When you join Twitter, the first thing you’ll notice is a slow but steady trickle of tweets bitterly complaining about how terrible Twitter is. And for good reason. Social media in general can become a cesspool, but Twitter seems like it’s designed to be that way.
And yet. Every single day I’m on the site, I see something that makes me thank God Twitter exists. For every threat, insult, counterproductive snarkery, and every gratuitously vicious expression of sexism, racism, antisemitism, anti-religious bigotry; for every ignorant mob howling for vengeance for the thought crime du jour, there’s . . . something good. Really good, not just pleasant or cute or funny or interesting, but good. Like Kingdom of God good.
People are cruel to each other and sometimes try to ruin each other’s lives. They swarm like hornets, hell-bent on destroying some stranger they only just heard of. I’ve seen that happen. People also pray for each other. People pass along prayer requests of strangers, and share it until there are thousands and thousands of people agreeing to pray for healing, for hope, for peace, for restoration. I’ve seen that happen, too.
People provide a horrible example of what Christians are like. They’re hypocritical and heartless and childish and cruel. I’ve seen it happen. People also show each other how to be Christian, encouraging each other to go to confession, encouraging each other to return to Mass, encouraging each other to see a priest about validating a marriage or signing up for RCIA. People report back to Twitter that, thanks to the prompting of people who only knew that their brother or sister in Christ needed support, they’ve come back to Christ and are home again. I’ve seen that happen, too.
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Twitter can give you a distorted view of what’s normal, when people’s carefully curated online presence give the impression they’re enjoying nonstop fun, success, and excitement. It can make you feel like you’re the only weirdo in a world full of savvy, worldly, sophisticated people. I’ve seen that happen. It can also restore a sense of what’s normal, if you’re a lone Catholic trying to practice your Faith in a secular circle. There is tremendous solace in logging on and seeing hundreds of people living the same mundane sacramental life you’re living — hunting for the vigil mass times, grousing about having to go to confession, thanking God for a lab test that showed no disease, or wondering if you can get away with naming your next kid ‘Athanasius’. I’ve seen that happen, too.
People can be savage to each other, hiding behind the security of the keyboard. They lash out for no reason at all, other than that they can get away with it. I’ve seen that happen. And people can be breathtakingly open and generous with each other, because when there are two more more people gathered together, even if it’s online, Jesus is there. I’ve seen that happen, too.
People can become isolated and divorced from reality, withdrawing from in-person relationships as they spend more and more time online. I’ve seen that happen. And people can forge genuine relationships — friendships, even marriages — after meeting and interacting with someone they met online, that they never would have encountered in real life. They come away with lifelong fruitful relationships born from a chance online encounter. I’ve seen that happen, too.
And, truth be told, I’ve been a part of all of it, the good and the bad. I’ve not only seen it, but I’ve done it. I’ve added my voice to the buzzing cloud of nastiness, and, with tremendous effort, I’ve occasionally joined in the smaller but oh-so-much-sweeter chorus of . . . well, of love. Love on Twitter.
Friends, social media is what you make of it. You can be overwhelmed by the corrosive, degrading cruelty that exists. If it’s overwhelming, there’s no need to stay. You don’t need it. But thats not all there is. If you seek it out, there is sweetness and goodness to be found. Do seek it out! And do be a part of it.