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Why Not Just Delete Your Social Media?

November 15th, 2023 | 3 min. read

By Ian Harber


Recently, I saw someone say that if the internet is so bad, Christians need to delete their social media. Social media is so attention-sapping, spiritually depleting, malformative, and addictive that it’s better to delete all of your accounts and move on with your life without it. I’m sympathetic to why this person would say that. The social internet is, in fact, all of those things. But as you might guess, I don’t believe every Christian should delete their social media. Why is that?

First, let me say this: more Christians should seriously consider getting off social media for all the reasons referenced above, as I say here. The social internet really is a spiritual distortion zone, and we should normalize people getting off for good. But this is about why we shouldn’t make blanket statements about all Christians needing to delete their social media accounts—not immediately.

So here’s my case.

Close, but no cigarette

The social internet is often compared to cigarettes. And it does have a lot in common with cigarettes in terms of mental health. It’s addictive, it’s bad for your health, and—frankly—it’s becoming less cool by the year. Where the metaphors break down is that cigarettes are purely consumptive. It's a one-way transaction. Cigarettes act on the consumer. There's really nothing a smoker can do except just stop smoking. 

The same simply isn't true for social media. The user has influence over the shape of the media in multiple ways. For starters, the consumer has the ability to shape their feeds in particular directions. On networks that use the social graph (which won't be any of them for much longer), you can do this through who you do and don’t follow. For networks that use the discovery graph (soon to be all of them), you can do it through your engagement or non-engagement with particular forms of content. Then, there is also the ability to create genuinely beneficial content and play by the network's rules to inject antibodies into the digital bloodstream and reshape other people’s feeds for the better. Social media is dynamic in ways that cigarettes aren't.

That said, the inherent shape of social media means that you're always swimming upstream. The more it leans into the discovery graph, the more that's true. Just look at TikTok. But the point is that it's possible to affect the shape of it.

Spirit vs. Algorithms

Beyond that, the missing ingredient in this conversation is spiritual formation. And it comes down to this: What do we truly believe has more formative power—social media or the Holy Spirit? If we really believe that the Spirit has more formative power than social media, then we don't need every single Christian to get off social media. Instead, we need more Christians who submit to the Spirit's work in their lives more than the algorithms in order to reshape it for the good of others. 

There's a gap between what is deformative and what is sinful. All sin is deformative, but not everything that can be deformative is sinful. Take the car, for instance. 

A car has the potential to deform us by uprooting our sense of givenness to our particular locations, which can harm communities, churches, and families. But it's not inherently sinful to have a car. Spiritual formation is a crucial aspect of this in ways that it simply isn't for something like cigarettes because we can shape it as much as it can shape us. 

Someone might say, “Well, since algorithms are programmed to take you to the destination of your sinful desires, isn’t that like getting in a car with a pre-programmed autopilot to take you to a casino?” The difference is that there is still human agency over these things. You can train your algorithm not to take you to the bad place, at least not as often. Surprisingly, TikTok added a feature that lets you reset your For You page and retrain your feed to show you new content if you don't like where it took you. That's almost akin to being able to turn off the car's autopilot and set a new destination.

Where it gets sticky is that either way in this analogy, you're still in the car someone else put you in. But that's where the Holy Spirit and spiritual formation come in. The Holy Spirit isn’t a justification for using social media; he is forming you into the kind of person who can use social media wisely. Suppose social media is a bunch of people in pre-programmed cars taking them to unknown destinations. In that case, spiritual formation is getting your driver's license so you have more control over the car than it has over you, including knowing when to stop the car, get out, and stretch your legs for a bit.

Discipling for a Digital Age

That said, that takes a ridiculous amount of discipleship in the church that simply isn't happening right now. So yes, lots of Christians should think about getting off social media.

Brett McCracken puts social media at the top of his wisdom pyramid. And I think he's right. It should be the last thing we turn to. But also, I'm not sure where I personally would be without things like BibleProject, John Mark Comer’s sermons on podcasts, NT Wright’s and Tim Keller's lectures on YouTube, The Gospel Coalition’s and Mere Orthodoxy's articles, and even individual relationships I've made over Twitter—that includes Patrick! So, I think it certainly has a place.



Some Christians may need to delete their social media and spend time away from it. But long-term, we need to find ways to disciple Christians to be the kind of people who can be online in Christian ways by embodying the fruit of the Spirit with their posts just as much as they do with their lives.

Ian Harber

Ian is a marketing manager at Endeavor and is a digital marketing practitioner with 10 years of experience. He has written about faith and technology, deconstruction and reconstruction for The Gospel Coalition and Mere Orthodoxy as well as appearing on podcasts such as Reconstructing Faith, The Alisa Childers Podcast, Love Thy Neighborhood, The Living Room Disciple, Everything Just Changed, and more. Additionally, Ian has contributed to the book, Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church (TGC, 2021) and is the author of an upcoming a forthcoming book about deconstruction with InterVarsity Press (2024). Ian lives in Denton, Texas with his wife, Katie, and son, Ezra and is a member at The Village Church Denton.

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