In the midst of a global pandemic, is having access to so much information – and personal opinion through social media – help or hurt during these uncertain times?
On the one hand, it feels good to know we can be informed of the latest updates. On the other, can it cause almost a “group think” mentality?
Freedom of speech is foundational to our country and is a beautiful thing. However, we can’t get carried away with every thought and theory that enters our mind or shows up on our feed.
I have spent a lot of time both on and off social media during the COVID-19 crisis. So far, and I must admit, I was less stressed out off major social media platforms than I have been just getting news emailed to me, checking in with the CDC website, and following their guidelines.
I must ponder this question: Even without a global pandemic, is social media and friend or foe?
We are overstimulated with media.
We are incredibly saturated with media. This is the age of information. You can type anything into Google and find an answer to most questions. With the rise of social media, we have the ability to widen our social circle to thousands.
In Facebook groups we meet people with similar interests (like that of Geeks Under Grace), and it can be so helpful to find fellowship online. This is a great and beautiful thing, but like all things, we cannot solely rely on social media for our only fellowship.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram bombard us with the ins and outs of people’s everyday life.
We can somehow find ourselves being completely invested in the lives of everyone on our feed. It is always good to pour into people; however, we should be cautious. It can be a help, but it can also hurt.
Now, with currently being confined to our homes, it might very well be the only fellowship we have outside of our immediate family. For this I am thankful for social media, and the ability to live stream services. However, this is not normal and it is not going to last forever. We will once again go back to everyday life.
If you have a big friend circle online, it is easy to get caught up in their lives more than our own.
We can spend hours scrolling social media, consuming people’s life events and their “picture perfect” vacations, political opinions, and news in their area. By the end (if there is an end to the scrolling), we can feel like we traveled the world, or at least the United States.
After we take in all this information, have we wasted a day in our own lives? It is so easy to spend a lot of time “catching up” on social media while neglecting our community. Are we as invested in our online friends as we are the members of our church? If I am being perfectly honest, there are times when I am not.
This is neglectful at best and not a fault of social media as a whole, but how I have chosen to engage with it. I cannot speak for everyone who reads this, but as an introvert, over stimulation (even online) can keep me from neglecting the in-person community God has placed me in.
After consuming hours of media, social and otherwise, I feel overwhelmed with every crisis in the communities of my online friends, every Go Fund Me shared that I don’t have the extra funds to give, and every person who needs prayer. This could be just an issue I have on my own, or perhaps you’ve thought about it too.
I want to be able to pray for anyone who has ever asked or donate to every charity that pops up.
The wider my circle is online, the more these opportunities arise. Unfortunately, I cannot keep up with them all, and honestly, it can weigh heavily that I am unable to answer every call. Especially in this time when everyone seems to be in crisis mode, it is so easy to feel the panic of others.
I saw in a Facebook group just yesterday a thread with hundreds of comments about conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19. This wasn’t even in a conspiracy theory group! This was just a regular group of Christian women. Some of these theories were far-fetched, some, of course, were jokes, but some people were very invested in their theories.
If I weren’t on social media, I wouldn’t have even thought or been exposed to these ideas, some of which in my opinion, were quite silly and unhelpful in a time where emotions are so high.
Even within my online social circle I have seen much squabbling. They are made up of mostly Christians and tensions have run high. I’ve seen arguments break out over closing churches and government policies. Repentance has brought about reconciliation, but not all of these debates have shown to be fruitful. Even more so the old saying, “Don’t read the comments” stands now more than ever.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in comment sections on viral posts and videos, you know exactly what I am talking about.
How can we as humans be so ugly to one another?
Strangers attack each other in some of the most vile and foul ways I have ever seen! It is so easy to hide behind your keyboard and forget there is a real human being, a soul, on the other side reading what you say about them.
We witness dozens of encounters every day, and we aren’t even a part of all of them. How many times have you been sucked into a comment section just reading interactions between other people? For me, it is too many to account for and more than I care to admit. This brings me to my biggest question surrounding the overuse of social media:
Were we created to be part of a community so large?
Before social media platforms, we dealt with our local communities. These communities were made up of our towns and churches. In these communities, we can directly help and pray for the people we regularly see and have formed personal relationships with.
I have always been of the belief that our churches are responsible for taking care of (physically and spiritually) the members of its community. That is what the church has always been for. Caring for the sick and hungry in that community.
We only have so many resources and so much energy to give. If we aren’t focused on our direct community, where are the time, energy, and resources going? Rather than being all spread out, we could build upon the relationships within our community with something more sustainable.
I am not saying we should never extend our reach outside our community. We are absolutely called to spread God’s love as far as we can. What I mean to say is it should be our community and the areas surrounding it that should be our first priority.
We can get lost, or even overwhelmed with the incoming information from social media about every issue across the globe. I know I do.
In our current circumstances, I am thankful for social media because we are having to distance ourselves in real life. It is nice to be about to stay in touch with others, but let’s not forget we were still able to come together before social media.
Texting and calling our friends and loved ones is still a viable option and one we should use. Sometimes, we need to log out. Being glued to our phones assessing the opinions of others, debating theories, and fueling the panic fire may not be helpful.
In a time where people are being asked to stay in their homes, we should make the best of it. I hope at this time we are all spending more quality time with our families in our homes, bonding with them during an uncertain and even unprecedented time in our lives. I also hope we can keep balance in our lives in regard to social media. However, more than anything, I hope we remember how to rely on God in crisis and remember to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).