t think Twitter’s the right medium for great debate. I don’t think Instagram is the right medium for theological debate. I really don’t think FaceBook, which allows longer content; I don’t even think that is really a great medium for debate.

You know, the more characters you have available to you and the more serious in a sense the medium is, probably the more you can do with it. I just think over time we’re realizing that really, we’ve got to get back to face to face, real conversation with real people where we’re acknowledging one another’s humanity, we’re sharing space, we’re reading non-verbal cues, body language and all that. So we’re really engaging with another person. Or going to more thoughtful, thought out forms of conversation. So maybe that’s blogging, maybe that’s more book writing. But not where we’re just throwing things back and forth thoughtlessly and quickly and without context and without emotion or without being able to display more about ourselves through emotion but we’re just blasting back and forth. I think we’re probably going to look back a few years, look back at this era of social media and kind of laugh that we ever tried to do anything serious with it. Maybe social media will develop a little bit more.

So, I just think as Christians as we’re talking about politics, we’re talking about religion, we’re talking about other things, theology, things that can be very polarizing. Get with other people. You know, don’t engage online in things you’re not engaging face to face. A big conversation out there is race right now, on the internet, on social media. Probably don’t talk about it a lot online if you’re not talking about it in real life first. Talk to somebody else, engage with that person and then out of the overflow of that, maybe you’ve got something to say on social media. But if you’re never conversing with somebody of another race in the real world, you probably don’t actually have a whole lot to say online.

With theology, you know, reformed theology, find someone in your life that you can talk about with those things. Or maybe somebody who’s really interested in that theology and have a good back and forth, and then maybe you’ve got something to say online. I just think when we’re abstracting these things, when we’re living online instead of living in the real world, I just don’t know that we’re being that helpful. I don’t know that we’re really able to communicate in distinctly Christian ways.