On social media as a platform for controversy

Confession: Giving up Facebook for Lent was a relief. I felt somewhat guilty for choosing a sacrifice I welcomed, something I was relieved to give up, something that was contributing negatively to my sense of self. I could mention numerous reasons for that: time wasting, jealousy and competition, vicarious responsibility, and positive/negative feedback loops – but above all, I loved not seeing the many controversial posts that regularly cause me stress. Stepping back clarified what those are, and why.

I am really bummed that I am so wimpy.

I may return to the forum eventually, because that is where people gather these days, and removing oneself only removes one’s own ear, and one’s own voice. (I discovered today that taking a break from Facebook meant I entirely missed certain pieces of news, such as a long-awaited baptism, and an engagement.) But I’m not sure yet what I will choose. There are many different ways to look at this question.

(And I do realize that Facebook is only one social medium; you and I are sharing another this moment.)

Here lie my miscellaneous thoughts on the topic of controversy – my greatest social media stressor. I have laid out my opinions as simply as I know how, to avoid additional pressure points, in a numbered list. See how natural they look. And hey, we know they’re in a better place.

  1. Many people use social media as a platform to share the things they care about.
  2. Many people use social media as a place to hear the things that others care about.
  3. At times, hearing what others care about causes *stress.
  4. *Stress may range from mild discomfort to violent disagreement.
  5. People may be selling something, and others feel obligated to a) buy, b) defend why they do not buy, or c) unfollow from a surfeit of disinterest.
  6. People may be sharing political viewpoints, and others a) strongly disagree, b) strongly agree, or c) feel this is not the place to be sharing political viewpoints of this caliber.
  7. People may be flashing their religious, dietary, medical, marital, educational, or parental experiences and policies (by no means a conclusive list; I could go on), and others who are reading will feel pinned against the wall.
  8. Why?
  9. We know we do not need to be like others.
  10. But if we were sitting in a living room sharing these viewpoints, we would be more likely to a) be kind and appropriate, considering the other viewpoints in the room b) share opposing viewpoints in response, honestly but respectfully. “Do you really let him put himself to sleep? I could never handle that; I don’t like to hear him cry.” “Well, the way I see it, he cries for a short time but sleeps better and is happier long-term.” “Wow, hats off but it’s not for me.”
  11. Social media often ties otherwise articulate and capable people in knots because the choices are few. a) If I am kindly silent, my support of this position may be assumed. b) If I speak up in disagreement, however respectful, I am severely testing the limits of the medium, to communicate truth, grace, kind tone, good heart, and humble approachability.
  12. One MUST choose one horn of this dilemma, silence or speech; one cannot simply look uncomfortable and change the subject to gardening.
  13. And then we find ourselves being put in the Silent box or the Argumentative box, neither of which feels like home. It’s not really who we are. Why are we putting ourselves through this stress anyway? Why are we giving x person such power over us, to make us uncomfortable and wretched, so that all through the next hour of work we keep hashing whether we should have spoken up, and what we might have said?
  14. Perhaps unfollowing IS our only option.
  15. That or a slow burn for many months to come.
  16. Until we finally pop.
  17. (If you have no idea what I am talking about, because it comes naturally to you to speak your mind in any given situation, may I gently suggest that you may be one of the people causing stress to the rest of us? And I mean that in the best possible way.)
  18. (Yes, Shari Zook causes stress sometimes too. Always for a good cause, always for a good cause. And honestly, isn’t that the case for us all? that we believe passionately enough in whatever-it-is to risk making others upset?)
  19. Back on track.
  20. I am deeply concerned about our community veering into three extremes.
  21. First, I don’t want us regularly sharing things that don’t reflect the truth of who we are. These are the social media posts that bother me most. Example: We may be strictly non-political people, but advocating for and against American laws and leaders. Why? That’s not who we are. That’s not how we fight. Or if it is, let’s go fight – we can’t both fight and not fight. Another example: We may be very kind and good-hearted people who wouldn’t make a stink bug squirm, but find ourselves regularly sharing things that obligate others to choose between endorsement, or uncomfortable pushback. Why? That’s not who we are. A third example: We may even be advocating against our own lifestyles – sharing diet videos while freely indulging our appetites, or speaking against the hiding of sexual abuse in the church when our own families would be badly burned by the full disclosure we never achieved. Why? That’s not who we are. We have to stop faking so much. And impaling others on the dilemma of what to do in response.
  22. Second, I don’t want us to stop objecting to what we disagree with. In our world of “no judging” and “grace by the barrel,” we have painted artificial lines that put all the naysayers over here and all the grace people over here. Objection is honest but mean; so let’s be nice – and quiet. People, it’s a lie. We are made to disagree in some ways: created with diverse and even opposing viewpoints, created to round each other out, created to rebuke one another, created to learn together and thus to grow. We can’t let social media change those rules, or we will create some kind of desperately silent and unhappy little cheering party. Vive le agreement! Bonhomie! Bon appetit! There’s more where that came from! Look how loving we are.
  23. I don’t want us disengaging. When we surround ourselves only with the things we agree with – unfollowing, unfriending, and avoiding all that makes us uncomfortable or pained – we are becoming less and less the community we were intended for.
  24. But some of us with tender hearts and floppy spines can hardly stand the strain.
  25. Third, I don’t want us using the medium for more than it can handle… but if it’s on the medium, that may be where we need to engage. We don’t usually walk away from a face-to-face conversation saying to ourselves, “I’ll need to write him a letter to address my concerns.” We don’t usually address school concerns at church, or church concerns at home, or home concerns at the grocery store. We need to address things where they happen. I can’t count the number of times I’ve left social media saying, “I should have a good chat with her about that and ask her what it means about x, y, and z…” and then have never. done. it.
  26. Why didn’t I engage there? Because I felt the medium couldn’t handle (perhaps I couldn’t handle) the nuances, and the high likelihood of misunderstanding.
  27. What are our options?
  28. As you see, I do not have answers myself. Only more questions.
  29. What guides your choice of who, what, when, where, why, and how to speak out?
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5 years ago

