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NOTE: Thank you to Ryan Denison for writing today’s Daily Article. He is the Denison Forum Senior Fellow for Theology and has written more than four hundred articles for Denison Forum.
It should not come as a surprise that social media companies like Facebook have an outsized influence on the way their users see the world. But the degree to which that’s the case—and the extent of the issues it’s now causing—are starting to become more widely known.
Recent reports from the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, and others warn that from amplifying body issues, eating disorders, and depression among teenage girls to driving people into extremist groups on their website, Facebook and its subsidiaries are increasingly hurting their users.
Before we launch into efforts to break them up or lay blame for all the world’s wrongs at their feet, though, we need to understand that we are the reason they have that power. We’re wired to seek out the self-destruction they offer—and that’s our fault more than theirs.
Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t steps Facebook and others could take to help mitigate some of those issues. And they do hold some responsibility for the fact that cries to do just that have largely fallen on deaf ears. After all, countless books, articles, and studies have pointed out the way that their approach to creating communities of people around the world place a higher priority on generating traffic than on responsibly moderating their services.
But a big part of the crisis—and one of the reasons why we need to be careful about asking them to fix our problem—is found in this question: Who should we really trust in this day and age to serve as that censor, determining when and where a conversation or group crosses the line?
Some restrictions should be obvious, and largely are. Instances of pornography (especially when involving children) and sex trafficking, for example, are rightly censored. That said, even then Facebook has often struggled to crack down on those using its services to perpetrate such evil.
But what about political misinformation and issues surrounding public health topics like Covid and vaccination? How about what is defined as hate speech?
And the waters get even murkier from there.
The reality is that what exactly constitutes misinformation or speech that deserves to be removed can often be difficult to know before it has already spread to the point that containment becomes a largely fruitless endeavor. And making the call too quickly, before all the information is known, can mean shutting down important conversations and censoring the truth rather than lies.
There are practical steps Facebook can, and should, take to help the problem—such as reducing the importance of comments in determining which posts are pushed by their algorithms. However, at the end of the day, they really can’t make a large enough difference to solve the problem.
So what can?
3 ways to use social media wisely
As mentioned above, the reason social media outlets like Facebook are prone to fostering the kind of destructive content for which they are often maligned is that we are wired to gravitate toward the kinds of silos that confirm rather than challenge our views. So when Facebook’s algorithms suggest content based on our previous usage, it just sends us deeper down the same lines of thinking. Their entire system is built around that strategy, and expecting them to change now is simply not going to happen (and probably wouldn’t help much if they tried).
Ultimately, we’re left with two options: cut off all social media or become more intentional about how we use it (e.g., take a social media fast). To be honest, there is some merit to both.
But let’s go forward under the assumption that you do not plan to delete your profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any of the others. What steps can you take to help mitigate some of the dangers and make greater use of the benefits they offer?
1. Admit that you are not immune to being deceived.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering there are several warnings throughout Scripture regarding how our Enemy thrives on lies and deceit (John 8:44) and that there will always be those who try to tempt us away from the truth with false teachings we might prefer to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).
Far too often, though, we can fool ourselves into thinking that because we profess to serve the God who is truth and believe in objective truth, we will always be able to tell the difference between truth and lies. However, apart from a constant reliance upon the Holy Spirit’s guidance and on a community of believers in which everything is tested against the teachings of Scripture (Acts 17:11), our pride can actually make us among the most prone to believing what isn’t true.
That, in turn, is why the second step is so important.
2. Surround yourself with people who care more about knowing the truth than about being right.
If you wonder if that’s you, then ask yourself this simple question: When was the last time you can remember being wrong about something?
If nothing comes to mind, then it’s worth at least entertaining the notion that the reason is not that you are always correct, but rather that there aren’t enough people or other influences in your life to help you see when you’re wrong.
Do you have friends or family that challenge your way of thinking? Are you open to being challenged? If the answer to either question is no, then spend some time today praying that God would help you improve in that regard and expand your circle to include people that can help you grow rather than just feel good about where you are.
It may not—and likely will not—be a pleasant change at first. But as you come to see the fruit it bears in your walk with God and his ability to use your life to expand his kingdom, you’ll come to appreciate it.
And that brings us to the final step.
3. Hold everything but your relationship with God loosely enough that if he shows you something needs to change, you’re willing to do it.
Set higher standards for the groups you follow and participate in on social media. Be willing to set boundaries around the relationships in your life. That doesn’t necessarily mean cutting off friendships or ignoring family members, but if you know that there are some people who bring out the worst in you, just be careful. Ask the Lord what a healthy version of that relationship would look like and then make whatever changes are necessary to get there.
How will you use social media going forward?
At the end of the day, we could lament everything wrong with Facebook and other forms of social media, but if we’re waiting on them to fix the toxic culture that they foster, then things are just going to keep getting worse.
So take responsibility for your own life and your own influences. Surrender them to God and give him free rein to make whatever changes he deems necessary.
Facebook can be a wonderful place where the Lord uses you to expand his kingdom in ways that, to this point in history, were simply unimaginable. But that’s not going to happen unless you take the necessary steps to ensure it can be a tool for God rather than the Enemy.
Which is more true in your life today?
Dr. Jim Denison is the CVO of Denison Forum
Through The Daily Article email newsletter and podcast, DenisonForum.org, social media, interviews, and articles across the internet, Denison Forum reaches 2.2 million culture-changing Christians every month.