Social media is a great thing. It is helps us keep up with the lives of friends and families that we are separated from by distance. It helps us connect to people that we sort of know, but may not have been formally introduced. It helps us monitor breaking news from around the world and from inside our network. It helps us feel like we are an active part of a global family of more than 6 billion brothers and sisters.
Social media also makes us aware of what people are thinking and what they believe about life, politics, sports, and even intimate relationships. For every 100 people we know that practice good social media manners we know one person that whines, moans and complains about the smallest of things. We know someone that is intent on shouting their agenda to people as loudly as possible. We know someone that has very little empathy for anybody or anything and likely aren’t interested in developing any. We know someone that boils our blood every time they post an arrogant statement, a tasteless picture, an insensitive quote, or even a inflaming emoji.
So we unfriend them or we unfollow them. Problem solved. Or is it?
When we unfollow or unfriend someone in silence we may not be doing them any favors. They likely don’t know that we no longer read their posts and assume that we are closely keeping taps on their every thought and word. People who are so clueless about what they say or post are usually equally clueless about what people think about them. It is a matter of lacking self awareness and it oozes throughout every detail of their life. They just don’t get it and likely don’t care to.
So what does it mean to stop following someone?
It may mean…
That the friendship is not deep enough to confront or counsel someone about how they are perceived. (Maybe we need to work to change that.)
That confrontation is not an option and so a careful separation is necessary. (Maybe this says something about how we value perspectives more than people. Think about that one for a minute.)
That being connected to many people is more important than being real with a few. (Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that someone we have never been in the same room with has a different view on politics or faith than we do.)
That people are who they are and there is little hope in their ability to change or get it together. (Maybe believing that people can become self aware is our first hope and prayer before we do anything.)
That conversation is better kept at a safe distance than brought in for a close encounter. (Maybe we a phone call or cup of coffee would be good ways to discuss tension.)
As a leader who works with a very diverse population of people in my church/organization as well as with public stakeholders I am challenged daily about what to do. Who do I ignore? Who do I confront? Who do I write off? Who do I unfriend?
Every Christian should be careful to consider the matter as well. We are called to live together in brotherly/sisterly love, but love doesn’t mean that we ignore bad behavior nor does it mean that we quietly dismiss the person as an unsalvageable social media soul. We don’t just rebuke someone in the name of love with the first thing we think of and we can’t just unplug any remembrance of the person without thought to our role as a witness in their life. And for heaven’s sakes we aren’t the social media police having to argue, confront, debunk every bad thought or word we read online. Sometimes a deep, cleansing breath is what we need before doing anything. Unfollowing and unfriending after accepting friendship with someone can be viewed as a rejection and if they are a Christian or church connection that can be extremely difficult.
Here is my working strategy on managing social media contacts or connections:
I am careful about who I friend or link up to on social media so that I can be very careful about managing those relationships. My goal is not quantity, but quality with those in my network. I don’t have to like or love every post I see and my emoji isn’t required as an expression of my approval or lack there of. If the issue is one of personal perspective and they communicate it professionally or with some level of composure then it is okay to have a different perspective. If they insult me then forgiveness is first, but conversation comes close as the second response. If they destroy a whole culture, tribe, party, family, church or any other grouping in a public way then rebuke and removal must be considered. Being connected is not more important than being real.
Unfollowing and unfriending is sometimes the right thing to do, but it comes with consequences personally and socially. Choose those options deliberately and wisely. Manage the friendship well and tension will likely manage itself. Be careful with feelings – yours, theirs, others – and direct communication can be helpful and possibly transforming. Don’t be overly sensitive, but don’t fall asleep at the wheel and let your feed get blown up by a loose cannon friend or associate. Be genuine in your faith, your feelings, your feedback and people will likely have respect for where you are coming from.
Friendship is not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.
– Muhammad Ali