Silence Is Damnation: The Informal Justice Code of Social Media

This is the informal code of woke social justice that I have come to observe in the era of social media.

  1. You absolutely must be doing social justice or there is something very wrong with you.
  2. Yet you must not post about the social justice you are doing because then you are virtue signaling.
  3. Yet if you say nothing of the social justice that you do, you shall be judged for your abominable silence.
  4. So you are obligated to say something even at the risk of virtue signaling. Yet if you don’t say it in the way you ought to say it, using proper woke lingo—or more importantly, consenting to the dominant woke group’s particular lingo and methodology for doing social justice—you shall be criticized, ostracized, mocked, and shamed. (Update: For more on this, see this story citing multiple examples of people being pilloried by the mob for verbal slips and inadequate penitence. “However much you apologize, it’s never enough.”)

I’ve seen these rules play out in ridiculous ways. In the aftermath of a tragic event that occurred in our nation some years ago, I saw a friend share a post on Facebook that said, “Christians, your silence is deafening.” As though the lack of Christians posting comments in one news feed constituted irrefutable evidence of an entire community’s callousness.

But something must have changed, because that same friend later shared another essay with a headline that effectively read, “F*** your prayers.” Apparently Christians were speaking up, just not in a way that my friend thought was acceptable or preferred.

I’ve also seen friends use social media to express solidarity with victims in the wake of a moral atrocity, and then watched as these people were challenged with a simple question: “Okay, but what are you going to *do* about this issue?”

The question isn’t a good one because there is no good way to answer it on social media even if you are in fact doing something. You could say,  “Well, here is what I am doing and/or my community is doing” or “Here’s how you can help”. But this response will likely be met with, “Please. That’s just a publicity stunt. You don’t really mean it, and even if you do mean it, it’s too little too late—unless you do it in the way that I think you ought to be doing it, and then there is still so much more that you ought to be doing.”

Does any of this mean that social justice itself is futile? Of course not. You can (and should) do it without feeling the need to publicize it, and no one should stop doing it simply out of fear of not pleasing everyone. Still, I do think that most of the ways we talk about social justice on social media are futile. It may be that the structure and incentives of social media are fundamentally counter-productive to it.

Whatever the case, the public nature of social media presents a special challenge to anyone who would take seriously the words of Jesus on the matter:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4)

I don’t think this famous passage necessarily rules out sharing stories of social justice; the word “Beware” indicates to me not a strict prohibition but a severe warning that your motives and your attitude make all the difference. How exactly that translates to social media is a complex question; so for now I will just say that this warning is very, very difficult to follow in a medium which, by design, exerts incredible pressure on its users to do the very thing which Jesus denounces: acquire as much approval as possible.

Along with Jesus’ warning, though, there is also a beautiful sense of freedom. It is tiresome, to say the least, to prove that you are doing good deeds all the time. There is incredible freedom in helping the needy simply out of love for Jesus and your neighbors. You are not required to tell the world about it. Rest assured, if you are doing it for your Father in heaven and the good of your neighbors, you are always seen.

Illustration of Matthew 6:4, by Christoffel van Sichem (1629). Image Source: Wikipedia.