Chris Martin is convinced that social media is changing those who use it. He believes the social internet (a term he uses interchangeably with social media) is one of the defining influences of human history. In the conclusion of his book Terms of Service: The Real Cost of Social Media, Martin writes, “in the last anthropology class ever held in the history of the world, the social internet will be recognized as the fulcrum on which all human history shifted” (199). Is such a claim an overreach? Is social media shaping us, or is it simply a neutral tool? Martin convincingly argues that social media is not neutral but designed to shape and manipulate users. Reader, your social media platforms may not offer you very clear disclaimers but understand this: this book will change how you think about social media.
Martin does not write mere theory but provides exposing insights drawn from research and offers clear steps for application. He writes with years of experience in the social media world and is a trusted expert in the field. Martin is a content marketing editor at Moody Publishers and a social media, marketing, and communications consultant. He writes regularly at termsofservice.social.
Martin explains his aim, “this is my plea for you to stop scrolling for a moment and consider the state of the pixelated water in which you swim” (2). Throughout the book, Martin reminds the reader that the social media platforms with which we have grown so comfortable and familiar are designed with an end in mind. And that end is not our godliness. “I am concerned about the terms of our service to an invention that was originally designed to serve us but which we have come to serve” (8). Yes, you agree to serve their terms of service whether you understand them or not.
In Part One, Martin reveals how we got here. In chapter one, he answers the question, “How did the Social Internet Evolve?” Here Martin helps the reader understand the origin of social media and the social internet. Martin writes, “we need to explore what happened when the internet moved from government projects and university computer labs into our homes” (15). Martin also provides a helpful overview of the major social media platforms. In chapter two, he explains How does the Social Internet Work? He peels back the curtain and reveals the intention behind many of these platforms. For example, “Facebook has engineered the platform in a number of ways to keep people scrolling, but one rises above them all: divisiveness (40). Martin closes this chapter with the sobering point, “Are you uncomfortable yet? Have you begun to sense the toxicity of the water? This is how the social internet works” (42). In chapter three, he explores the deeper question How does the Social Internet Affect our Lives? Here Martin explains that we are polarized, gullible, unhappy, and anxious as a result of our digital connectivity.
In Part Two, Martin examines five ways the social internet shapes us. In chapter four, he shows that we believe attention assigns value. He explains that this is “one of the most pervasive lies we believe when we engage with the social internet” (63). Martin writes, “That one lie is really best understood as two separate, but related lies: (1) a trending or viral piece of content is inherently important simply because it’s popular; and (2) when people pay attention to me, they’re telling me I’m valuable. The overarching lie is rooted in the belief that attention equals value—that what is most popular is most valuable” (63).
In chapter five, Martin warns that we trade our privacy for expression. He explains, “most of the social internet apps and websites you use primarily exist to gather and monetize your data. Further, they are actively looking for ways to manipulate you into making decisions that make them more money” (81). In chapter six, Martin discusses the danger of pursuing affirmation instead of truth. Martin reveals how conspiracy theories spread so effectively on social media platforms. He explains, “I fear that we are so interested in being affirmed and ideologically coddled that, even though we recognize much of the content on our feeds is false, we simply don’t care because this content supports our understanding of how the world should be” (111). In chapter seven, he explains how we demonize people we dislike; in chapter eight, he further explains how we destroy people we demonize.
Finally, in Part Three, Martin points forward and provides healthy practices. These simple actions draw us out of our screens and into the world in which God has placed us. In chapter nine, he encourages readers to study history. In chapter ten, he calls us to admire creation. Here he even reveals how Instagram has redefined ‘beauty.’ In chapter eleven, Martin teaches the importance of silence. In chapter twelve, he reveals the importance of humility. Martin writes, “I am convinced that pride, generally, and the unwillingness to admit we are wrong, specifically, are at the heart of so much of the negativity that has come to define our experiences on the social internet” (176). In chapter thirteen, Martin provides a healthy call to accountability. This call is not limited to whether or not we use social media to get to pornographic content but focuses on how we are treating others on a social platform. In chapter fourteen, Martin peels us out of digital relationships and points us towards friendships.
Perhaps the most piercing part of the book is an almost blank page with only six words on the entire page. The text simply reads, “For Magnolia Grace. This is why.” I don’t know Chris Martin, and I don’t know who Magnolia Grace is. But the parent and the former youth pastor in me concluded that this must be his daughter, and this book dedication must be part of parental protection. Parents, you must understand the terms of service behind social media platforms. You must understand them for your children and yourself. Reader, you are not swimming in neutral water—a strong, unavoidable current sweeping users towards rough rapids and plunging waterfalls ahead. And, if Martin is correct, the water itself is poisoned. Be careful how you swim.
Jeff is the glad husband of Lauren and the proud dad of Aiden and Carter. He pastors Catalyst Church in Newport News, VA and works as a Church Planting Strategist with the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia. Jeff is the author of Called to Cooperate: A Biblical Survey and Application of Teamwork.