A week ago, I woke up at 3am to use the bathroom, and I made a huge mistake. I checked Facebook. Instantly, I regretted my sleep deprived decision while also being curiously sucked into a seemingly innocent political post from a super distant cousin-in-law. He’s running for Senate in Minnesota and posted a picture of he and his wife at a Trump rally with no words or explanation attached.
Take a quick read through some of the comments from his Facebook friends: “Really? What an unbelievable disappointment.” “Lord help us.” “This grieves me.” “Profoundly disappointing.” “Bummer.” “goodbye.” “Sorry… I’m out.”
I get it. Trump’s name stirs up strong feelings on social media like an elephant stirs up dust in a circus tent. (No Republican pun intended.) But my distant cousin didn’t even say anything. He attended an event and posted a cheesy selfie with his family. In response, some of his Facebook friends expressed their disappointment, their grief, and some even wrote him off.
He attempted some friendly replies to the comments, but as you can imagine, the conversation quickly spiraled downward. He asked good questions, then defended his positions, and finally expressed his disappointment to the people who had essentially cancelled their online friendship with him. Ironically, I found out by scrolling through the comments he and his family handed out water to protesters before the event started.
In other words, I watched a good guy with solid intentions get verbally hammered on Facebook because some of his “friends” disagreed with his choice to show up to a political event. The comments he received were mean, condescending, and dismissive. And though he expressed his frustration and hurt, he chose not to strike back. Most Facebook conversations don’t end so well.
Reality TV Show Crazy
I’ve witnessed hundreds of comment threads dealing with controversial topics. Usually, they get crazy- like reality tv show crazy. 75% of the time, the political back and forth turns into a verbal food fight laced with scathing sarcasm, over the top condescension, and unfiltered cruelty.
Social media is a weird world. On Facebook, my wife’s sister has argued with my mom’s sister. My dad’s brother’s wife has argued with my dad’s cousin’s son’s wife’s friends. My close friends have argued with my family members, neither of whom know each other. It’s like watching people I love meet for the first time on the stage of The Jerry Springer Show. The only things missing are baby daddies and chair-throwing.
Although, I hate the political fights, there’s something unexplainably irresistible about that blue square with rounded corners and an “f” in the middle. Like any other form of entertainment, it helps me escape. When I fight with my wife, I retreat to Facebook. When I have a creative block, Facebook. When I’m bored, Facebook.
Unfortunately, escaping my present reality doesn’t always lead me to fun or positive alternatives. Facebook instantly transports me into the middle of online shouting matches between liberals and conservatives, pro-lifers and pro-choicers, Trumpers and never-Trumpers. A Facebook News Feed is the social media equivalent of mindless channel surfing except, instead of random tv shows, it’s surfing through the lives and opinions of current and former friends and friends of friends. It’s weird how the posts and comments of people I’ve never met can infuriate me or make me sad.
Facebook Isn’t Persuasive
Although my mood has been dramatically changed by a Facebook comment, my opinion has not. If a Facebook friend disagrees with me publicly, I’m more inclined to dig into my previously held opinions with all my might because my first instinct is to win the argument. For example, I’ve publicly called friends out for posting fake news stories, and it never ends well. Most reiterate why the story is true even when it’s clearly been proved false.
Offenses or disagreements aren’t meant to be hashed out over a public forum like Facebook. Although, it can be entertaining, Jesus instructs us, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15)
Posting argumentative comments to Facebook is like placing competing billboards on the freeway. If I already hate McDonald’s, I’m not stopping for a McDonald’s no matter how many billboards they have. In fact, I might think, “Wow. I really, really hate McDonald’s.” If I love Chick-Fil-A, I’m going to stop as soon as I see a Chick-Fil-A billboard… except on Sunday’s.
In other words, billboards don’t change my mind. They further reinforce my opinions. The only time a Facebook friend has genuinely influenced my opinion is when he or she has privately messaged me or posted a thoughtful blog for me to read. Books, face to face conversations, and well-written blog posts can influence my opinion. But memes, soundbytes, and Facebook arguments only encourage me to block the Facebook friends I disagree with.
I recently deleted Facebook from my phone. Why? It’s definitely not because I recently had a moment of enlightenment. It’s because I’ve recently had too many moments of despair. I’d pick up my iphone to check the weather app and end up on Facebook. I’d enter an event on my calendar and somehow end up on Facebook. And I’d go to the bathroom at 3am and end up on Facebook. And anytime I end up on Facebook, I see people from my past or present arguing over political opinions and venting personal frustrations.
Over the years, I’ve chimed in on conversations where I’m not welcome. I thought I could insert my opinion into a comment thread and change everyone’s mind with one or two clever sentences of time tested logic. It turns out I was wrong.
Jesus & Social Media
This summer, my church in Nashville studied the book of Proverbs. Proverbs brims with tweetable one liners and snappy sayings. And over the course of my life, I’ve typically heard them taught as quick principles and ways to live a better life. But this summer, our pastors approached it from a totally different angle.
Every Sunday, we’d hear this, “Biblically speaking, wisdom is not so much just a set of principles. It is a person. Jesus Himself has become to us wisdom.” Throughout the study, we talked about sex, money, work, anger, etc. But the sermons were never just about a principle. Each sermon was designed to show us how Proverbs introduces us more deeply to the person of Jesus.
What does this have to do with social media?
I’m constantly tempted to think commenting with truth, principle, and logic will forever change the life of a Facebook friend. But it’s totally unrealistic. Even God doesn’t just offer us principles to live by. He offers us relationship.
When God created Adam and Eve, He didn’t just say, “Don’t eat fruit from this tree.” He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. Before God gave the Israelites a bunch of laws to live by, He rescued them from Egypt, parted the Red Sea, provided for them, and led them through the desert with a cloud by day and fire by night. When Jesus was born, shepherds were invited to come see the newborn Messiah. When Jesus walked the streets, He invited His disciples to come follow Him. He also taught His disciples how to pray and have communion with the Father. Even after He was taken to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to us to comfort us and teach us.
Often, I’m only concerned with dropping knowledge and changing minds. God, on the other hand, shows me over and over again, He’s interested in walking with me and changing my heart.
God might use a “Jesus saves” billboard on the highway or a Facebook comment about Jesus to get someone’s attention. After all, He can use anything.
But when I’m tempted to argue with someone on Facebook, I need to remember I’ve never been changed by knowledge, logic, or principles alone. I’ve been changed by relationship. Relationship with God. And relationships with the people He’s put in my life. And interestingly, none of those life-changing relationships were just Facebook friends who like to dismiss me or argue with me in the comment section.
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