& Why Its Time to Back Off.
When I first launched 10:31 in 2009, I wanted to use the platform of Facebook for outreach and to engage in conversations and exchange ideas. I wanted my writers to think about the global audience we had built in the short 2 years before we reorganized and expanded. I wanted to challenge myself to interact with a world audience and for the most part, it was a success as I learned and grew and was stretched by my writers and by our readers. When I 10:31 closed in April of 2015 and God’s Heart became my primary writing outlet (it already had the same international reach as its predecessor, a reach which has grown). I kept the same model of sharing to Facebook, trying to engage in the market place of ideas that was before. That seemed to work for a while, but in the last few years, with all the discord, divisions and partisanship posting serious content to Facebook or engaging in discussions in comment discussions began to get harder and harder. Especially now that outrage culture has become the norm, not the exception. Even last years #EndDehumanization campaign made me weary of posting because of some visceral reactions which I took down because they were contrary to the spirit of the post and bordered on abusive.
On top of that, in my adult life I have come to believe that I should strive to be the same person on Social Media as I am in real life. If I could not do that, then I did not allow myself to participate in conversations, something I try to hold others to and a resolution my wife and I both follow. That has even become difficult as statements meant to said in solidarity or encouragement have been misconstrued and moral judgements made about me by people who have not taken the time to know my character or know or have the ability to know me in person. The longer I have used Facebook the more I have seen the people on it turn into fundamentalists for whatever ideology they espouse, from Atheists to Christianity to SJW’s to, you name it. If Fundamentalism in real life is intellectually dishonest, then Facebook Fundamentalism is even moreso.
Maybe it is just my increased desire, the older I get, for face to face relationships. That is, more and more I use apps like Marco Polo to communicate with people who are far away just because I can actually see their facial expressions. I text less and less and have cut back significantly on my use of Facebook Messenger for this reason. I have a growing desire to be known, as a human being, by other human beings, not a picture behind a Facebook status that may or may not be used to paint you into an ideological category. The superficiality of the Social Network world no longer intrigues me, yes, it is nice to be able to stay in touch with friends from High School and such, but why can’t I do that without the outrage and posturing and fundamentalism of armchair pundits? I want real and authentic and social media has never and will never offer that.
In the last month I have unfollowed every single news outlet I once followed, added three news magazines and the papers I subscribe too (so all I am getting is the article I have just read in printable or sharable form). Unfollowed any political pundits or talking head with the exception of my own states representatives. I have also unfollowed Christian groups, Pro-Life (Anti-Abortion) groups and many others, left groups and unfollowed or snoozed those who spread fear, hatred or misinformation. In essence, I have Marie Kondo’d my Facebook and Twitter in favor of seeing the posts of my actual friends so I can interact with them and their big life announcements instead of gumming up my newsfeed with the latest spin. I have found that I for the first time since Facebook made the big change in 2010 or whatnot, I actually am seeing posts by my friends. It also means I see a lot more cat videos, which is okay with me.
I have also backed down on actually posting to social media, something those who have followed me for awhile have noticed (so has Facebook, trust me). Mostly because I have increasingly felt that posting to social media at times has become like casting pearls before swine. Not that I have terrible friends, I do not, the genuine friendships I use Facebook to maintain are filled with wonderful and amazing people, it was those who commented for the sake of stirring up division and starting fights that had seemed to take over my newsfeed and comment sections. I have even stopped responding to most messages if I can talk to the person face to face, though I need to be more diligent about this as it is one of the newer parts of this social media drawdown.
What I have come to believe is this: No mind was ever changed via Facebook, few people read your posts and think: “Hey that’s a great point, I think I will change my mind.” It may have happened a few times, but those times are few and far between. Most of the time people just get enraged and angry and throw violent and abusive words or make assumptions about your character based on nothing but that which was said and decide to label you a certain way. Social Media is not a place to debate ideas, it never ends well. It can be helpful tool, but no one has ever been convinced by a post which 9 times out of 10 they have not even read. This may seem unfair or even cynical to many of you, but if you really sit back and think about it, you might start to agree.
Because here is the thing, our online persona does have an affect and it is generally not to change a person’s mind, but to make them feel worse about themselves they may already do. When we attack and berate one another, say things we would never say in person, while hiding behind a computer screen several miles removed from the person we create a false sense of knowing and a false sense of reality. We need to be the same people we are in real life on Social Media and the same person we are on Social Media in Real Life. There has to be a constancy and consistency between the two and above that, we have to treat everyone as if they are made in the image of God and worthy of respect and inherent dignity and worth in the real world, as well as the online one.
So, do not worry, I will still be posting on social media, mostly pictures of my daughter when she is born, God’s Heart Articles and of course, the occasional Cat or Dog video, missing person notices and articles to read but not comment on. I will celebrate with my friends who are celebrating and mourn with my friends who mourn. And by the grace of God, be the same person in the real world as I am in the online world, while I continue to work for the Kingdom.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church.