Social media can divide family and friends, pit citizens against citizens, and steal our time against our better judgment. All of society must grapple with this new, emerging technology.
But we must also ask specifically how Christians should handle social media. Should we discard it altogether? Put strict limits on it? Or should we maintain relevance by being active on the platforms to extend our reach?
Chris Martin is content marketing editor at Moody, editor at Bibletolife.com, and author of the newsletter “Terms of Service.” He recently released The Wolf in Their Pockets: 13 Ways the Social Internet Threatens the People You Lead.
We asked him about the dangers of social media and how Christians should respond.
What are some specific dangers you outline in The Wolf in Their Pockets? Are there positives to social media you talk about as well?
There are many dangers regarding our relationship with social media. I have identified 13 that are addressed in my book, but here are a few that stand out.
Our relationship with social media has made entertainment “enthroned” on our hearts. The constant feed of funny, informative, or otherwise interesting content has conditioned us to always want to be entertained or amused. This has obvious implications for how we participate in the local church, and it can even make us passive “consumers” of life in general. There is more to life than being entertained, but our relationship with social media can make us believe entertainment is king.
Social media algorithms reward divisiveness and conflict. Several studies over the years have shown how diverse kinds of conflict are the most popular types of content on social media, which causes algorithms to promote that sort of material still more, creating a kind of self-perpetuating flywheel effect. This highlights why it is important to seek out and live in peace with us and others.
Social media has also misdirected our worship. We all worship something, which becomes the North Star of our hearts, and directs what we do with our lives. Our relationship with social media can lead us to worship such idols as beauty, wealth, success, or even ourselves. I believe that social media is a net negative on society.
However, I do think it’s important for us to realize that it has helped us connect with loved ones who live far away, educated us on the experiences and ideas of others, and led us to learn from the diverse lives of people around the world.
But we must recognize that, for many of us, those positives do not outweigh the negatives.
Do you advocate for Christian leaders to actively engage with social media to maintain relevance, or do you caution Christians away from using social media at all? Or is there a third way?
Even though I believe we need to be more intentional and cautious about how we use social media, I am not against it. We often tend to think that you must either be totally in favor of social media or totally against social media, and that just is not the case. Social media is broken and dramatically affected by the sinfulness of the world. This is not controversial, or at least it should not be.
In my opinion, we have not taken social media as seriously as we should and treated it like the incredibly powerful tool it is. We have not counted the cost of social media, and we need to do that. What is the cost? I explore issues such as how our relationship with social media warps how we see ourselves, reorders our priorities, and messes with our understanding of sexuality.
We simply do not see these malformations happening, maybe because we do not want to. I think Christian leaders can wisely engage social media and should where it makes sense to do so. But I think all social media should be engaged with an abundance of intentionality and care.
Historically, with new technology, we see painful adjustment periods in society. The written language, printing press, radio, TV, and the internet brought revolutionary changes to our lives. Those technologies also caused unrest. How are social media and smartphones like and unlike those other technologies?
The social internet is the most powerful sociological advancement in the history of humanity. It is more powerful than the printing press and will prove to be more impactful over time if it has not already. Why? Because it is a modern-day printing press, but at literal light-speed around the world, and everyone is carrying it in their pockets.
The social internet is like other media technologies in that it connects people with people and people with information around the world. The social internet is unlike other media technologies in that it does so much faster and with greater accessibility than any platform to come before it.
What role do the Holy Spirit and prayer play in combating the negative influence of social media?
We cannot lead others to become more like Jesus without relying on the Holy Spirit and communion with God in prayer. We must recognize that we cannot disciple anyone on our own without being disciples ourselves.
As I cite in the book, the average internet user is on social media for two-and-a-half hours per day. That is more time than we spend doing anything in a day except for sleeping, working, or going to school. If we want to lead and disciple the people we love toward a healthier faith, to walk more closely with Jesus, we are going to have to be willing to be weak and rely on the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to mold the hearts of our loved ones and the people in our care.
So, we must pray. And we must invest time. And we must pray some more. And we must trust that God will work in ways we simply cannot, but we still must do the hard work of discipleship. We continue to do the work even as we trust God for the transformation.
The Wolf in Their Pockets: 13 Ways the Social Internet Threatens the People You Lead was published by Moody Publishers and is available wherever books are sold.