By Emma Perley
Social media affects everyone, either directly, like through your smartphone or computer, or indirectly, like how live news affects a nation. In America, it is available to everybody. If you don’t have a smartphone, you probably own a computer or satellite TV. Worst case, you can walk over to the library and access the computers there. Through computer technology, people are part of something much bigger than just who is using the internet at home — they can talk to anyone anywhere in the world.
In some ways, this is a good thing. Live news is instantly broadcast, informational articles are written and posted online, and Tweets only take thirty seconds. People are in the know about important issues much sooner than ever before. And you can send your aunt a video on how to make gluten-free baked ziti for two. But unlimited exposure to every thought processed by someone with (or without) a brain also yields a lot of idiocy. And this idiocy affects young people. It is hard to control what a child sees in real life, let alone on the internet with millions of strangers. More children than ever are gaining access to the internet at increasingly young ages; my two year old niece already knows how to unlock a smartphone and swipe to find videos on YouTube. Most teenagers are constantly plugged into various social media outlets, and grandmas have been posting their Farmville scores on Facebook for a long time. But the silliness has snowballed.
Computer games are all well and good, but there’s a more sinister side to social media — even through less suspicious sites like Snapchat or Instagram. Most if not all young adults have an innate need to be accepted, and the mere nature of how social media functions only doubles the pressure. Kids want likes, followers, and popularity, and there is a strict and narrow path to getting there. Milestones along the path include gender identity affirmation, support of the LGBT+ community, and, ultimately, rejection of conservative politics. Straying from the path created by leftist ideology leads to almost certain ostracization.
The most alarming part of all this is how it affects young adults who are desperately seeking to be part of a community, regardless of what they need to do to get in. They want the relationships, friendships, love, and ultimately, a sense of belonging that once typically a family or community provided. I was in an eye clinic the other day and saw a commercial, specifically aimed at teenagers, that told me if I had the right kind of glasses, I could belong. Belong where? It doesn’t matter — if you could just fit in with everyone else, you would be fulfilled. This is how all-consuming the desire to “fit in” has become in our country. Young adults are so susceptible to it, they are willing to throw critical thinking out the window in favor of community. This need was one that the church originally fulfilled — kids found friends and relationships there. Families worshiped together. Mentors were easily available. Yet with this isolationist culture, where church is exchanged for a far easier way of communication through texting, direct messaging, and facetiming, the swap is wildly unproportional, and we are seeing it in many ways. Mental illness, rising divorce rates, lack of large families, fatherlessness, and victimhood permeate our culture, largely driven and maintained by social media.
It is easy to think that because anyone can voice their opinions, the playing field on social media remains even. But is freedom of speech really respected online? While social media is an enticing type of community where one might seek acceptance if unfulfilled at home, it does not offer the type of love that stems from a family unit. A good, Christ-centered relationship between parents and their children goes a long way in reducing insecurity, and promoting real life discussions about problems or issues. Parents are able to foster love and acceptance in their kids that is unlike any they could find outside the home. Parents — particularly Christian parents — don’t love their children because of any attribute, characteristic, or personality trait, but because real parental love is unconditional. Alternatively, social media only offers acceptance because it is conditional. If your particular identity, belief, or political stance ever changes to one that is unacceptable in the realm of social media, you are canceled. Once you have attached yourself to a community that only celebrates one way of thinking, there is no room for anything else.
Further, it is no surprise that social media platforms wield their power to enforce biased political views by removing or censoring dissenting opinions. PragerU, a conservative, nonprofit website dedicated to teaching Americans about important issues through five minute videos, is pursuing a lawsuit against Google and YouTube for censorship. Their videos have been restricted for many audiences solely because the opinions (or, more accurately, facts) that PragerU displays are contrary to the leftist agenda. YouTube and Google are not the only ones — Facebook and Twitter are equally at fault for blocking conservative ideas, removing followers from prominent conservative Twitter accounts, and even banning people from the sites altogether. When confronted about their decisions, the platforms defend their decisions by saying Tweets or posts “violated guidelines,” such as containing racist or violent content. However, there are plenty of instances where leftspeak has wildly outdone these conservative voices in condoning violence (see Illhan Omar’s retweet mocking Senator Rand Paul after an attack in 2017), and yet, the left is silent. By consistently keeping left-wing voices the most prominent on social media, these sites are ensuring that they will be heard by everyone, including young adults.
Half the issue is that our young people are listening and learning from these political figures — the other half of the issue is that the behavior they see from these figures matters, and it is why we are rapidly approaching the idea that the ends justify the means. If the online videos of social justice protests in Portland, Oregon are glorified as well as seen as a means of executing justice, it is no wonder that young adult violence is becoming the norm. Since 1982, the number of mass shootings per year has risen significantly, particularly school shootings perpetrated by young adults. In fact, when we look into a comprehensive list of characteristics that might distinguish a possible school shooter, we find some interesting info. For instance, mass shooters are typically: Male, fatherless, isolated or rejected by peers, and dwelling on experiences of rejection, injustice, and personal fears. While social media is an enticing type of community where one might seek acceptance if unfulfilled at home, it does not offer the type of love that stems from a family unit. A good, Christ-centered relationship between parents and their children goes a long way in reducing insecurity, and promoting real life discussion about problems or issues. Parents are able to foster a love and acceptance in their kids that is unlike any they could find outside the home.
The social narrative today pushes back on this view of the home. Independence, singleness, and victimhood is all glorified in today’s media. On film, in posts, and even in short YouTube videos, marriage is scorned, parents are embarrassing, and upholding the gospel is only an excuse to be hateful and uneducated.
We cannot pretend like these are things that we can’t control. If those thousands of strangers online teach our children, and we neglect our duty and opportunity to bring our kids to Christ and to the truth, we have brought this on ourselves. When social media begins training our children in the way they should go, we should not be surprised that when they are old they will not depart from it.
Emma Perley is pursuing a political journalism degree at Patrick Henry College. She has edited books for Canon Press, a local publishing house, and her internship at CrossPolitic included editing articles and managing Fight Laugh Feast Network social media sites.