Christianity & Social Media: The Questionable Narrative of Breaking Free

Travis Burchart
14 min readJan 18, 2024

Reagan Rose — a/k/a Redeeming Productivity — has quit social media:

I Changed My Mind About Social Media: Why I Decided to Quit[2]

I have no issue with quitting. For some, social media can be dangerous … the same as driving (too fast), eating (too much), or politics (too angry). Rose, at first, admits that social media is a “for some” issue, not an epidemic issue:

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that every believer must quit social media. My situation may be different than yours.[3]

However, this feels like a red hearing in light of the other things he says:

I consider this choice more of a matter of wisdom and conviction rather than sin.

(Interpretation: Wise people quit social media.)

I did come to this decision as a Christian, which is to say though there are many reasons people may choose to quit social media.

(Interpretation: Quitting social media is a “Christian’s” decision.)

I was driven to this primarily by biblical principles and a desire to run the race faithfully, “laying aside every weight” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

(Interpretation: Social media and biblical principles don’t mix.)

So yeah, he says “Not every believer must quit social media,” but those who don’t quit are (it would seem) potentially unwise, un-Christian, and unbiblical.

When “One” Becomes “Everyone”

My issue, as mentioned above, isn’t about quitting social media. My issue is this:

1. Despite Rose’s caveat (i.e., this is just about me), his condemnation is about everyone, and;

2. It’s hypocritical to quit social media as a “matter of wisdom” but not quit everything else (as Rose points out, we are to lay “aside every weight” (Hebrews 12:1–2)).

Rose quits social media,[4] and in doing so, he discusses the “five ways I found social media to be a hindrance to my faithfulness.” Again, he personalizes and limits these hindrances with the caveat “at least for me.” Here’s how he puts it:

These are the five ways I found social media to be a hindrance to my faithfulness. And why I concluded that, at least for me, these costs outweighed all of the potential benefits of staying on social media.

But are these hindrances truly “for me” or are they offered up as something broader … as a global condemnation against social media? It feels like the latter as Rose subtly lumps all social media use into a singular and universal experience. He asserts:[5]

· Social media is an enemy of focus by design.

· The constant barrage of negative news stories exhausted my empathy.

· Social media platforms are designed[6] to addict.[7]

· Social media is a hotbed of all manner of temptations to sin.

· Social media favors the ephemeral over the eternal. And it trains you to dwell on the trivial instead of the lasting.

Of course, these things “can be” true, but they are not factually nor automatically true. For many Christians, the distractions are minimal, the positive news is enlightening, the influence is weak, the temptations are ignored, the trivial is fleeting. For many Christians, social media is not the picture that Rose paints:

[T]he biggest discouragements on social media for me turned out to be from other believers. The constant infighting, gossip, slander, and pugnaciousness I saw on Twitter were especially exhausting. You have pastors and aspiring pastors saying things on social media daily that ought to disqualify them from ministry.

One has to ask “Is this the Christian norm on social media … i.e., ‘constant infighting, gossip, slander, and pugnaciousness’”? As a believer who works in social media, I’ve definitely seen this, but I’ve seen more of the opposite … more love, encouragement, kindness, and unity.[8]

Moreover, infighting, gossip, slander, and pugnaciousness aren’t limited to the digital world; they’re a reflection of our communities, our relationships, and (sometimes) even our churches. Acting like it’s a social media thing suffers from tunnel vision; it’s a denial of our everyday selves.

A Selectivity of Vices

For me, I take comfort in the difficulty of my beliefs. One of my favorite Bible verses is Jesus’ retort to Thomas:

Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. — John 20:29

Faith — by definition — is to question, to struggle, to wonder, always returning to the blessing of and belief in Christ. It can be difficult to trust in the unseen; for me, it’s comforting that Jesus acknowledges this. As with belief, it is also difficult to live as Christians … specifically “good” Christians. In one direction, we might lean into the good, but in a different direction, we might linger in the bad. This is fertile ground for hypocrisy.

As Rose notes, he quit social media, driven “primarily by biblical principles and a desire to run the race faithfully, ‘laying aside every weight’ (Hebrews 12:1–2).” But biblical principles also acknowledge the great difficulty we face (as imperfect humans) in laying aside “every” weight:

The eye never has enough of seeing,

Nor the ear its fill of hearing.

