Does It Have to Be Public to be Real? Social Media And Authentic Community

Recently Jill Duggar brought down public speculation when she announced her pregnancy a mere two months after her wedding to Derick Dillard . She defended the purity of her relationship and their decision to announce their pregnancy at only eight weeks, saying, “Understanding that the majority of miscarriages happen within the first trimester, and believing that every life is precious no matter how young, we decided to share our joyful news as soon as we could.” Pro-life conservatives raved.

Jill Duggar

Photo credit: jezebel.com

Reading this story brought up two issues for me. First, her defense of her early announcement (and conservative reactions to it) implies that the reason others might choose to wait to make a public announcement of a pregnancy is because they don’t value the life of the child until they are past the stage where miscarriage most commonly occurs. For most people, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many people choose not to publicly announce a pregnancy early on because they greatly value that life and having to share the grief of losing that life so publicly if something were to happen would be unbearably painful.

My other problem is something I touched on in my last blog post. I am uncomfortable with the implication that unless something is public knowledge, it isn’t being celebrated – at least not properly. Pro-life conservatives applaud Jill for making a statement about the value of human life from the moment of conception, but my question is why does all of America have to know about it for it to be valued?

In our technology-dependent world I wonder if we’ve come to rely too heavily on the response of others for affirmation of our own emotions and experiences. Many of us act like nothing we think or feel is valid unless someone else says it too or at very least acknowledges and affirms what we’ve said. I’m not saying this from a lofty place of judgment. I am a blogger. I want people to read what I write and validate me too. It’s because I see this in myself that I want to bring attention to it.

I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to share news on social media – to celebrate important moments in our lives or to seek encouragement in times of struggle. I just want to push back against the attitude I see subtly taking hold at times – even in myself- that real celebration can only happen in the public sphere.

I think there is something important about sharing God’s work with the people in our lives. I just don’t think that has to take the form of a public announcement. There are many benefits to social media and I don’t think it’s bad or wrong to participate in. The problem comes when we make social media a false substitute for authentic community. We deceive ourselves into thinking these people on Facebook and Twitter are our community, when, largely they are people who really haven’t earned the right to access our intimate thoughts and feelings. (And whom we haven’t earned the right to demand that they care about our intimate thoughts and feelings).

After reading my last post, the friend I wrote about in it sent me these thoughts. I had already written this post before she sent this and I loved how she put a lot of what I have been trying to say:

“Here’s the story: I’m not a super thoughtful, loving person. In fact, the main reason I did what I did was to avoid being a terrible hypocrite. After trying for a few months to get pregnant, we were told in December I have PCOS, a hormonal condition that makes it very difficult to get pregnant along with a host of other discouraging symptoms. Miraculously, we got pregnant that same month, only to lose the baby in February. Meanwhile, all our friends announced pregnancy or popped out kids. I was consumed by grief, but even more by envy. I unfriended or unfollowed people who I previously counted as good friends. And at least publicly, I suffered silently. 

So after countless doctor’s visits and fertility treatments when I finally got pregnant again and we managed to make it to the 12 week mark, how could I plaster my Facebook page with indiscriminate joy? I imagined myself reading my own page and crying herself to sleep every night, feeling that she’ll never be a mother. I couldn’t do that in good conscience, considering the miracle God had given me with this second baby.

My experience made me realize that Facebook is not a good place to share either joy or grief with other Christians. I don’t think the verses about mourning and rejoicing together refers to social media, I think it refers to real live relationships with other Christians. I poured out my grief and my joy in heaps on my closest Christian friends in all sorts of life situations, and all of them mourned and rejoiced with me. But Facebook is too contrived, too easy to manufacture. Not only that, but I never mourned on Facebook. I never announced my miscarriage. I never let social media see the reality of my suffering. So it feels very imbalanced, and very contrived, to ask Facebook to rejoice with me. Besides, only my friends and family who walked with me through my grief can fully celebrate with me in my joy. In just that handful of people I’ve received more than enough validation; I just don’t need any more from social media. 

Because really, are we looking for rejoicing and mourning with other Christians on a deep level when we post a status? Or are we just looking for the superficial validation of popularity represented by a number of likes?

I made an Instagram account solely for the purpose of sharing pregnancy updates for those who DO want to rejoice with me in that way. Also I send my mom, my sister in law, and a few of my best friends pictures of me in maternity clothes, weird craving updates, and ultrasound pictures nearly every other day. Even people who weren’t suffering would unfriend me out of annoyance if I thought it was appropriate to put all that on Facebook.  so not posting all that to Facebook doesn’t not equal not going crazy with joy in a community, mine is just a select community of those who don’t mind and understand the crazy.

I think [the problem] comes from this expectation to treat Facebook like a community, when really it’s more like a bulletin board. I’m sharing my pregnancy joy with my community, but not on Facebook, because the two are not synonymous. We should not feel shame about sharing either joy or sorrow with a community we trust, but Facebook is not a community. For people in our generation, sometimes it can be difficult to understand the difference.”

I thought her words expressed what I was feeling beautifully. I’m continuing to work through the question of how to balance rejoicing and mourning with others with sensitivity and compassion. I am finding that in my life that also means asking the question of who truly is my community and what role  the internet and social media should play as I seek to live out that question with authenticity.

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*As a disclaimer – I have nothing against Jill Duggar Dillard and I certainly think she and her husband are entitled to their own decision about what information to share and when. I really don’t have an opinion on whether she should or should not have announced her pregnancy so early. I don’t think it’s anyone’s business. My beef was purely with the responses I saw to her reasons.  I also think as someone who spent a lot of time in the public eye while growing up, Jill’s perspective on public and private information is probably different than many people’s.

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6 comments

  1. You should write about this for Hermeneutics using that Jill Duggar Intro. This would be PERFECT and you are the perfect person to write it. Gosh, you are so argumentatively eloquent. I’m jealous. I would love to read about this in hermeneutics. I’m actually in the process of writing one about millennials and their move into cities. 🙂 Hopefully, it will come out in October, but I agonized over every word because I CANNOT make my arguments flow like you. Gosh, you make it look too easy. Ugh. -Bri

    Like

  2. I have really enjoyed your writing, I have been working my way through some of your articles. This one has it all. I personally like how well you speak opinions. I also think social media dictates a lot of our emotions. You could not have said it any better. Wonderful read.

    Like

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