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What Is the Church's Role in Digital Self-Control?

John Stonestreet and Jared Hayden | BreakPoint, BreakPoint | Updated: Feb 21, 2024
What Is the Church's Role in Digital Self-Control?

What Is the Church's Role in Digital Self-Control?

BreakPoint.org

In a rare moment of bipartisanship, senators on both sides of the aisle have agreed that social media is not safe for teens and that it’s time for the government to do something about it. Public concern about social media’s ill effects, especially on the mental health of teenagers, has been growing for years.  

In 2018, sociologist Jean Twenge exposed that teens’ mental health has been in steep decline since 2012, the first year that the majority of Americans owned smartphones. In 2021, a series of articles in The Wall Street Journal exposed that Instagram fueled body image issues and suicidal ideation and that Facebook, despite knowing this, failed to do anything about it. That same year, a Congressional hearing featuring Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen focused on these harms. 

In another congressional hearing last week called “Big Tech and the Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” lawmakers pulled no punches. “You have blood on your hands,” Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said to the social media CEOs present at the hearing. And, at a post-hearing event at the Heritage Foundation, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) observed: 

For years, big tech companies have made empty promises about how they are going to address this rampant abuse, this malicious content, and the criminal activity that is on their platforms. What we have found out is, Big Tech is incapable of policing themselves. They’re incapable of putting together best practices, and they’re incapable of implementing that. They would rather go make money.  

Various members of the Senate judiciary committee have introduced a number of bipartisan bills, each aimed at instituting a duty of care for social media companies to prevent and mitigate harm to minors. These bills would allow users to opt out of the platform’s algorithms and would require mandatory third-party annual audits to ensure that the platforms are carrying out these duties.  

Though every citizen should be wary of expanded government oversight, the conservative and libertarian commentators who have criticized lawmakers’ plans to regulate Big Tech as a threat to freedom is missing something essential about freedom. Near the end of his life, Chuck Colson often asked audiences, “Can freedom survive where virtue isn’t able to flourish?” The answer, of course, is absolutely not. 

The darker impulses of human beings must be restrained one way or another. If citizens cannot govern themselves by self-discipline, a well-formed conscience, and a robust civil society, they must be governed by external forces, typically the state. The American model has historically deferred to the internal capacities of self-government. However, when companies and individuals either do not or cannot govern themselves when they cannot resist the impulse to exploit others or say no to disordered passions, it is the responsibility of the government to step in.  

Such is the current state of social media. Big Tech has failed to prioritize the safety of its users, especially minors who, legally speaking, are not fully capable of governing themselves. Of course, it is the parents who hold the primary responsibility of protecting minors. However, when it comes to the seemingly unstoppable force of online influences, parents also need Big Tech to do far more. 

Of course, too many parents have failed to govern themselves and their homes when it comes to social media and the internet. As with teens, a mom’s mental health can strain under the constant pressure to curate “perfect” family pictures. Too many dads are as addicted to endless scrolling on Twitter or YouTube as their teens are.  

Given the potential harm for all involved, state regulation is more than justified. At the same time, families simply cannot wait for the government or tech companies to act. Families who want true freedom—both from the harms of social media and government micromanagement and for the kind of flourishing possible for young people—will need to cultivate the virtue that self-governing requires, both on and off the screen. 

In this digital age (and any age), the support of another pre-political institution is also required. Churches must catechize Christians into the practices of digital self-control and create communities where families can be supported in dialing back the reach of today’s technology. Without this virtue and support, both our kids and our freedoms may be lost. 

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Jared Hayden. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org. 

Photo Courtesy: © Unsplash/Rodion Kutsaev
Publish Date: February 21, 2024

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.


BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can't find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.



What Is the Church's Role in Digital Self-Control?