Social Media Demons and Real Life

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What you see on social media is not real life. I have noticed a trend among people, both Facebook groups and Twitter, to think that what we see and experience on social media explains our local situation. Think about social media: at any given time individuals from around the world can communicate with others on a centralized platform. What centralizes us? Only the platform. Many times, maybe even most the time, people communicating actually live in different parts of the country, if not the world. But this creates problems when a certain discussion or popular # issues comes to bear.

Take a #Video, one hot off the press from a part of the country. That video goes viral and instantly people from around the world have congregated to look at it, will comment on it, and soon the debates will rage where Godwin’s law will go into effect and Hitler will be exposed.

Think about this #Issue, the video takes place in a specific city, with specific people in that same community, And like all unique or catastrophic events, passerby’s will stop and watch. Often we know something unique or uncommon happens because a crowd forms, gathers around, and we see the crowd. But social media allows that crowd to form virtually and unnaturally.

The wise have noted a major problem here too. The crowd sees the video then arrives at judgments, not conclusions or theories, but judgments. The crowd sees in part, knows in part, but assesses as if he or she has the entire story and forms a detective, investigator, district attorney, grand jury, lawyer, judge, and jury before any of those participants actually get involved. The crowd doesn’t see a sinful event and ask, “Can we please have due process and exonerate the innocent and punish the guilty.” Instead they see it and declare the guilty then demand due process fit our perspective — that is limited too by the way because videos fail to reveal motives. (Then the media defends themselves with “Court of public opinion” — which btw, is the most vile phenomenon in the world).

It’s not just the viewing of the video that requires wisdom to navigate. It’s how the video potentially influences our behavior and thoughts.

Let’s speculate a bit, but I think it’s reasonable too. People leave the watch party and then close the phone / computer (for like 5 minutes), then discuss it with people in their own community as if the event took place locally. Everyone at breakfast saw the video and can comment on it. It’s now in my local community. But the problem still exists, though it’s known history in my community, it is actually not in my community. And this creates another problem: we take our judgments of what we saw in the video and now ascribe them to our local community.

Now when we see someone locally, who somewhat fits the situation of our #Video, we project onto that situation what we saw in another community. But unfortunately because, by now, a national narrative formed, that narrative gets implanted locally where it may or may not exist. Social media’s (SM) influence needs to be highlighted here. SM potentially influences us to assume and conflate our “local community.” In some ways SM can be good because it allows you to see your friends from other states, met in the past, and / or moved away from. But this is where it can be highly dangerous. It convinces us we’re all alike and our context is similar. This is a major error. California, Oklahoma, Florida, Wisconsin, Croatia, and Thailand are all vastly different. They differ in housing costs, type’s of jobs, weather, government philosophy, location, culture, language (even use of dialect, idioms), and perspectives. (BTW, those differences do not make one superior and the other inferior, however they do explain why two people, with many common experiences might view life differently too)

But social media does not bring those differences into the equation. So we project “my location and the nuances of my location” onto other’s, reading them how we want to read them thus forming a narrative This happens in politics. The native Californian will say, “All states should do this because of this problem” — but the problem is really only unique to a city of 12 million people and not an issue in a farm town. The Oklahoman will scoff a Los Angeles ordinance not realizing a city with 12 million people creates different problems than a city of 60,000 people.

But let’s go back to our #video or even consider the #issue. Of course, the problem should be obvious. We are conflating and ignoring needed information to rightfully understand situations. But in our conflation, we are prone to then turn around in local settings and assume this is real life. THIS is actually bearing a false witness. Recently I heard a man use the word “racism.” He used it in the classically defined way, “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.” He was explaining the New Testament dominate view of the Jews towards Gentiles, specifically the religious leaders and synagogues.

Someone told him to not use that word because it is not clear and we need to not be influenced by CRT or other issues. Now where did this accusation come from? It came from the internet. The criticizer’s information collected from social media influenced what he or she heard locally and then assumed the wrong baggage in the speaker. Unfortunately this is happening far more often than what we maybe even realize (Joe Rogan has noted this multiple times on his own podcast: See Edward Snowden or Douglas Murray episodes).

Social media discussions often expose demons. And by conflating the virtual community with real life physical community, we therefore assume those demons exist locally too, when often times they do not.** By conflating our contexts, we then turn around, and unfortunately do not hear what is said, but hear what is projected onto others. We therefore create demons and fight the demons, where the demon doesn’t actually exist. I’ve been on Twitter and FB long enough to even realize, when I see the talking points on those platforms and then compare them to what people in our church are dealing with, they do not line up. Real life people are trying to honor God, parent, spouse well, earn a living, pay their bills, navigate medical needs, be good friends, and pave the road for easier travel.

The Vile internet — One final observation

Social media and the media are two peas in the same pod. Both tend to gravitate and show rare events to report. I’d guess 99.99% of #Issues are not normative to life. The media is always looking for the rare, extreme, and “awe factor” events. Why? Because they exist to sell advertisements and drama puts us in the seat. If they reported on normal, it would bore you. Imagine your nightly news.

“And in today’s news, Andy and April each went to work, taking their own cars. Their morning was filled with some excitement as April used most the hot water so Andy had to take a cold shower and microwave his Pop Tart. Each had a lunch break, followed by a boring afternoon meeting and a commute home. They spent the evening running kids to sports practices and ate fast food for dinner out of convenience. The couple says they’ll repeat this all week, we’ll catch up with them tomorrow to see if anything changes.”

Honestly, that would bore us. AND that is why normal isn’t reported. This brings us to the other observation. Social media is vile because human beings are vile and like drama (and even to fight). Even good men, even pastors unfortunately get sucked into it and their hearts are exposed. People want drama and conflict, it’s like a roller coaster pumping the adrenaline through us moving the day along at rapid speed. But never forget — the vileness on the internet is not the internet’s fault. It’s people, it’s our fault. And unfortunately there is a Social Media philosophy that seems to allow us to justify this behavior. We have become influenced by a worldly philosophy and not followed Scripture, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Col 2:8).”

Now, how do you respond? By throwing them out of the camp? Denounce the other tribes? No, you realize this truth and live it. You and I have blindspots. God knows them and sees them. He continues to lead us back to His word, He changes us, He molds us, He shapes us, and even in our blind spots He loves us. His long-suffering revealed through our inconsistencies and growth. In other words, if God can love me even though I have the same errors I see in others, then surely I can do the same. Therefore,

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:12-17).

**BTW, this phenomenon occurs not just around events and discussions, but can shape how we communicate. When we say, “Can we still say this word?” It’s often because that word has become a social media no-no while in our local context the word doesn’t have a nefarious meaning. We kind of chuckle together, but then that word disappears even though it has non-offensive meaning.

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About Jason Vaughn

Jason is a graduate of the Master's Seminary and the pastor of Cornerstone Las Vegas, a Grace Advance church plant. He loves Christ, his wife Kyla, sometimes his kids :), the church, missions, people, and coffee. You can also follow his podcast at https://soundcloud.com/user-201412896.