In the Women’s Conference, Pres. Nelson encouraged all attendees (girls 8+ and all women) to begin a ten day social media fast, abstaining from online social media platforms. The youth were previously requested to do a one week social media fast. This request is odd for a few reasons: 1) it does not include the men, and 2) it may be unclear what is meant by social media (more on that in a moment).
First, let’s talk about why this request was only for the women. I can think of a few reasons, none of which I like or agree with:
- Because Pres. Nelson thinks that how women & girls perceive and use social media is a bad thing, somehow different from how others do, or perhaps that they over-indulge in it, but men do not. Perhaps Pres. Nelson thinks that men don’t “waste time” on social media, but women and girls do or that men don’t compare themselves to others online, but women do. Maybe he thinks porn is the male vice, and social media is the female vice.
- If so, by dealing with a symptom, one potential outcome is that women will instead judge one another on whether or not and how they participate in this social media fast. (It’s a little bit like tattling on someone for having their eyes open during the prayer, though).
- Because women usually perform the bulk of emotional labor in families (maintaining social contact with extended family and friends), men often don’t see the value of it or even notice that women do it. Weirdly, in the same conference where women were told that “motherhood” and “nurturing” were the most important things they could be doing, they were also encouraged to forego the online social contact that to many of these women is their lifeline to resources and support in pursuing those exact same endeavors.
I couldn’t help but think of the time we read Isaiah 3:16-24 in a Gospel Doctrine class:
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet: Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will discover their secret parts. In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, The rings, and nose jewels, The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails. And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.
Dude has more opinions about women’s appearance than the Avon Lady and seems to be channeling an incel. Anyway, a very orthodox sister in my ward raised her hand and said, “Wow, was that written by a man or what? We’re supposed to make ourselves attractive, but apparently when we try, we get smacked down with this. Women can’t win.” Boom.
I’m sure the advice is kindly meant (Nelson’s–Isaiah’s intentions are much more doubtful in my book), and that Pres. Nelson is not aware of some of the unforeseen consequences.
- We use social media to maintain relationships.
- We use social media to celebrate loved ones’ milestones.
- We use social media to request support or help.
- We use social media to bolster each other spiritually.
- We use social media to connect to the world outside of our homes.
- Some relationships are solely maintained through social media due to distance, hearing loss, or other factors.
And there are some impracticalities for some women:
- Many women run online (or other) businesses that rely on social media platforms. This hurts their livelihood if they primarily engage with church members. At this point, all businesses, online or not, rely on social media.
- Particularly hurt are time-bound things like book launches or film releases (like the Emma and Jane movie) targeting female church members (as the audience or consumer) that happen to coincide with this 10 day fast.
- Women use social media in their callings–a lot–some more than others. Primary teachers find activities and coloring pages to go with their lessons, Young Women’s leaders find lesson helps as well. Teachers often go out to see discussions of the materials to get ideas to make their lessons more engaging.
- Schools often require students to use various forms of social media as part of the school’s communication system and also to submit their work. Group projects often require the use of social media. My daughter had one class that required her to blog daily for a grade.
- Women who work are often required to be active in social media for their jobs. This is clearly true for women in fields like marketing, HR, programming, journalism, and small businesses.
The ward I currently belong to is already off the deep end in my opinion when it comes to social media use. The majority of them have some belief that Satan runs all the major social media platforms, and they refuse to participate at all, which creates a lot of downstream impacts to us as a Relief Society Presidency. Rather than having a simple way to communicate that will reach everyone to let them know about upcoming lessons and activities, we have to do all communications at least 3 different ways: Facebook post, Instagram post, email. We often get requests to also publish a written newsletter and to text everyone about everything, simply because each sister seems to have deliberately stayed off one or more forms of contact that the others prefer. I routinely hear people say “Oh, I didn’t get that because I [don’t have a Facebook account/don’t check my emails/don’t have an Instagram account/wasn’t at church that week]. We don’t want people to feel left out or disconnected, but there’s no practical way to reach dozens of people without using social media in its various forms. And yet, many of these women already feel smug and unplugged. 
I agree with the idea of evaluating our social media use and making corrections if we are not connecting with the real live people right in front of us, but that doesn’t mean that unplugging for ten days is an obvious good without negative repercussions. He also didn’t clarify which platforms are considered social media. Here are some possible ones, and I confess I’m not familiar with all of the options that are out there:
Ways to Talk
- Snapchat. This is definitely social media, and it’s the main way my kids communicate with me during the day. I don’t love it, honestly (because things they post disappear so you can’t go back and see them), but in some generations, it’s the go to way to say how your day’s going.
