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Fasting from food and drink has always been an effective method for getting back on track spiritually. But have you ever thought of fasting from social media?
Recently, a good friend shared with me how he did a one-month fast from all social media: Facebook, X, Instagram — you name it. He explained how this kind of fast, although it may sound corny, helped to reground himself in his faith and family.
He shared that by cutting off all the time spent on social media, he had much more time for private prayer and for his family. So, instead of wasting time currying social media "likes," he sought to get closer to his Maker.
He noted how the fast had the added benefit of freeing him from psychological obsessions with his naysayers on social platforms. He explained how, halfway through this fast, he came to realize that he was no longer preoccupied with people with whom he disagrees.
Before the fast, on a given day, many times — instead of attending to concerns and issues at work or at home — he was inordinately spending time in draining rhetorical volleys on social channels. He noted the irony of wasting precious time on people he had never met — or may never want to meet — at the expense of his nearest and dearest.
But before I felt I should suggest this kind of fast, I did some research and discovered some persuasive benefits put forth by Dr. John Crimmins, a psychotherapist in Ireland. He calls the fast a "social media detox."
He suggests that a social detox can:
Crimmins suggests starting small instead of going cold turkey. He recommends you "challenge yourself to a day without TikTok or Instagram, resisting the urge to scroll through feeds and liking or commenting on posts."
I decided, however, to follow my friend's approach, which did not start "small." I committed to fast for 30 days.
Even after a couple of days, I had a lot of extra time on my hands. I came to realize that I could live without TikTok, X, Instagram or Facebook and not only carry on, but proceed with less distraction.
It occurred to me that many social media users fall into sins of detraction. A year ago, the late Joe Sixpack published a great article on these sins. He made the case that passing on misinformation or half-truths breaks the Eighth Commandment: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."
It's one thing to tune in to various news sources to hear what's going on in the world so you can sort through what's fact and what's fiction. It's quite another to form judgments or react to social content when what you're seeing may have been circulated with no controls. I've often been surprised by what little discretion precedes "shares" that either haven't been fact-checked at all or come from "fact-checkers" intentionally spreading baseless propaganda.
It is a great temptation to pass on lies and half-truths with just a quick click or repost. But what used to be sharing a bit of gossip over the backyard fence has now morphed into gossiping virtually with thousands — maybe millions — of people worldwide.
Even worse, the damage that can result is instantaneous, leaving defamed parties little to no recourse. I speak from experience, having been targeted by politicians who posted lies about me on social media in the fall of 2018.
One spiritual benefit of completing a full-month fast from social media was not having my mind cluttered with lies and falsehoods. I was better prepared to pray and to listen more carefully to everyone around me.
This Lent, I recommend you try a social media fast. You might abstain from meat and all social media on Fridays and use the time you gain to read Sacred Scripture. For the more spiritually adventurous, why not fast from social media for the entirety of Holy Week? While you tune out, you'll give Our Lord a chance to tune you in.