Social media can be a big stress, I admire people who will write, and give us interesting articles to read, I do know however, it would be hard to handle the negative ‘options’ that go with writing publicly, writing. With others taking what we say, to mean something totally different. I enjoy your writings!
For my 2 cents there are plenty of folks who pleasure in ‘attacking’ others, with words… speaking kind words gets us much further along in life.
God be with you in this busy season of raising your family, and with foster care ups and downs….

Edna Yoder
5 years ago

Sister, I am amazed by how you speak my heart. In the past several years I have grieved deeply what I perceive as social media’s negative impact on our relationships. I don’t have answers either, only more questions, but here are some of my choices about social media: I have chosen to remove myself from all “group chats”, including Facebook. Partially because of the effects I have seen on relationships, and also because of how it has affected my ability to stay focused on priorities. I know, I have had to accept missing important pieces of news, and perhaps it isn’t the best decision, but in a sense I feel it’s my lone protest to what I see as social media’s damage to our gentle culture. I restrict my blog reading to only a chosen few – yours is one of them, obviously. And whenever possible, I do not disagree via media, not even by telephone. If I must vocally disagree, I try to go face to face, or, if distance prohibits, at least write a respectful personal letter and send it by USPS. A point to add to your number 10: If we were sitting in a living room discussing this, we would also have the benefit of reading one another’s body and facial and eye language, which can convey far more of the spirit we speak in than our words.
I have wondered if we are eventually just going to quit talking altogether?! God help us!

5 years ago

I agree with so much of what you wrote…I’m not a good articulator of my thots but… here’s my experience. I have tried to back away from the use of Facebook tho not completely, just more limited. (Maybe checking it a few times a week versus daily) i love following my long-time-no-see friends across the nation, from Haiti to Chile, Guatemala, and Canada. However, along with those come the posts from a few outspoken, seemingly “love to stir conflict” women on subjects like racism, abortions, sexual abuse, immigration, feminism and homosexuality. Bringing up the subjects in ways that make it seem like staying silent feels like we don’t care or even are part of the ongoing problem….some comments made come from ex-mennonites that seem directly stabbed at AnaBaptist movement’s quiet non-involvement as ignoring situations, looking the other way as to cover up, or completely ignorant. Which rises the ire in me making me want to jump on in defense clarifying my passion on the subject advocating for the defenseless, and defending my lifestyle and choice to be quiet, but somehow usually end up w looking like the idiot they just proved me to be:( or in a heated argument trying to defend my point. To avoid this I have I in friended a few, try to swallow hard, keep scrolling and not get involved.
Don’t know if this makes any sense but I’m looking forward to hearing what works for others.
How do we remain true to who we are? Leading quiet, peace promoting lives, that defend those who have no voice and not seem like ignorant, sticking-head-the sand people.

