“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:19-21)
A newspaper once asked the question, “What is wrong with the world?” G. K. Chesterton replied, “Dear Sir, I am.”
One could easily make the case that social media has been a detriment to our society. People argue, share fake news stories, and spend way too much time staring at a screen. Facebook allows people to stay in touch with friends and family members they may not otherwise communicate with on a regular basis, but it also has been at the root of dissolved friendships and other disputes. Twitter trolls are eager to harass and find fault with what they disagree with rather than engage in worthwhile dialogue. Social media has robbed children of meaningful time with their parents and stymied conversations around dinner tables. It has altered our world in many ways and often not for the better.
It would be quite easy to write a post on the evils of social media. There are plenty of things to lament about our new obsession with being connected to an online community at all times. It is important to think through the implications of it all, but at the same time what is social media besides an extension of ourselves? The problem is not social media per se; the problem is ourselves. Whatever happens on the internet, there is a person behind it. If something receives attention on Facebook or Twitter, it is because people give it attention. If our relationships with our children and others are hampered by our fixation with all things online, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Social media is a tool that can be used for good or evil but more often than not it reveals the depravity of humanity. We live in a fallen world. This is evident from the news, personal experience, and social media. We may be tempted to put the blame solely on others, but this would be a mistake. Certainly, there are examples of great evil on social media, but most of the fallenness we witness comes from people like you and me. In our weaker moments, we comment when we should not comment. We post when we should not post. We look at our phones when we should be paying attention to the person right in front of us. We often regret these decisions later, but we get caught up in the moment and follow our impulses.
Like most areas of our life, social media needs to be regulated. We need a healthy set of practices that guide our time on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Social media encourages us to be impulsive, but Scripture calls us to be patient. James wrote, “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). These are three simple rules that we should follow each time we log on.
Quick to hear – One of the greatest problems we face in our current culture is a refusal to listen. This is especially true of things with which we disagree. We would rather tell people what they believe rather than take the time to understand their position. It is a common practice on social media to comment on articles without ever reading it. If we are unwilling to read or listen, then we have no business engaging others.
Slow to speak – The speed of how things unfold on social media can be overwhelming. If you do not comment immediately, then you are viewed by some as being too late or out of touch. Social media encourages people to be connected at all times and to comment as soon as something happens. Twitter tributes go up within seconds of a famous person passing and almost always there will be someone who sends out something they wish they hadn’t. The Bible calls us to be countercultural, and one way we can do this is by resisting the demand to give our opinion before we meditate on the events that have happened or the article we just read.
Slow to anger – There is much anger on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms. James reminds us that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). If we want to redeem social media, then we must resist the urge to be angry each time we encounter something we do not like. Anger often leads to destruction. It does not change lives. Even if we are angry about something we should be angry about, we should make sure it manifests itself in a positive way. Anger combined with the encouragement to immediately post whatever is on our mind is a dangerous combination.
There are many great things about social media. However, we must take the time to examine our lives to see whether or not we are part of the problem or the solution. One of the best ways to do this is to take a fast from being online. A person will quickly discover whether they have control over their social media presence, or whether it has control over them.