I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I suspect many people share this sentiment.
On multiple occasions, I have considered not only removing the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram apps from my phone, but also deleting my accounts altogether.
It would be a good idea because of the unending stream of information that becomes a mindless distraction when I could be doing constructive activities instead. Or because when I’m in a funk, the illusion that everyone else is happy and on vacation makes me feel even worse. Threads that devolve into insults and criticism don’t seem to have any redemptive value to me either.
When I start feeling overwhelmed by these feelings, I often wonder whether Jesus can use Facebook for any real good in our world.
But I never end up deleting my apps or accounts.
Maybe it’s an addiction that I’m not willing to admit, but the reason I stay involved is because social media allows me to stay connected to people who I would otherwise never have any contact with. It has allowed me to have a wider community than my everyday life would allow, and I like having contact with people from various stages of my life.
Once I realized that humans were literally created to be part of community (first God, then each other), I understood that social media platforms like Facebook are a valuable tool.
In my attempt to engage with Facebook in healthy ways, here are a few guidelines I use as I try to let the example of Jesus influence this digital extension of my life:
Realize that Facebook is unhealthy because people are unhealthy.
Look. I get it. Loving people is not easy. I can have a hard time doing this with individuals who are inconsiderate (like on my local freeway). Now you’re throwing me into a pool where I may interact with almost anybody in the entire world.
With the Colin Kaepernick protests (like many controversial news stories), I’ve spent some time on Twitter reading conversations about this topic. I usually come away without much hope in humanity. The conversations often devolve into name calling and political rhetoric. Important topics go unresolved because of the issues everyone brings to the table, and this is a BIG table.
The essence of social media is the opportunity to have conversations with a more diverse crowd than anyone in history has ever had. In order to take advantage of this, we need to be skilled at having conversations. The surface level overview of information we have received from 24-hour news networks has not helped. It only teaches us to scream about our opinions, demonize those who do not agree and refuse to listen other perspectives.
Facebook isn’t the problem, it reveals the problem.
Realize that Jesus literally threw Himself into unhealthy community.
The tension we feel when we get online isn’t a program or an app, but rather the natural condition of the human heart. Funny how that always ends up being the problem. And it isn’t the heart problem of “those people out there.” It’s the problem we all have.
If we leave Facebook to avoid unhealthy people, we are certainly not following the example of Jesus who “gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:7).
The Apostle Paul walked through the same Athenian markets which Socrates frequented to introduce his Christ-centered beliefs to the local community.
Social media channels are the marketplaces of our day. We will not be able to create healthy community if we refuse to go where people are.
Realize that it isn’t my job to “fix” Facebook, but simply to be a healthy influence to those I connect with.
Earlier, I mentioned the Twitter conversations I read which discouraged me. After seeing them, I decided to try to create some healthy conversations through my Facebook and Twitter accounts.
I put up a post about Colin Kaepernick and a number of my friends who have different perspectives interacted. There were some rough points, but overall it was respectful and informative. I specifically thanked a few people for their courage in sharing their viewpoint, seeking to encourage conversation.
On another day, I saw a post by a news organization about some new protests over the national anthem. The first five or six responses in the comments were critical and mocking. I responded pointing out how frustrating it is when we don’t have healthy conversations. It started a conversation between myself and a person who had a different perspective. We each asked the other to explain our perspectives and ended up chatting over private message after a few tweets.
It was respectful. I can’t say that either of us changed our opinion, but that is not the point of conversations. The point is to gain perspective.
We had a person respond halfway through our exchange making fun of us. I invited him to join us instead of mocking us. He said that if one of us held a different viewpoint from the one he held, there was no point. I immediately responded that these are exactly the kinds of conversations we need to be having. And it’s true.
Social media lets me have multiple conversations, some with people I know, some with people I don’t. In each case, I was able to gain new perspectives. That’s the beauty of social media: I get to have conversations, which includes listening to others so that I can understand and empathize.
I believe all this reinforces my initial thought: The problem with social media isn’t inherent to social media itself, the problem with social media is that it is filled with imperfect people, like me.
It isn’t my corner of the world to control, it’s the entry point into interaction with the rest of the people in the world. I have to be OK with letting other people be imperfect as I expect them to handle my imperfections. I have to let the redemptive work of Jesus show up in my interactions as a signpost pointing to the power of the Gospel.
So can Jesus redeem Facebook? Yes, because Jesus redeems people, and social media is where you find them.
A version of this article originally appeared on thomaschristianson.com. Used with permission.