If we’re not careful, social media can turn our natural desire for attention and approval into an environment where we seek those by being controversial, making extreme statements, stirring up anger, or the “playing to our base” at an individual level. I ran into those same pitfalls previously when I blogged, and in hindsight, regret the wrong I did at the time. So my challenge to myself and us, today, is to use the platforms and technologies we have for good – to give grace, to benefit those who listen, and to help. Let’s not join the flood of anger and outrage.
When I first ran a blog some 15 years ago, I approached it with the wrong attitude and, I believe, created too much controversy. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I cared too much about getting attention through what I wrote. I found that I could gain attention by being controversial, by disagreeing with people, and by having strong opinions that I expressed boldly or even angrily. And boy, were my opinions strong, and I had them on almost everything.
Even before the Mandalorian popularized the phrase “This is the way”, I brought that idea to my blogging, and if you were headed a different direction, I was ready to tell you that your way was wrong. This was especially true with respect to issues of Christian faith and life, even in many areas where I now believe the Bible gives Christians room to differ as they seek to bring glory to God. I was quick to defend my own view as the only Biblical view. In a way, I think this came out of my own lack of maturity in my faith; I was too prone to act as though I believed Christianity consists primarily in rigid adherence to a particular lifestyle. Yes, Christianity affects my lifestyle – but these effects result from my faith rather than defining it.
In any case, earlier this year I read a pair of articles that helped clarify my thinking about blogging and social media, and what I want to do differently this time.
Social Media Algorithms Reward Controversy, Engagement, Even Anger
One of these articles, called No Social Media Algorithm Rewards Grace, highlights how social media platforms reward controversy and even mob mentalities rather than civil discourse and grace. The broadly highlights some issues with social media, especially from a Christian perspective. It quotes an Atlantic article on the subject, which wraps with this:
If we want our democracy to succeed—indeed, if we want the idea of democracy to regain respect in an age when dissatisfaction with democracies is rising—we’ll need to understand the many ways in which today’s social-media platforms create conditions that may be hostile to democracy’s success. And then we’ll have to take decisive action to improve social media.
Social media rewards engagement and sharing, even if the engagement is angry or because of controversy, exacerbating problems. This article notes:
No social-media algorithm rewards grace. Encouraging tweet threads aren’t shared as much as angry ones. “Cancel culture” thrives because the reward systems and algorithms support mobs, and most mobs are angry. We are more eager to share negative content because fear and anger push us to action more than love.
The article goes on to note that social media conflict is particularly harmful to real-world communities because online conflicts are ultimately performances for our followers; real reconciliation typically can only happen offline or in a private space.
Why all of this conflict?