Are We Building One Another Up in Social Media?

I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed recently and realized that I know very little about the people I’m friends with in social media. I don’t seek out Facebook friends I haven’t known personally, but since I’m a writer and connected to other writers, I will get a few new friend requests a week from fellow Catholics. I don’t mind and I’ve added quite a few of these people, but I’m also selective since I actually share posts about my life, my family, and my daughter.

The original idea behind websites like Facebook or the now defunct MySpace, was the opportunity to connect with other people. To catch up with long lost friends from decades prior. Since I served in the military, I literally know people who live across the globe, so it has been nice to see what people are up to these days decades later.

The problem I now see is that rather than social media being a place to connect with others, it’s devolved into a constant stream of political posts. Our identity and our lives are not predominately political, regardless of what our culture tells us. Politics play an essential role in promoting the common good and we should stay informed and work to overcome injustice, but it in no way makes up the vast majority of our lives unless we actually work in politics.

My Facebook newsfeed is a war of constant opposing political posts. I myself have joined the American Solidarity Party and I rarely post anything political anymore. I use to, all of the time, and I lost friends for it. I understand why now. It’s not so much that we had differing views. It’s the fact that 10 years ago when I worked in politics, it was all I posted. All I would share is my political ideology, and I was an ideologue.

A lot of people who send me friend requests–like me years ago–largely only posts political posts. I must admit I groan a little bit. When a new outrage wagon comes rolling into town, my newsfeed explodes and I usually have to walk away until it’s gone. It makes social media miserable to only see my friends and family posting their competing narratives while those of us who tend to take a more middle-of-the-road approach are attacked from both sides. Regardless of what folks claim, there is no political party in the U.S. that conforms fully to Catholic Social Teaching. That means there’s no Catholic party. People are free to argue conscience and their views, but no one can claim their party is Catholic, even if abortion is the supreme human rights issue of our day.

I enjoy discussing current events and many of my posts are related to what is going on in the Church, but I also post a lot of satire because we need more levity in a polarized digital age. More than anything, I try to share what is going on in my life both in the day-to-day and spiritually. I’m a Catholic writer, so the spiritual life is the most important thing to me other than my family. I share the good and the bad.

Since most of my Facebook friends focus solely on politics or current events, I know absolutely nothing about their lives. All I know is what political party they are affiliated with. It seems to me that this flies in the face of the whole point of connecting with other people. Shared interests are one thing, but complete tunnel vision and focus on one topic makes it very difficult to connect with other people on anything other than a superficial level. Often we use social media to be a reflection of our own political beliefs, rather than using it to learn more about other people or to connect with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I always find it interesting when someone finally posts a personal post, usually a prayer request, and they put in “I rarely do this, but I need prayers.” Since when is requesting prayers from the Mystical Body supposed to be rare? Why do we view prayer as a burden? It’s the most real thing that a person may post. It’s a reminder that there is a living, breathing person made imago Dei behind the posts. Why should relying on one another be rare? Why does social media need to be a constant stream of current affairs and political fights? It’s a tool that can be used for so much good.

When I started sharing my family’s struggles with others and requesting prayers things changed for us. I’m convinced the prayers of my friends in social media, my parish, and elsewhere were the reason my husband was diagnosed quickly and he’s still here. We are the Mystical Body. We are meant to lift one another up.

Why is asking for prayers considered shameful? In our weakness we are made strong according to St. Paul. Showing that we are human and struggling with the afflictions of this life is a witness to the need for Christ and one another. It shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment or seen as a burden to others. We can’t go it alone. That’s one of the major lessons of the spiritual life. I’d rather know more about what is going on in someone’s life than read 15 political posts from them.

Part of the reason we are becoming more divided and polarized is because we no longer view social media as a place to connect with others. Instead, it’s becoming our own individual sounding board where we can throw out our political beliefs at high speed. Have any of us changed someone’s mind through all of these posts? I never have. I never did back in the days when that was what I mainly posted.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing them and engaging in debate. My concern is simply that all I see are political posts. I know nothing about most of the people who have requested my friendship on social media. So I guess the question would be: why do you want to be friends with me on social media or anyone else for that matter? I ignore the vast majority of political posts in my newsfeed and I head straight for theology, Church news, the outdoors, or satire. Are we building community or are we simply adding to a list? It’s worth considering. And for the record, I’m happy to pray for you anytime.

Featured image taken from Wiki Commons.

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