“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Yahweh, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps. 19:14)
I have been contemplating quite a bit of late this thing called social media, in particular the hold it has on society and on my own family in particular. The sheer amount of time vested in checking Facebook, updating blogs, looking at Pinterest, Tweeting, posting pictures on Instagram, watching YouTube videos is absolutely staggering. Add to that the mobility and access provided to the aforementioned social media outlets (and many, many more I might add), and we have a society every more connected and focused on what transpires digitally.
It seems to me social media can be described as a member of the good, the bad, and the ugly club. I am not one who views the idea of social media as entirely bad. Social media is a helpful medium for information and for staying connected with friends and family. Furthermore, the use of social media can be a great tool to share the truth of Scripture with a worldwide audience. I will also submit I often get a good and much needed chuckle from videos and pictures shared on social media. Those bits of humor can be a needed respite from the daily grind.
With that said, all is not puppy dogs and roses with social media. As with anything that can be used for good, social media can and does fall into the bad category. Let’s face it….social media is addictive and it was purposefully created to be that way. In an April 2017 American Marketing Association article, Hal Conick noted,
“Addictive qualities aside, social media could not thrive if it wasn’t so uniquely—for lack of a better word—social. Humans are social animals who ache for connection with others. Mauricio Delgado, associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University, explained to Marketing News in 2014 that social media activity—likes, retweets, comments—activates the brain’s reward center in the same way as a hug, smile or compliment. Social media interactions are positive reinforcement, he says, bringing favorable effects and drawing users back again and again.”
In fact, the development of the FB like button and follow-in post emoji and Twitter’s heart, were purposeful creations by social media designers. Julian Morgans, in a fascinating article on this subject reveals all social media platforms “use something called intermittent variable rewards.
The easiest way to understand this term is by imagining a slot machine. You pull the lever to win a prize, which is an intermittent action linked to a variable reward. Variable meaning you might win, or you might not. In the same way, you refresh your Facebook updates to see if you’ve won. Or you swipe right on Tinder to see if you’ve won.
This is the most obvious way social feedback drives platform engagement, but others are harder to spot.
You know when you open Instagram or Twitter and it takes a few moments to load updates? That’s no accident. Again, the expectation is part of what makes intermittent variable rewards so addictive. This is because, without that three-second delay, Instagram wouldn’t feel variable. There’s no sense of will I win? because you’d know instantly. So the delay isn’t the app loading. It’s the cogs spinning on the slot machine.
Another piece of psychology hijacked by social platforms is that of social reciprocity; if someone pats your back, you’ll feel pressure to pat his or hers. Facebook exploits this by alerting you when someone has read your message, which encourages the receivers to respond—because they know you know they’ve read it. And at the same time, it encourages you to check back to read the inevitable response.
The same bits of your brain get a rush on Facebook as a set of wavy dots appear as someone writes a message. You might not exit if you think you’re getting a message, or at the very least you’re more likely to come back.”
So the very design of social media platforms is to elicit an emotional and brain response meant to draw the user to the point where they are in essence addicted. It is no wonder that a quick scan of the local restaurant reveals a plethora of people with heads bowed, not in prayer over their meal, but rather over their choice of technology, posting and scrolling away vice having a conversation with those at the table.
The ugly side of social media rears its ugly head in a number of ways, starting with the addictive nature of social media. It becomes all-consuming with the basis for how one feels about themselves and others rooted in likes, re-tweets, hearts, and selfies.
Moreover, the very ugly side of social media can be found in how people interact with their fellow man. I recently wrote an article on avoiding lashon hara (evil tongue). The truths spoken of in that article feed into this issue as well. Based on my experience and observation with social media over the years, lashon hara takes place on social media largely due to the lack of personal interaction one has with the recipient of the conversation.
Prior to the submersion of society with all things technology and social media, if you wanted to speak with someone you wrote them a letter, called them, or visited them in person. This at least helped foster a more thoughtful conversation. This is not to say someone cannot be heated and engage in evil tongue through a letter, phone call, or in person. With that said, it is far easier to fire off a nasty tweet or FB post than perhaps it was to sit down and write a letter. There was something to be said for the effort of writing a letter or having that one on one conversation to include the potential for cooler heads to prevail in the process.
In a world inundated with social media, as children of God, we must always keep in mind scriptures such as Psalm 19:14. The words of our mouth, regardless of how our words are “spoken”, need to be found as acceptable in the eyes of the Father. If they are not and if you are finding your interaction and involvement with social media is not acceptable in the eyes of God, then a cease and desist order might need to be enacted. It might be time to step away from social media for a season if you find your priorities in this area of life are askew. If you find yourself constantly checking whether someone liked your FB post or gave a heart to your Tweet to the neglect of weightier matters of life, it is time, make that past time, for an honest evaluation of where your focus is in life.
I am finding on a personal note the need to step away from social media. This may seem like an odd statement given what I am sharing will be posted on a number of social media platforms. I would label an article such as this as being in the good category of social media provided I do not constantly find myself trying to check how many views, likes, and re-tweets it has garnered.
Social media can be good, bad, and ugly. I encourage you to assess where your social media participation lies. If changes need to be made, then make them soonest. Be mindful of the addictive nature of social media and the impact that addiction can have in your relationships. Most importantly, may all we do and say bring honor to God, to include our social media habits.
 Hal Conick, “Marketing’s Ethical Line Between Social Media Habit and Addiction,” American Marketing Association, April 6, 2017, accessed July 18, 2017, https://www.ama.org/publications/marketingnews/pages/marketings-ethical-line-between-social-media-habit-addiction.aspx.
 Julian Morgans, “Your Addiction to Social Media Is No Accident,” Vice, May 19, 2017, accessed July 18, 2017, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vv5jkb/the-secret-ways-social-media-is-built-for-addiction.
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