Social Media, Identity, and the Church

Social Media, Identity, and the Church By Timothy Keller for Life in the Gospel

GNN Note – Tim Keller has spoken a lot on a topic that is near and dear to us – Christ identity. He spends time discussing finding it, keeping it and living life through it. /END

Recently I was in a Zoom forum of journalists and academics who were discussing the increasing polarization of American culture. At one point a male speaker said, “If I wanted to invent a public forum that would undermine civil discourse and lead to social division, I couldn’t do a better job than to create Twitter.” A respected woman journalist, who had been working for nearly a year to understand how social media worked, agreed with him.

I believe they are right. But I don’t see social media going away, either, because it has enormous benefits, too. It is also deeply embedded in the psyches especially of the young. So Christians can’t ignore it, and most of all we need to begin to understand it.

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One book that will be useful for that purpose is Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing by Chris Bail (Princeton, 2021). This is not a religious book—it is a work of social science. (Bail is professor of sociology at Duke University.) But its findings can be significant for how Christians conduct themselves and consume social media. And, indeed, many of his final principles for “a way forward” align with Christian ethics. Here’s what we can learn from the book.

Echo chambers aren’t the problem.

Bail starts with the problem of social and political polarization and asks how social media contributes to it. The common answer is that algorithms keep us in ‘echo chambers’ or ‘bubbles’ where we only hear news and opinions from our own side, and this drives division and extremism. But Bail points to research showing that, on the contrary, daily exposure to opposing political and cultural views (and not just to the nasty, caustic versions of those views) only makes people stronger in their views or even more extreme. People who regularly listened to the opposite opinions did not adjust their views and become more balanced or moderate because for many people social media has become a place where they are curating a self. And therefore they see opposing views as attacks on their identity (31).

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