If you’re close enough to me and my interactions on the internet, you’d know that I regard the internet as a place for conversation, not genuine community.
Although I concede that there are select examples where this is not the case, most of social media and the “online community” involve transactional relationships. Ideas are bought and sold through a currency of likes, shares, comments, followers or “friends”.
Click bait articles con us with various controversial headlines. We are enticed to react and feed into the hype created by its authors. We are consistently bombarded with the next ‘’shock and awe’’ post, that will snatch our attention and rile us all up. Our tears of rage or sympathy are gold in this environment; cash in the bank for those mining for them. Fake news sells.
A large part of the internet is about smart marketing. It can bolster, foster and ignite community, but it cannot be community. From promoting Trump to benefiting from the capitalist system in order to ironically undermine it for Socialism, if it’s effective, every post and every link will involve a polished sales pitch.
Anything deemed ugly, ersatz or imperfect; any article that exceeds three paragraphs and doesn’t pump out catchy ear pleasing half-truths; anything that doesn’t catch our attention, or agree with a political agenda, gets pushed to the bottom of the pile; easily overlooked and dismissed.
Social media, as it currently exists, can be nothing more than an ongoing conversation with conversation partners. It fosters community, it isn’t one.
In Koine Greek, Community or ‘plethos’ is defined as being a large number; a [physical] gathering of people [i]. In ecology, it’s considered to be: a group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region, and interacting with each other.
Mirriam-Webster notes that it is a ‘a body of persons or nations; social activity – fellowship’
Where social media fails to accurately represent the physical community because it’s become what many are calling an echo chamber, it no longer facilitates community.
Where a large portion of people fail to be heard because they don’t have the means to compete; or are too scared to speak and make a contribution, social media fails to facilitate community. Social media, instead, becomes toxic to it.
To illustrate this, two weeks ago I made the decision to remove myself from an ongoing conversation. It had become clear to me that my contributions were no longer all that welcome.
Before doing so, I placed this decision before God and prayerfully took the time to consider the right response.
I wanted to make certain that my internal receptors were not just blinking because of something that “triggered” me or because I found disagreement or offense with the politics being exchanged.
To be clear, I in fact agreed with, although was, at the same time, cautious about some conclusions being drawn by those involved in most of the discussions. The overall exchange was as healthy as most communication online can be.
Our interaction was sporadic, but consistent enough to build rapport. When we did engage in conversation, it was mutually beneficial and my well-educated interlocutor reciprocated with respect.
However, over the past few months this seemed to change. It was easy enough to see that my contribution was no longer all that welcome, even if it did bring balance to the conversation.
My own posts and comments appeared to become something of an irritation. While not openly hostile, each exchange had deteriorated. I was starting to get the impression that my position on some issues embarrassed my friend in front of his intended audience.
So, I chose to graciously remove myself from the conversation. A few weeks later I received a message asking me why I had “unfriended” him on Facebook.
In a 200 word scripted response I explained my reasons. Stating that I felt as though our sporadic communications had dissolved to the point where we banging our heads against each other; frustrating one another.
Opening up the opportunity for my “friend” to correct me, I took a humble approach and apologised if I had misinterpreted the tone of our exchanges. Instead, his response confirmed that my chosen course of action was the right one.
He largely ignored what I’d written, then proceeded to try to get to me to confirm that my decision was as an attack on his politics. All based on the assumption that I’d “unfriended” him because he was not ‘’conservative’’ enough. Something I denied and continue to do so.
Paul, to the Galatian Church, in his famous pericope on what it means to ‘live in freedom under the grace of Jesus Christ’ [ii], wrote:
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” [iii]
Adhering to this will sometimes include removing ourselves from the conversation for the sake of peace, and peace of mind.
It certainly includes redefining abusive relationships through the implementation of boundaries, which also applies to the internet, synthetic community and especially, social media.
[i] Goodrick, E & Kohlenberger III J. 1990 NIV Exhaustive Concordance, Zondervan
[ii] Romans 6, English Standard Version
[ii] Galatians 5, English Standard Version
Photo credit, Dmitry Ratushny