- Texting. I don’t know if this is really social media or not, but it seems very similar to me in how it’s used. I have to use this in my business every day as well as in my personal and church life.
- Facebook Messenger. This is interchangeable with texting, IMO. It’s a one-to-one (or group) messaging platform. It’s the only way I talk to my out of state friends and relatives.
Places to Share
- Facebook. This to me is a mostly passive channel. I go 10 days without posting a status update all the time. The only thing I wouldn’t be doing on a fast is posting is pictures of really cool sunsets or recognizing people’s birthdays. Yes, there are people who post inflammatory political stuff, but I try to keep that off my personal FB page.
- Instagram. This is what most women my age and younger prefer instead of Facebook. They post photos of what’s happening in their lives or things they think look cool. It’s how I know what’s going on in the lives of my extended family members, and it’s never been political that I can see. I confess, I go weeks at a time without checking this one, and I just don’t really get it, but I know I’m the outlier here.
Places to Find Information
- Pinterest. It took me quite a while to figure out what this whole thing was, and then I really liked it, and now it’s been months since I was on it. It’s a place to find ideas and connect to articles that are related to hobbies you like such as travel, reading, cooking, parenting, inspirational quotes, etc. It’s not (IMO) very interactive between people.
- Linked In. This is a professional platform mostly useful when you are trying to find a job. You can interact with people here or be contacted by a recruiter if you’re lucky. Colleagues sometimes ask for an endorsement on this platform.
- Twitch. This one blows my mind, but there are kids out there who want to watch others play video games.
- Twitter. This is a place to post “hot takes,” which may be snarky or pithy or clever. It can be interactive, but people can be passive on Twitter too, just reading updates from others they are interested in. It is often used as a person’s news source. I spend less time here than my husband does, by far, because he follows sports, and I don’t. Fasting from Twitter is, for me, something that might be a good idea. I find it’s very political and sometimes gets me fired up. Clearly that’s true for our horrible POTUS as well, tweeting “covfefe” from his golden toilet bowl.
Group Discussion Forums
- Facebook Groups. Discussion groups are the interactive component to Facebook. This is where one might interact with others to discuss topics of interest.
- Blogs. Aside from the fact that I do blog, both here and at BCC, I have (believe it or not) occasionally gone over a week without really checking in, simply because I’ve been traveling or busy.
- Reddit. I don’t usually participate in Reddit, so this one would be no loss to me.
- Other Online Discussion Groups. I occasionally participate in some of these, but I also forget about them often.
My overriding thought, though, is that there’s a general unease with social media among the older generations, that it’s like when the telephone came out and everyone was like “No! Nobody will ride their horse over to visit neighbors anymore!” I have to think social connection is valuable, and if there’s something we are trying to correct with a fast, we should get clear about what that is. What exactly are the goals here?
My second thought is that there’s absolutely a sexist sentiment behind this, like when “gossip” is decried from the pulpit without clarifying that sharing information about one another is also how we minister, and relationships depend on interest in one another’s lives, things that are often conflated with “gossip.” There are men with strong opinions about how women should live our lives but with very limited understanding of why women do the things we do or what women’s lives are like. Given that literally no women spoke in the first two sessions of conference, it’s not hard to see why that would be. We are told to speak up (we need your voices!), but not too much (to a craven, boot-licking audience’s chuckle ). Then we aren’t asked to speak at all, and we are told to stay off the social platforms that are our main form of communication.
Let’s see what you think of this injunction against social media:
- Do you think some of these social media platforms are more “dangerous” than others? Do you think Pres. Nelson intended to include all of them? Is he even aware of all of them? (I mean, I’m not, as my kids frequently point out. I didn’t list Vine or Tumblr or any of the others that I literally just don’t get at all).
- Why was this advice only given to women & girls, and not to the men or general membership? Is that coming or is this like handing the Relief Society a final copy of the Proclamation that was written with no female input?
- Will women do the fast or not do it? Will it be a litmus test for faithfulness, used to judge one another or will people mostly say “meh” and ignore it?
- What is wrong with social media that a fast from it is intended to address? What is the goal?
- What online social media forums do you like (top 3)? Which ones would you not miss at all if you were to fast from them?
 That’s a phrase that needs to enter our lexicon along with “garmpit” (visible garments in the armpit of one’s shirt).
 Also, let me announce my new punk cover band, the Craven Boot-Lickers.