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Tossed by the Waves: Responding to Social Media Crises

It is no exaggeration to say that social media presents us with a new crisis every single day. We are constantly bombarded with information seemingly designed to provoke our outrage, fear, sympathy, or some other intense (and seemingly unmanageable) emotion.

I made a partial list (in no particular order) of the social media crises that I’ve seen trending in just the past six weeks:

The hosts of The View made some disparaging comments about nurses, resulting in a major backlash and an eventual apology from Joy Behar.
A dentist from Minnesota shot a lion named Cecil, causing Jimmy Kimmel to cry and Tweeters around the world to threaten the lion-hunter with torture or death.
A major Syrian refugee crisis became a prominent news story, as millions of people fled their homes to escape war and religious persecution.
A young Muslim boy named Ahmed brought a homemade clock to school. It was mistaken for a bomb and he was briefly arrested and detained before being cleared. He inspired a new hashtag and received an invitation to The White House.
The Center for Medical Progress released several more videos exposing the practices of Planned Parenthood’s abortion business.
Former tennis star James Blake was unexpectedly tackled by a police officer in a case of mistaken identity.
Donald Trump insulted Carly Fiorina’s face and then said she actually has a beautiful face, and she made an effort to put him in his place at the Republican primary debate.

Like I said, that’s only a partial list. I compiled it in about 15 seconds off the top of my head – if I’d spent any more time on it I’m sure I could have found more.

All of these events were passed around on social media like crazy. They spread like wildfire and sparked passionate debate. I’m guessing that people lost friends over these issues.

What’s troubling, of course, is that while all of them inspired similar levels of outrage, they are not all of equal significance. To use an easy example, surely the death of one lion is not really as important as the displacement and death of millions of Syrian people.

And therein lies the rub when it comes to digital outrage. How do we even discern in the heat of the moment what’s worth passing along and what’s worth letting go? How do we know if the articles we’re reading are even true? What’s more, is it healthy to go through life with the constant burden of a thousand disparate crises, most of which we cannot really fix?

I cannot help but think of Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians: “Let us no longer be like children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” The world is guided by all kinds of false doctrines, beliefs and values that often oppose the truth of God’s Word.

So how do we avoid being tossed back and forth by the waves? Let me offer a few thoughts:

1. Ground yourself in God’s Word.

We’re susceptible to being tossed by the wind when we fail to root ourselves in the values of God. And the values of God are best expressed in the Word of God. Do you read the Scripture? Do you know it well? When you wake up in the morning, do you open God’s Word before you open Facebook? If not, you will react to the events of the day with fear or hostility or falsehood rather than through the lens of God’s truth.

What’s more, taking time to know God’s Word will help us prioritize the issues of our day. As I said above, some matter more than others. They matter more to us and they matter more to God. The only way to know what matters more, from a Christian perspective, is to submit to the values of God’s Word.

2. Only share what is true. 

Before you pass along an article about a current event, take just a few moments to make sure it’s true. Ed Stetzer wrote an excellent article recently on the embarrassment of Christians sharing fake news on social media. Consider the source of the article you’re sharing. Use common sense and ask if the story passes the “smell test.” Check the date on the post – is this a recent article or a recycled one from years past? Look at websites dedicated to fact-checking and at least consider what they’re saying. God is truth, so make every effort to represent His character in this regard.

3. Avoid responding immediately to every crisis.

We don’t have to panic at the slightest hint of trouble. Before you write a post or share an article, take a few deep breaths. Spend a few moments in prayer. Ask yourself, “In the grand scheme of eternity, is this issue worth responding to? Is this an issue of gospel significance or a matter of life and death? And if it is, is a Facebook post an effective way to begin addressing the issue? Sometimes social media can be beneficial to raise awareness or to motivate action; sometimes social media posts merely spread fear. We need wisdom to know the difference. The good news is that God gives wisdom away for free to people who ask for it (James 1:5)!

4. Unplug regularly. 

Find certain times in your day and in your week to disconnect. The universe will be alright if you and I take a day off from reading and weighing in on everything. Our friends will still be there tomorrow or the next day. Periodically unplugging allows us to see the value of the people and places right in front of us. Digital disconnection often facilitates reconnection with the people in our lives we can look at face-to-face. And we begin to see the world in perspective. Sometimes what seems like a crisis online isn’t a real crisis at all, at least not one we need to worry about.

We want to be the aroma of Christ in a fallen and sinful world. We want to care about those who are hurting and share the good news of Jesus with those who need to hear. But we also need to recognize our limitations: we can’t fix the world. And we are called to be men and women of truth and stability. It’s hard to do that in this day and age when we feel pressured to respond immediately to everything that happens in the world.

So let’s ground ourselves in God’s Word and reflect His character, through the power of His Spirit in us. Let’s reflect Him in “real life,” and let’s reflect Him online.

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