How many likes will this get?
Social media is not just what you have had to check twice while reading this sentence.
Social media is a complex organism that feeds on itself without getting smaller. The neverending stream of posts, likes, tweets and shares is such a force that it generates news and issues about itself that can spark into wildfires. These connected strands of social media don’t just stop at virtual reality, either.
While it’s easy to forget, social media is in the real world too because, well, real people are on the other end of all those images, clicks, links and screens. Hello there, real person.
During the past two weeks, two Australian models have caused a cyber stir about social-media usage. They’re at different ends of the social-media spectrum but, as we expect nowadays, they’re connected. But not in the way you’re thinking.
Queensland model Essena O’Neill caused an online meltdown by quitting her Instagram and YouTube accounts, despite having enormous followings. Her reasons involved claims that social-media images and posts encourage anxiety, narcissism, and impossible expectations of how to look and live. Although O’Neill attacked the phony and destructive extremes of social media, her “unfiltered” video messages went viral.
Social media ate up its own criticism.
Meanwhile, Next Top Model‘s Cassi Van Den Dungen prompted stories on reputable news sites after she had a go at those following her on Instagram. Because one of her photos only got 14 likes, Van Den Dungen posted a response that plenty took seriously. The model claims her “You all suck!” post was a joke but it was widely reported as an example of social-media self-absorption.
Whatever it was, her post led to stacks of stories — and the mandatory tsunami of social-media sharing and commenting.
Van Den Dungen and O’Neill are social-media stars linked by something more than just being social-media stars.
They’re linked by a social-media issue that frequently is raised but is quickly drowned under a sea of updates and feeds.
Social-media is consuming, constant and defining. So much so that we’d rather not worry about the impact it’s having and, instead, just keep on diving deeper into it.
When someone like O’Neill surfaces, we can briefly think that much of what we can do online is faked or flimsy or unhelpful. When someone like Van Den Dungen sticks out, we can briefly think about how silly it is that we’re reading about one person’s silly remark.
Whatever the social-media case, most of us will only pause long enough on one thing to move on to the next. But the social-media issue remains: what’s happening to us, as we are increasingly absorbed into an existence of posts and likes and shares and followers?
Everything is permissible but…
I don’t pretend to have the answer. I don’t pretend to not enjoy social-media. I don’t pretend that social-media is a monster that must be stopped. There is so much that is good and useful and enjoyable and enlightening about social media that you’re a liar to say otherwise.
But what the two models definitely bring to my attention is how mindful am I about what I am putting in to, and taking out of, the social-media atmosphere all around me?
Without needing a thumbs-up icon or click-bait headline, the apostle Paul wrote something 2000 years ago that social media today would devour. “‘Everything is permissible’ but not everything is helpful. ‘Everything is permissible,’ but not everything builds up.” Paul wrote this statement twice in his first letter to the Corinthian church (you can find it at 10:23, and something very similar at 6:12). He was responding to a local mantra of some sort, the ‘Everything is permissible’ line of thinking. Interestingly, he didn’t reject that idea. Instead, what he did was uphold that when it comes to living a Christian life, you’re free to do whatever you want BUT it’s important to think about the impact.
So, everything is permissible for a Christian to do BUT what is done with that freedom is restricted by considerations of what is helpful and what builds up. What Paul is driving at relates to how our freedom to do whatever we want needs to be exercised in line with what benefits ourselves and others. In particular, what helps us and others to be built up in our love, service and dedication to Jesus, the champion of Christian freedom.
When the next social-media story that is fuelled by social media comes your way (Look! There it is right now, over on that window), take a second. Pause. Don’t just think about how many people will “like” you for posting that social-media snowball. Think about whether what you are sharing or posting is helpful and builds up. By doing that, the grip of social media on our lives might slip away. To allow things of greater substance and significance to shape us instead.