Social Media Debate in an Age of Communication Breakdown

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I’m not totally sure what my problem with social media is yet. I use it. I share ideas. I connect with people I have met along the way. And yet it has a weird vibe to it. But maybe life just has a weird vibe to it.

I can get into a fight with an atheist about abortion in Ottawa, have a debate with a Leftist about social medicare in California, and have an intense conversation about theology with a Presbyterian from South Carolina. And this is all behind a laptop screen on a sunny summery evening in Southwestern Ontario. And I don’t really care about any of them, in a sense of the word, because I don’t know them.

Somebody recently told me that I used to try to be more inflammatory in my use of social media. It’s probably true. I continue to sharpen my words so that they are more finely tipped arrows than a blunt club wielded by a weak arm with poor aim.

What is this thing with inflammatory comments? To gain popularity? To gain a following? That being said, how did Trump rise into power, or Trudeau for that matter? Was it for the substance of their ideas? Maybe it was just rhetoric. Or a mix of both.

And then there is that word ‘triggered’. Conservatives love it. Liberals do to. It is easy to meta-debate, by characterizing your opponent as an emotionally charged sawed-off shotgun being emptied into the breezes of cultural manipulation. I don’t use the word ‘triggered’. It doesn’t help rational debate. Am I pulling the trigger here? Presumably so. Hopefully I am a better shot than the times I have gone skeet-shooting.

I am a fan of rational debate. And just because people are yelling, doesn’t make my arguments any less poignant. That being said, the fact that they are yelling doesn’t make them any more poignant. I’ve heard far to many people argue from the reaction to the veracity of the argument. I don’t know how that became a logical argument. We are looking for an ability to argue, not the loss thereof. We are looking for an ability to hit a target, not a poor passer by, who just happened to be too close to the aforesaid target.

Back to that use of inflammatory language on social media. Is it inherently wrong in and of itself? Truth be told, the Bible is not devoid of inflammatory language. But just because I am using inflammatory language doesn’t mean that I am anything close to Jesus. Inflammatory language must be tied into the search for truth, beauty and goodness. As such, inflammatory language must have substance. Neither popularity or the fight should be the goal of inflammatory language, but the transformation of hearts. The principle of love means that we should be quick to explain and slow to attack. But the principle of love does not necessarily mean saying nothing.

Facebook fights, combative tweeters. And then the people who drop ‘triggered’ in-between and then proceed to sneer with self-righteous glee as they meditate on their moral superiority for not getting involved in the debate. Oh wait, they did get involved, so scratch that. The tongue is a flame, a world of unrighteousness. Combine the tongue and the internet and with one click, the whole world can be set aflame.

How shall we then live? It seems that Jesus wants us to have real relationships as the precursor to fighting with somebody where we have no skin in the game and no relationships. Debate happens in relationship. Jesus had dinner with the Pharisees that He called a brood of vipers. This does not deny the use of social media, but it puts social media within context, a context of a demand for human relationships.

Social media is still a frontier for the Church, but also society. Mark Zuckerberg is trying to enforce a rule system on Facebook, which in a sense of the word, is commendable. Social media can actually teach us a lot about communication, and also the rabid passions that control the hearts of men when they are put in front of a screen and removed from human relationships.

Fighting did not start with social media. Fighting goes all the way back to the time that Cain killed Abel. Bad men fight, and the fight does not justify them. Jesus made people angry and He was perfect. Stephen made people angry and his faith in Christ justified Him, and his faith expressed itself in speaking the truth against lies. Trump makes people angry and he is often dead wrong. We don’t want to suffer willy-nilly, but we want to suffer for righteousness and as Christians.

Because we have this deep longing to suffer as the protagonist, social media is full of self-justification and even worse, an abundance of self-righteousness. I have often been angry, and then I realized that anger came from a sinful place in my heart. It was an attempt to self-justify myself by pointing out the weakness of the other, capitalizing on the weakness of the other.

But social media still has a place, albeit very small in society. And it is not just a place to post pictures of babies and what you had for dinner. It is an excellent platform for the proliferation of truth, and speaking the gospel to hard and soft and faltering and angry hearts.

At the end of the day, all I can really say is: stay on social media and fear God. And if you don’t want it, there is no shame in deleting your account. Of course,  seeking the applause of men through a certain kind of inflammatory statement (ie Trump), is a matter of fearing nothing, not even God who will judge. So there are actually three positions here: fearing God, fearing men, fearing nothing. Of course, Ecclesiastes has deeper wisdom for mankind. Fear God and keep His commandments. For this is man’s all.

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