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The Pervasiveness of Social Media in Our Lives

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Wednesday, April 20, 2022
The Pervasiveness of Social Media in Our Lives

The Pervasiveness of Social Media in Our Lives


“Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Russia ratcheted up its battle for control of Ukraine’s eastern heartland yesterday.

Russian forces seized the city of Kreminna, which appears to be the first city confirmed to have fallen since Vladimir Putin’s forces launched a “new phase of war.” As Russia continues to attack the port city of Mariupol, Ukraine is planning this morning to evacuate around six thousand women, children, and elderly people. The Pentagon estimates that Russia has already sent eleven more battalion tactical groups into Ukraine and has tens of thousands more in reserve north of Ukraine who are being resupplied and readied to join the war.

In other geopolitical news, Iran’s president warned that it will target “the heart” of Israel if the Jewish state makes the “slightest move” against his country. This after Iran accused Israel of “Zionist” aggression following a clash between Palestinians and Israelis at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque last Friday. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp also promised a “new wave” of support for Palestinians rising up against Israel.

And more than forty people were arrested in Sweden following violent clashes between police and people angry at plans by a far-right group to burn copies of the Qur’an. Following Sunday’s clashes, Sweden’s national police chief said he had never seen such violent riots. More than two hundred people have been involved in the violence; twenty-six police officers and fourteen members of the public have been injured and more than twenty vehicles have been damaged or destroyed.

Vladimir Putin dreams of rebuilding the Russian Empire as a modern-day Peter the Great. Iran believes that the state of Israel is a “theft” of land from its rightful Palestinian owners and thus an attack on Islam. Swedish street violence is pitting people against each other over ideologies.

As John F. Kennedy observed, “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”

The threat of artificial intelligence

Yesterday we began discussing Jonathan Haidt’s illuminating Atlantic article analyzing the impact of social media on our culture. He notes the degree to which “a democracy depends on widely internalized acceptance of the legitimacy of rules, norms, and institutions” and shows how social media is undermining such acceptance as polarizing and often false content becomes increasingly pervasive and influential.

Haidt believes that as corrosive and damaging to our culture as social media is now, its future effects will be far worse. He warns that “artificial intelligence is close to enabling the limitless spread of highly believable disinformation.” He cites the AI program GPT-3, which is “already so good that you can give it a topic and a tone and it will spit out as many essays as you like, typically with perfect grammar and a surprising level of coherence.” Then he notes, “In a year or two, when the program is upgraded to GPT-4, it will become far more capable.”

Deep-fake videos, images, and text will “quickly become inconceivably easy” as a result. American factions and adversaries such as Russia’s Internet Research Agency and terrorist groups will be able to use this technology to polarize our society and spread distrust.

The consequences for our children are especially damaging. As Haidt notes, they are “less likely to arrive at a coherent story of who we are as a people, and less likely to share any such story with those who attended different schools or who were educated in a different decade.” They are growing up in a world with no objective norms, no north on the compass, and only the applause or opprobrium of their social media friends for moral guidance.

Four reasons for adolescent depression

The World Health Organization notes that depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders are “among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.” Four forces are especially propelling the rising rates of depression among young people today:

  • Social media use subjecting teenagers to the judgment of friends, teachers, and the digital crowd
  • A decline in sociality as today’s teens spend less time with their friends or playing youth sports
  • News about the world’s stresses such as gun violence, climate change, and the divisive political environment
  • Modern parenting strategies that accommodate children rather than helping them cope with their challenges.

Each of these forces is related in some way to Haidt’s fears regarding the pervasiveness and corrosiveness of social media in contemporary culture. (For more, see Mark Legg’s helpful article, “Why are teens sadder, lonelier, and more depressed than ever before?“)

Here’s another consequence: as social media use has risen, the religious affiliation of eighteen to thirty-five-year-olds has plummeted. In 1998, 73 percent of this demographic claimed to be Christians; today the number has fallen below 50 percent.

How can Christians respond biblically and redemptively?

Every Paul needs a Timothy

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville noted, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” As faith declines, so will consensual morality and ultimately the liberty that depends upon it.

Paul’s admonition to Timothy has never been more urgent than it is today: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). “Entrust” means to “pass along” in the sense of passing a baton. “Able” means “equipped and strengthened.” If Timothy will pass forward the truth of Scripture to those who will in turn pass it on to others, the Christian movement will continue and will multiply. Otherwise, it will die.

This is because God has no grandchildren. Christianity is always one generation from extinction. What Timothy and others of his generation did to promote and perpetuate the faith enabled the kingdom to advance across the ages to you and me.

Now it’s our turn. Every mature Christian needs to mentor someone who will continue the mission after their kingdom assignment is completed.

Every Paul needs a Timothy, and every Timothy needs a Paul.

Which is true for you today?

NOTE: When will the next Great Awakening occur? History records four notable ones from the 1730s to the early 1900s. Isn’t it time for another? In the latest book from Denison Forum, my son Ryan Denison describes these Awakenings and the role each of us may play in bringing about the next Great Awakening. I encourage you to request your copy of How to Bless God by Blessing Others today to learn more.

Publication date: April 20, 2022

Photo courtesy: ©Dole/Unsplash 

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

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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