5 years ago

You just overstimulated my precious brain with lots of thought provoking points.

It seems like we’ve hashed this a number of times before. 😉 Maybe we should give it one more try to see how many great answers we can find to the problem.

One simple question I like to ask often in my social media interactions is:

What exactly are you trying to prove, self?

If the answer is self protection, self promotion, self destruction or self defense then the world (including myself) may be better off without hearing my voice.

5 years ago

I was never planning to be a f.b user but had an account so I could look things up like places of business. But then I joined a group,got the app and people wanted to ‘friend ‘ me. (I’ve always wondered why ‘we’want to be friends on social media but prob wouldn’t say more then hi if we met on the street??) Anyway, I’ve decided I own fb it doesn’t own me. I protect my sanity. I learned the hard way to not disagree with someone so I took steps to not have ‘controversial posters’ on my feed, by unfollowing them. I also take the app off occasionally or hide it . I enjoy IG much more but have been a little picky who’ve I let follow. And I try to be careful of who I follow and what I like,because I agree with what you’ve written here. Keep on writing!

5 years ago

And one more thing, I’ve chosen not to follow men, or have them follow me. Because 1,my husband isn’t on social media following me so if I post something ‘close to my heart’ I don’t want other men seeing it when my husband doesn’t. 2, it’s a wide open door for comparison and trouble. Now I’ve had my say!????

5 years ago

Blogging is the only social media I’m involved in however one of my daughters says I’m technically not on social since I don’t have FB, IG or any of those other sites people have.

I gave up FB when it was relatively new because there was too much drama and it’s much worse now. My husband has had to reduce his time on Facebook because there was too much political nonsense, especially from “Christians”.

As to the blogs I follow, I have to either avoid the blogs with mean comments so I don’t try to ” put them in they place” or I can read a post and go on my way without reading other’s comments.

Thank you Shari for another thought provoking post and for speaking my heart.

5 years ago
Reply to  Regina S

Just curious, why do you feel obligated to respond to ideas on social media? I feel no obligation to respond to anything unless someone asks me a question directly. People throw their thoughts out to hundreds of friends, and I am only one. I might argue if I’m a little bored and feel like being clever, or engage if I’m intrigued with an idea, but most of the time I scroll on past.

If someone asks me a question directly, I will private message if I don’t feel like a public discourse.

There, I engaged because I’m intrigued with people’s perceptions of media. Haha.

5 years ago
Reply to  Rosina

Oops, on my end it’s looking like I replied to Regina instead of Shari. But, hi Regina! ???? I see you and I like your thoughtfulness about life.

My comments on here often come out snarky, for which I apologize. Social media often feels impersonal and a bit overwhelming, which is why I don’t engage unless I feel like it or think someone needs a little affirmation.

5 years ago
Reply to  Rosina

It’s a good question, and extremely postmodern. Grin. I am intrigued with your idea as well, therefore I will answer. (Just kidding, I know you are asking directly. And I like hearing from you, snarky or not. So there.)

I spend most of my time scrolling as well, and do not share half of the responses I could. But I always become uncomfortable with myself when I settle hard into the scrolling-role of passive observer – as though I am walking in a hallway past rooms full of conversation I listen in on (with joy or sorrow or envy or compassion or concern or, as you said, intrigue), but do not enter to join.

When I feel internal pressure to respond, it is usually because I care about who we are. Not just who I am, but who she and he and they and we are. I realize there is a narrow lane between disengagement on the one hand, and becoming the police of the thought world on the other… but I care a lot about community (which in my mind means people helping and sharing with and brainstorming alongside and living with and essentially forming people), and as far as I can tell, it happens only when we engage. In real life or online, I want people to nudge me toward truth – and I, them.

It’s not all on me. But it is on us.

But I may be in the wrong.
More thoughts?