… there is nothing new under the sun. — Ecclesiastes 1:8–9

The command to lay “aside every weight” requires both an acknowledgement of and a commitment to all the “weights” of the world. If social media is such a weight, then (speaking broadly) so are sports, politics,[9] television, movies,[10] work, books,[11] music, video games, etc. Painting with a broad brush, as Rose does, all of these things can be condemned as:

· An enemy of focus by design.

· A constant barrage of the negative.

· Designed to addict.

· A hotbed of all manner of temptations to sin.

· Training you to dwell on the trivial instead of the lasting.

Moreover (from Ecclesiastes) we know that 1) today’s “weights” are nothing new, and 2) humans can never get enough/never get their fill. In terms of “weights,” social media is merely the flavor of the month. In Rose’s case, giving up social media is offered as a gateway to running “the race faithfully.” But isn’t history rife with obstacles against our faith? Novels have long distracted from the Bible. The NFL has long distracted from Sunday worship. Politics have long distracted from loving thy neighbor. So, nothing new.

And then there’s this: After social media, what is Rose retaining that prevents him from still running “the race faithfully”? As Ecclesiastes makes clear, humans can never get their fill of distractions … even humans who give up social media. All this to say, Rose isn’t necessarily sterilizing himself against the digital world and all its distractions. While he condemns social media broadly (despite wording things personally), his YouTube and podcast are both still active; they seem to get a free pass.

There’s hypocrisy in condemning Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while still posting YouTube videos and podcasts. If we’re going to use Rose’s reasoning, YouTube/podcasts, like social media, can be:

· An enemy of focus by design.

· A constant barrage of the negative.

· Designed to addict.

· A hotbed of all manner of temptations to sin.

· Training you to dwell on the trivial instead of the lasting.

Rose’s rebuttal might have something to do with the content he’s sharing. The argument might go like this: one need not lay aside the “weight” of YouTube/podcasts if the sharing is biblical and spiritual. However, when it comes to social media, Rose disregards this argument:

Some of the books I read from Christian authors examining the problems with social media, usually included a caveat saying Christians have a responsibility to be on these platforms. But the more I read these arguments, the less I agreed with them. [emphasis added]

If the argument “Christians have a responsibility to be on these platforms” doesn’t hold water for social media, the same holds true for other digital (distracting, negative, addictive, sinful, trivial) media … i.e., YouTube and podcasts.

The Subtlety of Judgment

I feel like I’m being too harsh. Maybe I am. Admittedly, Rose attempts to qualify his social media quitting as his and his alone. However, either consciously or subconsciously, he makes it about everyone. Saying “My situation may be different than yours” doesn’t mean you believe this deep down. Yes, Rose is careful to speak of “his” situation, but in doing so, he often implies that social media is everyone’s demon … i.e., it is [my, your, their] enemy of focus, positivity, freedom, values, and depth.

My response is to remind Rose that “my situation may be different than yours” … that while he may be susceptible to social’s entrapments, many Christians are not. One man’s story is still one man’s story. Rose’s story doesn’t change the fact that there are many social media Christians who — everyday — live a different story … one where [me, you, they] are capable enough to avoid any “hindrance” to faith.

[1] Despite the cartoonist’s attempts, Twitter isn’t everyone’s idol … some yes, but not all. For example, my time spent on Twitter pales in comparison to my time watching (worshiping) football. For many American Christians, a star — that of the Dallas Cowboys — sits upon the alter. Forbes (August 2021) reported that the Cowboys had over $800 million in sales. Spent elsewhere, $800 million — i.e., football worship money — could make the world a much better place. Used elsewhere, the hours spent watching the Cowboys play — i.e., football worship time — could make the world a much better place. And let’s not forget the intense hatred generated by football; “love thy neighbor” gets trampled when Dallas fans insult, disparage, belittle, and fight Philadelphia fans (and vice versa).

