Over the summer months, I have been minimally on social media. In many ways it has felt wonderful. I have read more books, relaxed on vacation with friends and family and continued training for an upcoming marathon. While I do enjoy connecting with people on Instagram and Twitter, it feels like the noisy divisiveness on social media has become even more tiring and exhausting these days.
Everyone has an opinion on something and feels the need to (sometimes) loudly express it. It seems many people, Catholics included, have become meaner, more judgmental and overly certain about their personal opinions. Civil disagreement and respect in many ways feels like it no longer exists in the current cultural climate. Rather, it has turned into hatred and ardently certain declarations of moral superiority and “us” vs. “them.”
You name the topic — it feels like digital media has become a less charitable and toxic place, especially in circumstances where people have different opinions.
Recently, Archbishop Vigneron wrote a pastoral note on Communicating Truth and Love in the Digital Age, where he invites people to reflect on how we can be more charitable and loving in their social media presence and use. In thinking about the ways I use social media and how I conduct myself online as a Christian, it has led me to think about what are the things for joyful, missionary disciples to do (and not do!) online in their own social media use.
Here are a few ideas to get all of us thinking about being better Christians online.
Ask yourself before sharing/posting/re-tweeting, “Am I just adding to the noise? Do I really have something of value to add to this conversation?”
I have been using this question as a guide in my own life for quite some time now. However, now more than ever, I think it is something good for all of us to do.
Part of the addictive nature of social media is the dopamine hit our brains get when someone likes, shares or engages with something we have posted. Over the last few years, I began to notice that sometimes I would post or share something when I was looking for validation or someone to pay attention to me. Sometimes I saw myself adding to the noise in a given conversation without having anything of real value to add to the conversation.
It is important for us as disciples and followers of Jesus to look at the world and culture around through the lens of our faith. Yet, when we share are we constantly adding to the noise, offering divisive sound bites or are we offering some life-giving and of value?
Pay Attention to the Spirit of Division
In his pastoral note, the Archbishop reminds you and me that, “God’s Holy Spirit unites. Satan divides.” One of Satan’s biggest tricks is to cause division and disunity. Looking at the Church and world around us these days, we can see a spirit of division seeping into many areas. However, the Spirit of God will unite, restore and bring truth. Yes, there may be uncomfortable truths that challenge or stretch us, but the Holy Spirit always seeks to bring unity, never division.
As you follow, engage or post on social media, pay very close attention to the voices that both unify and divide us further. Tread carefully around platforms, voices and influencers who seek to sow greater division in the world, and especially the Church.
Media Do Nots
Personally Attack an Individual
In his pastoral letter, the Archbishop also talks about the problem of “ad hominem attacks” on individuals, which attack a person’s character or some personal aspect of the individual. Sometimes when we engage with people from behind a phone or computer screen, we easily say cruel and hurtful things we would never say to their faces. We can forget the person behind a tweet or post is another image-bearer of the living God. Too easily we can forget that people we engage and disagree with have the “imago Dei” living in them just like you and me.
It is okay to strongly disagree with people on or offline. However, it is never okay to personally attack another person. Remember what Jesus said about treating others the way you wish to be treated? May we all apply that principle here together.
Being Overly Certain
As I have gotten older and lived more life, I have become uneasy around people who are overly certain they are “right” about a particular opinion or idea. I have found there is much more gray space in difficult, messy conversations that involve real people and lots of different factors. Sometimes things (and people) are not as black and white as make them; we have to have space for nuanced conversations.
While we all are entitled to our personal opinions, I would gently remind all of us to take a spirit of humility, and not be overly certain that our insights or perceptions are the full truth, or even correct. In doing so, we can approach each other with greater humility, charity and loving-kindness.
If you have not yet read Archbishop Vigneron’s pastoral letter on communication, I think it is a great place to start as you think and reflect upon your own social media use and presence. Disciples never stop being followers of Jesus. What if we all tried to live that reality better in our online lives too?
What are other do’s and do nots you see as necessary for joyful missionary disciples?