A Response To The Social Dilemma

Over the last few weeks I've seen many posts on social media, both from individuals and churches, responding to the Netflix docudrama "The Social Dilemma". All the chatter surrounding the program captured my interest, as someone who works in the industry and serves in youth work. One evening Catherine and I got comfortable on the sofa with our popcorn and a notepad ready to watch it.


I was stunned. Okay, I wasn’t shocked by the docudrama itself - it was a classic fear-mongering display of something most of us know already. The key statement is that social media has caused a "Global Assault on Democracy" and by how it runs, the viewpoint of truth is "altered to suit each individual for their own needs". Though the sentiment is valid, the programme was a classic shock-truth exposé to drive change out of concern. But this has been public knowledge for some time. The payoff of using social media and modern day technology is the impact it has on our cultural mindset and mechanism as companies gather data based on our choices. Sociological trends have displayed this in all age brackets, but in particular the younger generation, with diagnoses of depression and anxiety increasing in tandem with the reliance on social interaction through technology. This has been going on for a long time but only now is it really starting to become common knowledge, despite all of these trends being vocalised since its conception. What stunned me was the response to this - to summarize it in one word, fear.


Post after post, ironically on social media, spoke about the fear of using it. There were posts about how our data is being used. Posts on how we should be incredibly concerned about the big brother mentality. Posts on how we should restrict the next generation and be worried about what they have to deal with. It was this sentiment that drove me to passionately cry out - don't put fear on our youth!


Now, please bear with me. I am not saying "Ah, let's use it! It doesn't matter, nothing matters! All is well!" That's not being loving or biblical - Proverbs 3:7 states "Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil." We absolutely must be cautious with what we look at and do. However, being cautious about social media is not the same as being fearful.


This fear spreads into the fibres of society, affecting not only this cultural moment but the ones that the next generation get infected by. If we allow our response to be driven by reactive fear, rather than by proactive faith, then we read Romans 12:2 (“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”) and ignore it or tick it off our Bible plan, rather than allowing it to transform us wholeheartedly.


Social media has caused us problems. For example, with our increased dependence on technology our desire for instant gratification has increased. Think about it. How long are you happy to wait for a cup of tea or coffee? How do you feel when a payment doesn't automatically go through? How do you feel when your Zoom meeting suddenly buffers? If you feel even a tiny bit of anger or frustration then you have been impacted by technology, like the rest of us.


However, let's look at what social media has enabled. The Gospel has travelled further across the globe than ever before. Young people have been ministered to at their level more than ever before, opening up genuine conversations about the reality of life. Churches have moved to being able to evangelise on a greater platform. Yes, it comes with the payoff which we need to be aware of – but look at church history. Growth comes with battles, change comes with struggles. Yes, our vigilance is key, not because of fear but because of faith. We need to educate the next generation to take this on.


I do not want to give the classic response – "Therefore use social media to spread Jesus." Though evangelism should be in all that we do, I often find this response to be either naïve to the means or verging on Bible bashing. What I see when I look at how Jesus responded to his cultural moments is that He was culturally aware, but not culturally defined. His response shows us not to shy away from the topic or reactively respond but to tackle head on the cultural concern with great faith and discernment. Look at who Jesus often hung around with, look at His teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, look at how He reconciles Zacchaeus, look at His response when Mary Magdalene breaks oil over his feet. Of course Jesus knew the cultural response, but He was never defined by it.


Therefore, let's be educated but not swayed. Should we delete our social media accounts? Well, my response is the same as for every other aspect of life that comes close to the line of temptation, like drinking or shopping or over indulging in exercise. If it has become an idol for you, yes, get rid of it! Not because of fear but by grace so that it doesn't rob you of the relational depth we find in Christ! However if it is manageable for you and you aren't tempted by the use of it or swayed by it, then just be aware. Get Galatians 5 written on your heart to make sure the flesh doesn't take over, but the relational depth in Christ allows the fruit of the Spirit to pour out as we discuss these subjects, educating not just ourselves but the next generation.


When we are faced with social and technological changes or trends, let’s not shut down because it's foreign and scary, but do the research and be aware. Of course my desire is that our young people wouldn’t be influenced by social media, because I want them to find their fulfilment in Christ. However, if I need to talk about social media to get them there then I'm learning to be culturally aware but not culturally defined, to help urge them on that journey to find the King who they can read all about on the internet.


Be aware of #TheSocialDilemma

Be focused on #TheGloriousSaviour