It is not technology that determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart ...
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With the exception perhaps of hermits, almost everyone has some form of social media these days. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn and other social media are all wonderful ways to connect with friends and family, make new friends, and learn from one another. They are also great ways to spread the Gospel to many people around the world.
But social media does not always have a positive impact on our lives. We all know what it feels like when social media, or more accurately other people on social media, are driving us absolutely crazy. If we let social media control us, it can negatively impact us spiritually and emotionally. For this reason, it is really important to guard our hearts and to thoughtfully and carefully participate online.
Here are some tips to help you enjoy social media but also to find greater balance and peace in your online life:
1. Don’t follow angry people: Don’t fill your head with posts and comments from people who attack others, are consistently pessimistic, provoking, angry, or divisive, or whose views often lack compassion, nuance, or thoughtfulness. You don’t need people like that in your online life, or your real life for that matter.
2. Choose inspiring, holy people to follow: Follow people whose posts regularly reveal the fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. Strive also in your own posting to ask for the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and guidance.
3. Log off when necessary: When you feel your heart rate go up—log off. And consider unfollowing the people whose posts consistently cause you to feel desolation, anger, hopelessness, or unnecessary anxiety.
4. Before responding to someone who is angering you, take at least a moment or better an hour or a day before responding. If you feel you have to respond immediately, get up and walk around, breathe in and out slowly 10 times, and ask the Holy Spirit to inspire your reply.
5. Don’t beat yourself up: We all mess up. When you respond to someone with unnecessary anger, apologize, go to confession, and do what you need to do to make it right. But then don’t continually think back to the scenario and play it over in your head. That’s unhelpful. Take a few days off from social media and when you return, avoid people and sites that are a temptation to sin.
6. Take breaks: Be sure to schedule in extended breaks from social media. Not just a few days or a weekend, but stay off for over a week at least once a year. Also, consider taking mini-breaks during the day. Have “blackout times” every day, whether it is in the early morning or right before bed. Really make an effort to stick to these times and you will see it helps with your peace, creativity, and real life relationships.
7. Don’t tell yourself stories: It’s impossible to guess other peoples’ intentions in real life and even more difficult online. Don’t imagine the context of what someone has said in an effort to argue with them or make sense of abusive behavior. Most of the time, we have no idea why someone is saying or doing something inappropriate online. Sometimes it’s just best to ignore, block, or mute without trying to guess what’s going on.
8. Control time spent online: More and more studies point to the addictive qualities of social media. For this reason, we can’t always trust our self-discipline to help us to log off. Apps like Stay Focused, Freedom, and others can not only track time spent online but prevent us from logging on after our time is up. These apps are good investments if you notice addictive behavior in your social media use.
9. Trust your gut: If you get a strange message, friend request, or comment from someone online, trust your first instinct. When you get a feeling that you should not respond—don’t. You have no obligation to interact with every person online who wants to interact with you. Silence is your best friend online. Say a prayer for the person and move on.
10. Put holiness first: Ask God to help you to post and use social media in a way that will help you to become holier. Before you post, ask yourself, “Is this who God wants me to be? Is this how God wants me to act?” If not, delete and go on with your day.
Social media is a gift from God but we must strive to use it only in a way that is good for us emotionally and spiritually and that will lead us to holiness.
Pope Francis once wrote, “Social networks [can] be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology that determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.”
Let’s pray for one another and encourage wise and healthy social media use with our own good example.
“The Friendship Project”: Going beyond the virtual to find real friends-in-faith