It has become a custom of many people, me included, to give up Facebook or other social media use for Lent. This year, I think I might make my Lenten penance more time on Facebook. In this age where civilized disagreement and the accurate expression of information is severely lacking, time spent on Facebook or Twitter (I find Instagram still reasonably sane and safe) can be a source of real upheaval in one’s inner peace.
There is just so much nastiness: name calling, vulgarity, subtle and not so subtle threats. And the factual inaccuracies on social media, both purposeful and not, are truly out of control. I hope we all realize that Ashton Kutcher is a horrible source of information about complicated public policy and last time I checked, nobody currently starting for the Falcons or charting on the Billboard top 100 is a Constitutional scholar. If we want to find out correct and accurate information about what is happening in our world or in our country, Facebook and Twitter are not the greatest places to do that.
Over the past year, I have found myself getting pretty upset about things on Facebook. I used to think of it as a great way to keep up with people I don’t often see or talk to. I like looking at pictures of my nephews and godchildren, and I like to use it as vehicle for humor. I also think it can be an effective tool of evangelization. However, it isn’t really all that effective or fun when my newsfeed is filled up with rants and raves, many of which contain so many incorrect facts it’s laughable, or when attempts to spark serious discussion are met with personal attacks.
One of my good priest friends very wisely makes it known that he will not even discuss controversial topics on Facebook. If someone wants to talk, they can make an appointment. I like the approach. It’s easier to be civil when one isn’t hiding behind the keyboard.
There are, however, some bright spots. One of my best friends, a person with whom I probably disagree on almost every social issue and most economic and policy ones, has always been a great source of enlightenment on what the other “side” is thinking or how they view an issue. It is often helpful for me to talk to her to have a better understanding of how other people might think about something, and our conversations are always civil. They never lead to shouting or name calling and they have never affected our very close and decades long friendship.
So, when might it be time to unplug? If one’s use of social media is leading to anger, anxiety, a false sense of community (let’s face it social media is not community and can never replace quality time spent with others), or causing one to lose friendships and avoid people with whom one disagrees, maybe it’s time to step back a bit. Here’s a little secret: one can live without Facebook!
Social media is meant to be fun and relaxing, a tool for advertising great opportunities, and a useful tool for outreach and evangelization. It isn’t meant to be an aggravating club with which we can clobber people with whom we disagree.
Let’s get a grip. To quote the incomparable Mary J. Blige: “No More Drama!” Let’s make Facebook fun again.