BY ZACHARRELL November 08, 2016

The good and bad of social media.

Christians should not live their lives dominated by fear and anxiety.

Yet, many of us are almost constantly filled with fear and anxiety. One of the main contributing factors to our constant fear and anxiety is our social media activity. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and all of the other social media platforms help us connect to others in ways we could not imagine even ten to fifteen years ago.

Social media does so much good for us, but there is also a price we pay for constantly being connected. We are addicted to this connection as well as the gratification and importance it gives to us. This need to feel gratified and important leads us to fear and anxiety. Our addiction to social media produces a deep fear and anxiety in at least two ways.

Anxiety of approval

Our addiction to social media has fueled an anxiety of approval. We post a picture or video, share an article, open up our lives and then we obsessively check to see how many people have liked our post or how many people have commented. The power of likes and comments is stronger than we know. So many young men and women find their identity in this tangible affirmation. When the likes aren’t there or when someone in particular has not liked our picture or post anxiety takes over.

Social media produces this anxiety in us in the power we give it over our lives.

Social media hooks us by making their sites essential for our daily lives and positioning us to value our identity in the approval of others. Alan Jacobs once said in an issue of Comment magazine: “We are addicted to one another, to the affirmation of our value—our very being—that comes from other human beings. We are addicted to being validated by our peers.”

We all need to be loved and accepted and social media has created a way for us to find this love and acceptance almost instantaneously. The problem is this acceptance and love is fickle because the social media community is fickle. When we find our identity in the likes and comments of social media we make others the arbiter of our worth and value. We give others power over us. When we find our identity in social media anxiety cannot help but overwhelm our lives.

Our chosen worldview

More significantly, social media impacts the way we shape our world. Social media allows us to be friends with whom we choose, to read the news we choose, and to listen to the authority and opinion of those we choose. When we only listen to those who think like us, vote like us and live like us, we naturally have a fear of the others.

When we close ourselves off from those who are different than us we can easily fall into a belief they are the enemy. We see this fear in the way we talk about politics on social media. It is unhealthy when we believe those who have a different ideology than we do or vote differently than we do are not just wrong, but they are evil.

Social media allows us to paint those different than us in whatever light our bias desires. We can find any news story or article to confirm our deepest fears about others. The anonymity of the internet allows us to say what we want without the worry of personally dealing with the aftermath. The truth is we do not use social media to connect us to the world, we use social media to create ideological bunkers that keep us from interacting with others who think differently, live differently and believe differently than we do. This is not healthy and is one of the reasons we see such vitriol on the internet. When we are connected every moment of every day to news and articles stoking our fears, civility is impossible to maintain.

Our identity is not found in how many people comment on or like our picture or post. We are created in the image of God, loved by God and worthy of the blood of Jesus. The approval of others found in likes and comments cannot compare to the approval we find in Christ. Our identity is found in who God declares us to be, not in who others declare us to be by their approval.

Maybe we need to unplug for a while and remind ourselves of who we are in Christ Jesus. The way to fight anxiety over the approval of others is to trust in the love of God, to place our hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Know who God declares you to be and let go of how many people like or comment on your latest post.

Loving our neighbors

The command to the Christian is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Does our social media activity help us or hinder us from obeying this command? How do we combat fear and love our neighbor on social media? We begin by listening more than talking. Get out of your comfort zone. Get to know those who think differently, live differently than you. They are human beings loved and created by God. Their worth is not found in whom they vote for. Listen to others, reach out to others and share your life with others. The way to combat fear is to be in relationship with that person.

At the macro level this looks like reading books and following news from many different points of view.

At the micro level, this means going across the street and living life with those different than you. Listen to others and their point of view. Love others with the faithful, patient love of God. When our lives are dominated by the same point of view and the same people fear can easily dominate. Whether it tries to or not social media has led us to this fear. Fight this fear by actively loving your neighbor online and down the street.

ZACHARRELL