Why it’s okay to stop performing on social media

Finding acceptance through Christ

July 22, 2020

Since the advent of social media, much has been written about the unique kinds of pressure these various platforms have brought to our lives. The thing that probably concerns me the most are the significant ways social media has affected each of us by ratcheting up the pressure to perform. We attempt to paint pictures of our lives that make us seem happy and fulfilled, interesting and enviable. Sometimes we seek to impress others with our possessions or try to wow them with our experiences. Some people seek to overwhelm their followers with their wit or intellect, while others aim to impress with their humor. As almost everyone engaged on social media knows, each time you log in there is enormous pressure to perform.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the pandemic has only served to heighten the problem. That’s because in this time of plague, most of us are “living” our lives online. Because many of our normal opportunities for in-person social interaction aren’t available to us—at least not in a form we find desirable—we’ve moved our conversations to Facebook and Twitter. And we’ve spent countless hours creating or consuming content for Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok. While we are living our lives in lockdown, we’ve continued to make the internet our home. And as we find ourselves investing even more of our time and attention in the digital world, I think it’s worth considering what effect this might have on our souls.

Born to perform

To some degree, there has always been a performance culture. Human beings, after all, are frail and insecure creatures. From the earliest age we learn to evaluate the ways that others perceive us. These social pressures shape our behaviors and personalities in ways large and small. We learn to repeat or give up certain behaviors simply because of the positive or negative reactions they receive. A lot of this is natural. Everyone wants to be liked and accepted, because, deep down, every person wants to be loved. And so we perform. We tailor our words and actions, even our attire and mannerisms, to win the approval of our families, peers, and those we admire.

To be sure, there are helpful forms of this behavior. Being a part of a family inherently entails learning to imitate or avoid certain things, whether it is language or religion or relational habits or any number of other things. And this behavior also makes sense, to a degree, when talking about one’s friends. Though we’ve heard ample warnings about peer pressure, every relationship or group has a set of boundaries or rules (though these are more often implicit than explicit) and certain rhythms and patterns of interaction that define them and give them meaning. These things are not only unavoidable, but oftentimes recognizing and adapting to them help us to enjoy the fullness of the relationships that God designed us to desire.

But social media raises the stakes so much higher. When we post online, we’re not just talking to those who know us intimately and love us unconditionally or even to a specific group of people. Instead, to post on social media is to seek the approval of everyone all at once. Even if you know who most of your followers are, you are rarely speaking to individuals, but to a nameless, faceless void. That reality breeds enormous pressure. And, over time, that pressure has a deep and meaningful effect upon our souls.

False evaluations

The results of this are predictable. Instead of interactions intended to connect us with the people we know and trust, our posts on social media will be seen by a vast range of people. No wonder there is so much pressure to perform online. In what other scenario do you find yourself being evaluated by every person you know (and don’t know) all at once? But there’s even more. To make the pressure even more acute, built into each platform are specific mechanisms to (publicly!) quantify exactly how much you are valued and appreciated. Likes. Comments. Views. Shares. Retweets. Each one of these are built-in evaluation measures. And whether we like it or not, every time we post we are offering the internet a chance to tell us exactly how much we’re worth. How much people care. How much we matter.

Through Jesus, we receive a new identity, one for which we never have to perform (2 Cor. 5:17). Because of Jesus, all of the love and acceptance we crave so deeply has been richly provided to us.

Obviously that is a toxic way to think about one’s value. And it is little wonder why some of the happiest and most productive people we know refuse to spend time on social media. Why do we willingly give others that much power over us? But even if you’re not ready to give up social media, it is critical to rightly estimate its value instead of wrongly utilizing it to assess your own. It is tempting to look at the feedback your posts receive as some kind of validation. As though more engagement means you are somehow more desirable or more acceptable or even more normal. But those are horrible benchmarks. Handing over your sense of self worth to a random assortment of people mindlessly scrolling through their feeds is no way to estimate your intellect or your abilities or your value. And the number of times people click on something you’ve posted is no indication of how much your life matters.

The “auditioning problem”

As I’m writing this, I’ve just started reading Douglas Murray’s book, The Madness of Crowds. In the book, he’s talking about a related problem. In part, Murray is addressing the kinds of pressures that each of us experience, not just online but everywhere, to conform our attitudes or behavior to win the approval of our peers. In discussing this phenomenon, he mentions the idea of an “auditioning problem.” Murray uses the phrase to refer to the behavior we see so often where a person goes to great lengths to demonstrate he is on the right side of a given issue or social cause or that she supports the right party or politician or movement. 

This activity is very common today, and we see it all the time, especially online. To prove their commitment and demonstrate their bona fides, people find themselves going over the top in support of a cause that has piqued their interest, passion, or attention. To prove they belong, they perform. They make outlandish, incendiary, or excessive statements about the righteousness of their cause or (perhaps more frequently) the contemptible nature of the opposition. Or, sometimes they take part in reckless, provocative, and sometimes illegal behavior as a form of protest or activism. Again, all to prove they “belong” and to secure the acceptance and applause of those with whom they so desperately wish to be identified.

A better answer

I can’t help but think about how much the gospel applies here. One of the very best things that we find in Jesus is acceptance (Titus 3:5). When we meet Jesus, we find someone who knows us fully and accepts us unconditionally. There is a reason Billy Graham so often had the song Just As I Am played during his crusades. One particular stanza deeply resonates with this theme of acceptance: “Just as I am, Thou wilt receive, Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve. Because Thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come.” As Graham preached to the masses about the love of God, he sought to impress upon them the reality that in coming to Christ they were obligated to bring with them nothing but themselves (Eph. 2:8-9).

The gospel tells us that because of Jesus our sins have been wiped away (Rom. 6:23). Not only that, but we have peace with God and have been adopted into his family as sons and daughters and heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:12-25). Through Jesus, we receive a new identity, one for which we never have to perform (2 Cor. 5:17). Because of Jesus, all of the love and acceptance we crave so deeply has been richly provided to us. In fact, the apostle Paul tells us that God has lavished his grace and love upon us (Eph. 1:3-14). And when we think about our identity in Christ, we can see how meaningless the cheap praise we work so hard for on social media really is. Constantly performing only leaves us exhausted. But Jesus invites us to cease striving from our efforts and to come to him, where we can find rest for our souls. We need not perform. We need only to believe.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24