By Sam Morris
Social media is an ugly place right now. As we scroll through our feeds, we see people debating whether to wear a mask (or not), bickering about schools reopening, spreading conspiracy theories, and slamming their political opponents. Perhaps we’ve even engaged in these sorts of activities ourselves.
And with the lingering threat of COVID and an upcoming election, we can only imagine these conversations will further deteriorate.
You (understandably) may be getting frustrated with what you see on social media. Maybe you’ve claimed that you’ll “quit Facebook” or other social platforms (save for perhaps Instagram).
But don’t delete that Facebook account just yet.
Here are 3 reasons why you should stay on social media and engage in these discussions on social media:
1. Social media is the “marketplace of ideas.”
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote,
The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.
Today’s “marketplace” is social media. As such, it is the place for discussion and is the literal manifestation of the theoretical marketplace.
As we navigate this divisive landscape, competing ideas need to be placed in front of many individuals. Together, we work to clarify what the truth is about a given subject. We affirm what is true, and we discredit what is not. Academics call this process peer review. Social media allows us to do peer review in real time.
So, do not disengage. Engage the discussion. We need your voice in the marketplace of ideas.
We need your voice in the marketplace of ideas.
2. The best form of communication is listening.
All through my undergraduate and graduate education I was taught that at least 80 percent of communication is listening. It’s even reasonable to say that communication only truly happens if the message is heard.
People on all sides are communicating important ideas on social media, but these points must be listened to in order for them to be effectually communicated. There is no better place to listen to different points of view than your own than on social media.
So don’t just use your social media to talk; use it to listen. Discover your friends’ values and beliefs — along with their pains and fears. Doing so will make you a better friend and Christian.
Also, this may give you insight into your friends that can help you better speak the gospel to them in the future. Using social media to listen well can be a tool for evangelism.
3. Social media is humbling.
Engaging in social media can be humbling because we are not the only ones who use it. You may think your opinion on a given topic is best, but a few minutes of scrolling and reading will likely prove you wrong.
We are all humans. We all make mistakes. We all occasionally have wrong views that need to be corrected. Social media can remind us of these truths, if we allow it.
Now we know why we should engage in discussions on Facebook. How, then, should we do this? Here are three suggestions:
1. Be kind.
You will encounter and disagree with many kinds of people (and ideas) on social media. You may be on the other side of the political or ideological solar system, but that is no reason to treat the other person without the human dignity they deserve as a person made in the image of God.
Their ideas (even wrong ideas) do not make them sub-human, and your disagreements ought never to escalate to ad hominem attacks.
The best form of communication is listening. Take the time to listen to their arguments. Hear them out before constructing your reply. If necessary, even research their statements. Even if their argument is wrong, your research will make you more knowledgeable than you were before.
In addition, you should even listen to the ideas that you already agree with. Research them with equal fervor. Though we live in a highly educated culture, fake news can go viral in moments. Our share-happy fingers need to be careful they are not sharing lies.
You need to learn from your neighbors, and they need to learn from you.
3. Be patient.
You are not the only person engaging on social media, so be patient. Not everyone will approach a difficult discussion on social media with the same kindness. Some individuals will attack you and your character instead of discussing the given topic. It is okay to end the conversation and move on, but do so gracefully, not antagonistically. (And while it may be difficult, be open for further conversations with that person. They may just be having had a bad day.)
Don’t assume that everyone with a differing opinion is the devil and out to destroy you. Give them the benefit of the doubt, hear them out in kindness and patience and engage in the difficult discussions that are all around us on social media.
So, don’t delete your Facebook account just yet. You need to learn from your neighbors, and they need to learn from you. Be salt and light on social media.
A version of this article originally published on February 2, 2017.