We live in a world controlled by algorithms.
Invisible lines of codes rank, organize and choose which kinds of content we can actually consume. Netflix uses them to display lists of movies while you browse their catalog. Google uses them to select what links show up first when you search for something. Amazon uses them to sell you more stuff.
And Facebook uses them to select which conversations to display most prominently in your feeds.
Though these algorithms are tightly controlled—and are purposefully difficult for users to understand (and try to manipulate)—there is one thing we do know about the Facebook algorithm: It favors engaging content and conversations.
And, on a platform where every action is measured and analyzed, things that makes something “engaging,” is actual engagement from users. The amount of likes, interactions, comments and shares can propel semi-private posts into viral public forums of debate.
These algorithms have made it more important than ever for Christians to understand the power of their words—and realize what Jesus meant when He said that people will know who His disciples are by the way they love.
Social media, has, in many ways, changed the way we communicate. By taking the ability to talk with groups of people from face-to-face interactions to digital, mostly written discussions, it’s reshaped how people exchange ideas.
Aside from little, cartoony representations of emotions, there really isn’t an effective way to use body language. Because we’re reading someone’s words instead of hearing them, tone is nearly impossible to accurately convey.
Here, the words themselves have more power.
But, perhaps most significantly, it frees people from the social norms of in-person interactions: There are no uncomfortable moments of silence, anger and awkwardness when conflict arrises. Arguments can be had in the safety of solitude, while typing away on a phone or computer.
Things you’d never say to someone’s face are commonplace in a comment thread.
But these new emboldened debates have consequences.
Because the kinds of discussions that garner the most response get the most views, it’s typically the most inflammatory content that rises to the top of the feeds: Algorithms ensure that the more controversial or dramatic the post, the more likely it is that people will see it.
In a political season—especially one where many of the candidates themselves haven’t shied away from headline-grabbing rhetoric—these impulses are amplified.
Rants, sound-offs and polarizing opinions are everywhere. But, as Christians, there’s a dangerous risk to personal hot takes.
How Then Shall We Post?
In Galatians 5, Christians are given instructions on how to carry themselves: “
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
It adds …
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
These characteristics are not negotiable. They are evidence of our relationship with Christ.
In Matthew, Jesus tells His followers that the best way to identify false prophets and “ferocious wolves” who disguise themselves in sheep’s clothing, is to look at their “fruit”: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit … Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
The way we carry ourselves, talk to others and treat people matters: It produces the fruit by which we—and our faith—are judged by people from the outside. This fruit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—even in our social media interactions.
Our words shape the perceptions by which others understand what it means to be a Christian. And, because of the nature of social algorithms that reward controversy, our rants can have big consequences, especially when the fruit they bare doesn’t look like the fruit of the Spirit.
When Paul tells Christians to “take captive every thought,” he probably wasn’t thinking about someone firing off a Facebook rant in the heat of a political season, but, the message is the same: Patience is a virtue. Anger can be dangerous. Kindness should not be absent. Joy should be a disposition. Our words should create peace, not strife.
Love conquerors all.
Taking thoughts that are contrary to these values captive, doesn’t mean we don’t have the thoughts; it means we know how to keep them in check, and not just post every passionate thought that comes into our head into a rant.
Facebook is a great place to connect, but when it comes to sharing, sometimes the most engaging content is really the kind that actually bears fruit.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.