Many people and sometimes even church traditions encourage other forms of lent and fasting. They include carbon fasting, alcohol fasting, sweets fasting, carbonated drinks fasting, movie fasting, T.V. fasting and social media fasting which includes popular platforms like facebook and whats app, to name a few. I have seen many social media status messages that someone won’t be on facebook for the next 50 or 40 days. Is this a good way of fasting?
There is nothing wrong when people select their modes of fasting. One should not judge anyone as everyone has a right to feel the essence of lent in their own way. But what is problematic about a social media fast? It largely depends on how one uses social media. If social media is used for spying on the lives of others, reading forwards and jokes which are hurtful and racist and forwarding messages without checking the authenticity and veracity of such messages, then taking a break from them is definitely something we should do. That is because our usage of social media is hurting us and others.
On the other hand if we use social media to communicate with people, then going on a social media fast denies humanity and communication to others in this fast paced world. This will make us construct separate huts of fasting which don’t communicate with each other and which are not there for one another. Matthew 25:34-40 says “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” Now it is definitely good to go in person and feed someone, to give something to drink, to welcome a stranger, to clothe someone, to take care of someone and visit someone in prison. There is no doubt about that.
But in today’s world everyone is caught up with work which lasts long and is unending. The time to physically be present for someone is becoming lesser and lesser in today’s context. So we must make do with other forms of communication and reaching out to people. These are mainly to reach out to people and the actual act may be done physically and in person. For instance, after lent started, I reached out to a destitute home and asked them what was their weekly and monthly need for food was and then informed my church women’s fellowship who had enquired with me about the need, I got in touch with another organization and asked them to furnish details of their organization so that a company could help them as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), another church group was informed about a need for blankets and clothes for an orphanage, a follow up was done for an old lady who was visited in the hospital by asking her daughter how she was and when a visit could be done next, spoke with elderly people who were far off and who could not be visited in person, and wrote and shared Lenten thoughts to people who could not attend church or read a bible study where they were working. Most of these things were initiated by others in the form of requests through social media.
The point is that social media has become an extended arm of communication. If it is used for the purpose of reaching out to people, connecting people, informing people and inspiring people, then having a social media fast will not serve the purpose of a meaningful lent. Instead what we should try for is a lent when we make more effort to reach out to others. Colossians 3:8 says “But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.” If social media makes us do this by the means of reading and forwarding irresponsible and hurtful messages, then we should indeed be off it. But it would be preferable to learn how to use social media during lent. Psalm 37:30 offers more wisdom in saying “The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak justice.” We can responsibly use social media to reach out and help many.
To conclude, it is not technology and social media which is the culprit leading everyone into sin. Rather, it is the use of technology and especially social media by humans which is the problem. Lent is a good time to learn how to use social media for the benefit of the poor and needy. Abstinence will only lead to non-usage followed by a rush in inappropriate usage. Instead of that, lent should reform our way of using social media.
We can take a social media lenten pledge that we won't laugh at others, won't make racial slurs, won't send insulting messages to others, won't be rude online, won't watch inappropriate content, won't forward anything that we receive without checking the authenticity of it and won't use the social media to troll, insult and hurt others. Amen.