I just watched The Social Dilemma. The documentary on Netflix that explains how social media operate. And now I understand. Or at least I think I get it. Perhaps, I am wrong. But if I listened only to what I receive through my social media accounts I would not ask if I was wrong. That may be the whole point.
“Whoever opposes us will face the wrath of God someday!” I saw this on a friend’s social media page one day. It was said in reply to something else. Being a pastor, I remember the reply and not the original post. I am sensitive to blasphemy. I take issue with anyone who claims to know God agrees with everything that person thinks. This is a pitfall in my line of work. I ask, “Am I really saying what God wants said?”
I have many friends who believe differently from me. Some of them are friends I had before and outside of social media. It is part of life to have disagreements on all issues. Part of maturity is learning how to interact with people different from one’s self. Social media does not encourage this kind of maturity.
I had many friends I don’t have any more. Some of them I knew before social media was invented. But the friendships became toxic to both of us. I don’t hear from them any more. And one tragic reason I don’t miss them is that someone else through this media has taken their place.
Concerns For Online Church
I am thinking out loud about this topic because the pandemic has brought more people into the online Church. My congregation uses Facebook Live to broadcast our worship. Others churches are posting their services on YouTube. Church meetings are taking place on Zoom and Google Meet. These are the same platforms we find misinformation, conspiracy theories, outright lies, and cat pictures.
The problem is this. Social media platforms are profit driven businesses where the viewer is the product. They sell advertising. The viewer is at the same time the producer and consumer of content. The algorithms used by the various Artificial Intelligence match the viewers to the content of advertisers to keep the viewer checking into the media. This attracts one set of people to certain content and pipes other viewers to their preferred content.
The identity of an individual or the group is reinforced and altered by these algorithms. So, if our members are viewing our worship online in addition to their usual consumption, what becomes the new identity. Is it one in which we would assume God would punish those who disagree with us? What new content will be offered to our members?
Social Media Campaigns
Political campaigning on social media has led to further polarization in every open society. Churches and our members have already fallen prey to such thinking. The recent move by many people to avoid fact-checking and turn to alternative social media platforms included many pastors I know.
Congregations are dividing because of content they find on social media. A recent social media claim that leaders in Annual Conferences of the United Methodist Churches were conspiring to force liberal clergy on conservative congregations is the kind of propaganda the churches have been living with for some time now. No such conspiracy exists. But clergy are often more liberal than their congregations.
Social media platforms are based on manipulative forms of marketing. The manipulation gives false understandings of personal identity, social interaction, and truth. The manipulation destroys perceptions into allowing people to have their own sets of facts. It makes for evil and destructive results for amoral algorithms to push people into polarized groups.
Our Own Websites
Google uses the same kind of algorithm to advise consumers about what they may find interesting. A Church having its own website reduces the problem I describe above, but does not eliminate it. The Church is able to control the content on its site more easily. But search engines continue to provide links to material based on the consumption patterns of users.
Harm Reduction On Social Media
How we do social networking matters. Churches should strive to do no harm. We should reduce harm when we can. The point of this post is to explain how relationships are broken through social media. American churches should add social media reform to our advocacy lists. We should find and use platforms that promote healing. Perhaps someone more tech savvy than this pastor knows how to do it. As a pastor, I think it would be worth paying a fee to use it.