Social media is a ubiquitous presence in the West, and is a growing one across the entire world. It is undoubtedly a source of positive connection and friendship for many, but its dangers are increasingly difficult to ignore, as much as the corporations who run them would like the public to think otherwise… So how can we -- especially those of us who believe in Jesus who himself embodied selfless love in an age of division, distrust, and hatred like our own -- think about loving, and actually embody love, to our neighbor in the age of social media?
I’ll admit, and perhaps surprisingly to some, that I have always been a bit leery of social media. When LinkedIn started in 2002, I saw the value of professional online connection, but didn’t see the utility of what seemed to be a clunky platform. When Myspace started in 2003, I thought it was creepy. I didn’t like the idea of anyone opening themselves up to the threat of potential predators. When Facebook started in 2004, I thought it was voyeuristic. I really didn’t like the idea of sharing my life in such a public way. I tested it out to promote work activities, but the general response was that people wanted to see more social than professional, which I didn’t want to do. When Twitter started in 2006, I didn’t quite understand how to navigate it. Having a small child at that point, I didn’t see the point of it for my life. When Instagram started in 2010, I had twin babies and a young school age child as well as a job where I worked 60+ hours a week. I just didn’t have the time for it. And in 2011, when Snapchat started, I didn’t even bother with it.
Social media platforms captivated us: connectivity with family and friends at the click of button; contacting like-minded individuals and groups across an ever-expanding digital spectrum; sharing photographs and videos, including perhaps, one's own artistic and musical content; accessing at our fingertips the most arcane information within nanoseconds; networking for business and employment opportunities; and, best of all, these social media platforms offered all of this and more for free.
Yet, despite being what are arguably some of the most compelling and useful innovations ever created, discontent is emerging among social media users, government officials, and even from those who helped develop these platforms, such as Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. Unfortunately, and with apologies to Shakespeare, the dissatisfaction truly lies not with the platforms or firms, but with ourselves. Our ability to effortlessly communicate at electronic speeds has enabled us for better and for worse.