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Editorial: Facing the facts about Facebook

Facebook is not the problem.

Facebook has problems that have spurred headlines, congressional hearings and expansive public scrutiny.

But for Christians, none of that is really the problem.

A recent MIT Technology Review article is the perfect case in point. The article revealed that in 2019, 20 of the top 22 Christian-themed Facebook pages were fake, created by troll farms — some Russian, some Eastern European. These groups work in targeted, organized ways, posting provocative content — often propaganda — to social networks.

Be Happy Enjoy Life, the largest Christian American page in 2019, drew 75 million U.S. users monthly and was 20 times larger than the next largest, similarly targeted page called Jesus is Lord. The only legitimate sites on the list were Guideposts and Christianity Today, both long-established Christian media organizations.

Christians weren’t the only targets. Top sites aimed at African Americans and Native Americans also were the product of these enterprises.

Some pages are politically motivated with ties to foreign adversaries. Others are created just to drive engagement — likes, comments, shares — in order to generate clicks and make money. Anger is easier to arouse than more positive emotions. Recent Senate hearings revealed that Facebook’s own algorithms push divisive content in front of our eyes in an effort to keep our attention.

Facebook took down most of the 20 troll sites after completing the 2019 report MIT Technology Review obtained and wrote about in the article. But the farms are still out there, harvesting the gullible, victimizing other social media platforms as well.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves,” Jesus told his apostles in Matthew 10:16. “Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” — Matthew 10:16

He didn’t tell them to avoid wolves. He didn’t tell them to argue with wolves. He said, essentially, “That’s where I’m sending you — out among the wolves. So be smart, pay attention. And don’t be like them.”

Being “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” requires prayerful discernment as we wander the digital valley of the shadow of death. Three questions should guide our social media engagement.

1. Why am I here?

Facebook provides us the opportunity to connect and to maintain relationships by sharing a bit about our lives. We share our travels and family pictures and, in the process, reconnect with real-life friends from long ago or far away.

Share the conversations you would share in real life, and remember that once it’s out there, it’s out there. Protect the privacy of others, including your children and other family members. Facebook is not the place to vent about overreaching elders, teen parenting or intrusive in-laws.

2. What can I believe?

Social media gives churches and ministries a platform for sharing information about services, opportunities, and people. These connections can be useful, even rewarding.

Social media can be a place to find information, but doing so requires users to educate themselves. Is the source real? Does it exist in other places, online or on solid ground? Are links provided to verifiable websites, original research or reporting by other sources with which you’re familiar? Do news items link to a real news website?

“The written word is powerful. … The average Facebook user dashing off a 25-word post can insult and offend unintentionally, and, too often, does so quite intentionally.”

3. How should I respond?

First, be kind.

The written word is powerful, but even professional writers labor to convey tone, temperament and inference in clear, understandable fashion. The average Facebook user dashing off a 25-word post can insult and offend unintentionally, and, too often, does so quite intentionally.

Jesus’ description of the serpent and the dove is rendered differently by different translations, providing a good guide for our life on Facebook and our life together.

To be his sheep among wolves, we must be as wise, prudent, smart, clever, cunning, wary, sly and shrewd as snakes. And as harmless, guileless, inoffensive, simple, gentle, faultless and innocent as doves.

Second, be kind. — Cheryl Mann Bacon, for the Editorial Board

Filed under: Cheryl Mann Bacon Editorial Editorial facebook Opinion social media

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