Social Media 2.0?

What are Christians to Make of the Twitter Takeover?

It’s official. Elon Musk has reportedly bought Twitter and plans to take control of the digital communications platform. People across the political spectrum are having a heyday with the news, with several big-name progressives vowing to leave the platform while formerly censored conservatives are hoping for a Twitter more conducive to free speech.

Musk’s intention to buy Twitter surfaced less than a month ago when the SpaceX and Tesla CEO expressed concerns over how the company has been handling users who dissent from the far-left status quo. Starting most infamously with the suspension of Donald Trump’s account in 2021, Twitter has now suspended many more users simply for expressing disagreement with woke ideology. Musk, apparently, has had enough, and has chosen to use his wealth to make a profound ideological point: free speech matters.

Whether you’re a fan of Musk or not, it’s impressive that he has paid such a sum to acquire a business that isn’t necessarily a financial asset for him. Musk seems more interested in utilizing Twitter’s potential for free speech and public discourse than he is in making money. (We all know Tesla’s his cash cow!) Perhaps he envisions Twitter as a sort of democratic mechanism we can all take part in without fear of being silenced by company executives. With all the conservatives and non-conformers who have gotten cancelled and suspended as a result of standing up to certain harmful ideologies, Musk’s intervention could be a sign that Big Tech censorship is finally being dealt a fatal blow. I hope Musk can make Twitter better for that purpose. However, we may not want to celebrate too quickly over Musk’s victory. Social media has deeper problems than censorship.

Social Media, Social Breakdown

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s newest article in The Atlantic, Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid, details how social media’s problems run far deeper than issues of censorship. Haidt credits social media for the radical tribalism and fruitless culture wars that have marked American life for the last ten years, likening our current state to the tower of Babel in the Genesis story. For those unfamiliar with the story, people try to build a tower to heaven. But God confuses their language, and they can’t make any more progress on their project (Gen. 11).

Haidt uses this as a metaphor for the fragmentation of modern American life, noting how, through these digitally mediated platforms, we don’t know how to talk to each other anymore. We all speak in different tongues. Confirmation bias rules out thinking, disables dialogue, and, worst of all, causes everyone to think they have nothing in common—not even nationality. People are living on their own tribalized planets, and truth, goodness, and beauty are forgotten in the heat of the rage.

Others have sounded the alarm along with Haidt. Tristan Harris, former Google employee, saw how Big Tech companies like Facebook and Twitter were taking advantage of our psychological tendency to be attracted to clickbait, even if the content is misleading or downright false. What matters is how much time you spend on their sites, and what’s going to keep you scrolling. Sadly, because we are fallen human beings in need of a Savior, we gravitate to content that sparks outrage and organizes us into warring tribes. This, according to Haidt’s analysis, is among the chief reasons we’re where we are today. Through social media algorithms, human sinfulness has been inflamed and weaponized in a whole new way.

So, while I respect Musk’s move to acquire Twitter to amend its bad policies and management style, I hope he thinks long and hard about how to address its more pervasive issues. Social media is in desperate need of reform, but more importantly, its users (us) are in need of redemption from what the Bible calls the “passions of the flesh.”

Redeeming Speech

The creators of social media simply capitalized on the fallenness of human beings. But, while this broken world glories in its warfare and divisions, vying for power at all costs, Christ offers reconciliation and peace. In Ephesians, St. Paul writes, “And he came and preached peace to those who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:17-18).

In this age of faction and hatred, even within so many churches, perhaps the Body of Christ can demonstrate all the more what it means to live in harmony with each other, speaking the truth in love, and hoping for a healthy protection of free speech during our time on this earth.

Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.

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