[2] I’ve long had a problem with “quitting” articles. In Regan’s case, he’s trying to convey personal wisdom, but he stumbles by broadly condemning social media. Regardless, “quitting” stories are often look-at-me-writing, the content equivalent to gym selfies. They appear to convey substance (e.g., “I quite coffee and this happened”), but they also stink of criticism and judgment. Moreover, they neglect to mention that those who quit coffee (or whichever vice you choose) still drink soda and alcohol, still eat burgers and fries, still waste time and money … i.e., the vices that you’ve personally conquered.

[3] Rose’s view of social media is both overly simplified and overly myopic. He reduces it to a series of imprisonments (distractions and addictions) and repulsions (negative, tempting, and trivial). True for some but not for everyone. More importantly, what he doesn’t acknowledge is that social is still a community and is still “social.” Detractors like to bemoan the fall of “social” in social media; however, it’s still there — alive and well — even if “social” isn’t the “everything” of social media. For example, a pastry chef in my town recently asked (on Facebook) if people would help clear her inventory before a snowstorm hit. My community responded (I bought 6 croissants), and five hours later, there was this from the chef:

Hey everyone thanks for helping us sell out. It’s snowing now so stay safe out there! See you Tuesday morning!

It’s a small story and a small win, but it reflects the “social” power of social media across thousands of communities and thousands of posts. This happens every day, all the time, to millions of people … none of it negative, tempting, or trivial. It also highlights the fact that detractors like to hype the bad while discounting the good.

[4] Rose spends quite a bit of time talking about his experience in social media. It’s smart writing. Change sells well when there’s a conversion … from liberal to conservative, from adopter to denier, from atheist to Christian (there’s something heroic and authentic in the atheist-to-Christian story of Lee Strobel, author of “The Case for Christ”).

Like Rose, I too am a Christian, and I too have a long history in social media … 13 years to be exact, with 6 of those years working for a growing Christian university. I’m saying this because one expert’s experience (and rejection) will be taken — by many — as bedrock evidence … e.g., “If a social media expert — like Rose — is giving up social media, then social media must be bad!” But I have this same expertise, and while I acknowledge the pitfalls of social media (the same pitfalls found in all technology and media), I can also attest to the positives of social media … the kindness I see in student posts, the messages of faith we share, the connections and support fostered in our student body, the growing support for faith-based education, etc.

[5] It’s a mixed message to say “My situation may be different than yours” but then suggest that every experience is functionally the same because of distractions, negativity, addiction, temptation, and the trivial. It’s similar to the person who says “Giving up red meat was a good decision for me because red meat is always harmful to everyone.”

[6] This is the nefarious “design” argument, which is sometimes proffered as a negative against social media. It prompts me to ask: Aren’t most products (i.e., merchandise/purchases) designed to addict? Isn’t this the strategy/ultimate goal of all successful businesses, corporations, and manufacturers? There’s a reason Kellogg’s adds sugar to cereal … it’s addictive. There’s a reason BMW markets luxury … it’s addictive. There’s a reason McDonalds sells cheap, fast food … it’s addictive.

It’s ridiculous to think that anyone creates products to be “repulsive.” Everyone … from director Christopher Nolan to writer J.K. Rowling to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell … wants you to experience a “dopamine hit.” There’s a reason QVC is fun, bright, and flashy instead of droll, colorless, and subdued … it’s to hook you, addict you, and influence you. It’s the same for Disney, which doesn’t exist for a neutral or benevolent purpose. As a corporation, Disney is dominated by on one strategy and one strategy only … to own your attention, own your children, and own your pocketbook. It’s why they make entertaining movies (dopamine hit), fun merchandise (dopamine hit), and exciting rides (dopamine hit) … all done with the intent to possess your time and money.

[7] “Addiction” is a common (and sometimes valid) criticism of social media. But what does this “addiction” actually look like? About 10% of Americans meet the criteria for social media addiction; so 1 in 10 or about 33 million out of 330 million people. So this addiction is for a minority, but still, there is an addiction for some. That said, what does this addiction look like compared to other addictions:

· Exercise addiction has a 3–7% prevalence among regular exercisers with higher rates among elite athletes.

· About 8% of caffeine users meet the diagnostic criteria for caffeine use disorder.