5 years ago
Reply to  Shari

Ahh, yes. We care about what is precious to us, what has formed us and has the potential of forming others. We want to make space for light and hope and truth, and to live in that goodness together. I understand.

I fluctuate between passionately trying to set the world right and wearily letting the world go on without my help.

But this has got to be the first time I’ve been labeled as postmodern. ???? Thank you for engaging!

Rhonda Yoder
5 years ago

Lots of great thoughts here Shari! Thank you! I choose not to participate in social media like FB,etc…because it really can waste a LOT of time, and I feel so many very inappropriate things are posted that I don’t appreciate or have time for. And like you and others said, the controversy,competition, etc…can just get out of hand,and cause hard feelings and distrust. I do follow a few ladies’ blogs that are encouraging and thought-provoking, and make me want to strive for a closer walk with God. Blessings to you for being one of those!

5 years ago

Thank you.

5 years ago

One reason to have social media would be so people can reach you by private message if they suspect your dear boy is camping .5 miles from their house.???? If it is his group, it sounds like they are having fun and I will get to see them Tuesday morning.

You address so many valid and thought provoking questions about social media. I have vacillated between deleting mine, becoming a producer of positive content, and sitting on the sidelines vacillating.

I feel an obligation to engage there because that is where the people are and if we remove ourselves from the people, are we even relevant?

On the other hand, how do we define relationships and making a difference? Before I challenge someone on social media, I think “A man convinced against his will is of the same mind still.” And “Let your speech be always with grace.” Which means, of course, that I never challenge anyone on social media.

I do, however, disagree with people in real life. Is that a cop out? I am feeling my way along this tunnel with you.

If Jesus lived today, how would he use social media?

Julie Glick
5 years ago

I share a lot of your angst surrounding Facebook. My husband, Laverne does Facebook, so I usually don’t miss too much news when I abstain.

When I do scroll, I usually leave with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and churning thoughts. I try to avoid that.

Why, we’ve wondered, (this is an ongoing conversation at our house) is Facebook so sticky? Why does it go around and around in your head, unlike a normal conversation? Recently Laverne told me about the concept of “open loops,”or things that are unfinished and ongoing. These things are hard to ignore and take our energy. To be efficient, you should close as many loops as possible. Facebook is one giant open loop. This makes so much sense to me.

I do like posting things that I am learning and or enjoying. Being a producer rather than a consumer is more fun and empowering. Also there is precious little posted these days to give people hope, but there is still an awful lot to be hopeful about. I like to do this on Sunday afternoon after my ramble.

I also like finding one person and going to their Facebook site and reading everything on their wall. Then finding the next person and doing it again. This seems to close some loops for me, and gives me a clear ending. It is also a great way to get the full benefit of some people’s style of humor. One funny thing is funny, but 17 funny things in a row is exponentially funnier.

In the end though, I’m a lot happier, more founded and kinder on the days that I don’t do Facebook, and I think that is a good reason for me to abstain. Most of the time.

Julie Glick
5 years ago

And I don’t do controversy on Facebook. Disagreement is vital to healthy relationships and super hard to do well without the instant feedback of face to face and with an audience of several hundred people any of whom can jump into the conversation at any time and leave at any time too.

5 years ago

I do like how FB lets me know what’s happening to my friends from other countries, etc. I’ve spent a lot of time blocking anything political, or things that don’t interest me. And of course, I un-follow those who annoy me with trivia. As to commenting on controversial things, I also prefer using messenger or something private. Above all, I don’t want FB to own me!

5 years ago

So much truth Shari! I had hesitated coming back for the reasons you mentioned above. I have wondered if it’s a part of the reason I struggle at times with depression at times as research says this is the case. I hate how much time I waste on it. However, the desire to keep in touch with my loved ones on this platform is too strong and wins me back. I don’t know that it is the right reproach, but for the most part I have chosen to avoid controversy on facebook. By that I mean resist reading comments of discussion that I feel the need to join. I don’t always do this, but I try to just avoid these subjects. Also, yes, unfollowing people who have me “biting my facebook tongue ;-)” too often. The other is pray before I comment or post. If I know something has the potential of being controversial, I especially take a great deal of time to pray before posting, this goes with blogging as well. Anyway, lot’s of questions here also but that is my imperfect attempt at social media survival 😉

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