The leader of a church with more than 16 million members worldwide is trying to counteract the negative impact of social media on people around the globe. Is this really such a terrible thing?
The president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson, invited female members to participate in four challenges at the women’s session of the 188th Semiannual General Conference held in October. One of the challenges — a 10-day fast from social media — immediately began to spark debate.
Critics both in and outside the church, including one article from the major online magazine Slate, were quick to voice their opposition, saying the challenge is intended to suppress the voices of women right before midterm elections. Others said it is not considerate of the many female members whose work and businesses are primarily done through social media.
Nonsense. The challenge was not so prescriptive in its invitation and had nothing to do with quieting voices. A similar challenge went out to teenagers and young adults in the summer, all in the spirit of helping people focus on new experiences and divine inspiration.
Defenders note both the practical benefits of gaining more time for other endeavors, and the faith-building opportunity of following the counsel of a spiritual leader they revere as a prophet of God.
Regardless, people love to hate, and they especially love to hate on religion. The critics were quick to put all effort into finding everything wrong with a major religious leader proposing a social media fast targeted at women. What would happen if just as much effort were put into finding everything about it that is good?
Consider these findings:
A recent study suggested that social media is more harmful for women. In the study, women reported lower levels of happiness at younger ages — just 10 years old — than their male counterparts. This unhappiness appeared to be linked to not just how much time they spent on social media, but how it was used — as a means of comparison, not community.
In a series called “Generation Vexed,” the Deseret News reported that two-thirds of antidepressants prescribed to teenagers are for girls. Nearly 38 percent of teen girls struggle with anxiety and feel the need to be perfect, no doubt exacerbated by the trend of perfectionism found throughout social media.
Social media also has a negative effect on women’s body image. Another study found that women who spend more than an hour a day on social media tend to have negative feelings toward their bodies and find thin people more attractive, all while being more self-conscious about their own looks.
Other negative effects of social media have been reported to include being unable to have real emotional connections, creating a breeding ground for people to be hurtful and cruel; a diminishing of being able to think for oneself, and having feelings of disconnection and loneliness as a result of fewer face-to-face interactions.
It seems a suggestion to break away from all this may not be too far off the mark, after all.
Admittedly, my first knowledge of this challenge came from social media. As a member of the church myself, I usually listen to or watch conference as it takes place. This year, however, a scheduling conflict led me to be out of town and unable to do so.
My initial reaction to hearing about the social media fast was reluctant. Social media is a large part of my job, and I knew it would be impractical and difficult to stay away from it for 10 days. I soon realized that the reason I felt this was the negative commentary also appearing on my social media feeds. I hadn’t even had a chance to listen to the talk myself, yet I was allowing others to determine its effect on me. So I decided to participate — if not for the sake of obedience, then for my own sanity and mental health.31 comments on this story
The disregard and negativity isn’t a unique reaction. In fact, it’s much more natural to take the hedonistic way out instead of reasoning why a change is necessary. Many of the figures we now consider some of history’s greatest received searing criticism and even punishment for their call to actions meant to better the world.
A request to take a break from social media and weed out negative influences may seem to be a trivial thing, but social media isn’t perfect. Its negative consequences impact people around the world.
Most of this debate has taken place over social media and was, ironically, the very push I needed to make my decision. So far — and based on research findings — it seems to be the right one.