· Research has shown that 25 percent of runners are addicted to exercise, compared to 0.3 percent of the rest of the population.

· Approximately 75% of Americans eat excess amounts of sugar — many of whom could be classified as having a sugar addiction. Some studies have suggested that sugar is as addictive as cocaine.

· A 2003 study showed that as many as one-third (i.e., 33%) of the general public may experience celebrity worship on a borderline pathological level.

· Shopping addiction has a lifetime prevalence of 5.8% in the US general population. A survey conducted at several American universities found that up to 12% of college students may have shopping addiction symptoms.

· Approximately 6% to 8% of U.S. adults could be classified as addicted to sex. This could be up to 24 million people.

· Some numbers suggest that food may be as addictive as drugs, and in some cases more so. One study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that, when the definition of addiction is explained to obese or overweight subjects, up to 29% of them describe themselves as addicted to food. That takes its toll: more than 40% of Americans who are obese and the overall 71.6% who are overweight — which suggests at the very least an unhealthy dependency on food is common in the U.S.

· In the U.S., an estimated 2.3% of people will experience OCD in their lifetimes. Of this percentage, as many as 33% will experience scrupulosity (i.e., religious obsession) specifically.

Yes, social media can be addictive; this is a danger that should be acknowledged. BUT this is a danger only for some (statistically, a few). AND this danger looks statically similar to the many addictions we navigate (but rarely lecture about) every day.

[8] There’s a lazy cliché that young people use social media for shallow, silly, tasteless things. While there’s some truth to any cliché, there’s also a degree of absurdity. I’ve worked at a Christian university for 6 years, and more often than not, the students share about their lives, their friends, and their faith. The negative and sinful (as Rose describes it) exists elsewhere. And while students can sometimes be trivial (and we are all entitled to the trivial from time to time), the things they share can also be “lasting” (as Rose puts it), inspiring, and profound.

[9] Much of the vitriol on social media surrounds sports and politics. But what causes this vitriol: the medium or the subject? Put another way, would social media be a better technology if we simply banned divisive subjects (i.e., politics and sports)? In a way, James Madison answers this. In 1787, Madison didn’t know about social media, but he knew about the danger of factions:

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. [emphasis added] So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. — Federalist Papers №10 (1787)

[10] It’s easy to rant against social media, and then, without thinking about it, watch a good movie, never acknowledging the powerful influence (good and bad) movies have on us. In his book You Are What You Watch, Walt Hickey says:

Time is a limited commodity to humans and therefore valuable, and media consumption is but a single use of it. There are situations where the time spent on media is better than the alternative …. Conversely, there are surely situations where time spent on media is worse than the alternative ….

We know that media can change or reinforce people’s views based on their preconceptions and affinities for the views espoused, [sic] and make those inclinations stronger and more animated. We also know that consuming media takes time. That time can be spent on other things, but when you are sitting idly, being catered to, you cannot actually do those things.

This view applies to all media … social media, movies, YouTube videos, podcasts, etc. One cannot pigeonhole social media (that’s hypocrisy); it’s all media or nothing.

[11] Rose quits social media in order to lay “aside every weight” (Hebrews 12:1–2). But he embraces the weight of books when he says:

I think it was reading Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism in 2019 that first got me thinking seriously about quitting social media.

I’ve never read “Digital Minimalism,” but I’ve read Newport’s “Deep Work,” which “at least for me” is a terrible book. As a self-help book (and waste of time), it’s full of filler stories, recycled suggestions, and pop culture magic (e.g., it champions the overly cited and overly simplified Pareto principle/80–20 rule). The point here is threefold:

· My experience with Cal Newport is different than Rose’s, the same way his social media experience is different than mine.

· The laying aside of weight should — theoretically — include non-Christian/self-help books, which often train “you to dwell on the trivial instead of the lasting.”

· “Weight” is a case-by-case issue. For example, one man’s weight (Cal Newport books) might very well be another man’s insight. Regardless of what someone writes, “weight” is not so simple to define, though many attempt to define it with generalizations, personal opinions, and sweeping indictments.

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Travis Burchart

Social media expert, higher education advocate, writer, Founding Fathers fan, lawyer in a past life