This past Sunday, churches across the country celebrated Social Media Sunday-a coordinated effort begun in the Episcopal Church to increase congregational use of social media tools.
It was a huge success by any number of measures, and speaks to the traction social media is gaining in congregational life. Increasingly, congregations are talking about all the up sides to using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.
But there is a side to social media that isn't being addressed, and it's important that we begin the discussion now. For it presents a far greater threat to social media's use in church than apathy or aging demographics.
The discussion is all around us, and is surely in your parishoners' heads. Consider the following basic stats:
And recent news stories aren't improving the situation. Last week it was revealed that Facebook undertook a psychological experiment on some 700,000 of its users. Their newsfeeds were changed-without their knowledge-to show more positive of more negative news content. Facebook wants to know if it can affect your mood. (Results? It can.)
And this is only scratching the surface.
Run for the Hills?
To be sure, there are some who look at these facts and pronounce that social media is evil and destructive and that we should all simply unplug.
Before taking that approach, consider this. Companies and marketing groups have been spying on you for years. Remember pre-internet days when you'd sign up for a free contest, only to have your phone ring off the hook for 6 months when the sponsoring company sold your information? Or all that junk mail you use to get? That's right, companies were sharing names and information so they can target you.
Social media has simply made this easier for corporations (and governments) to do.
Moreover, while we (rightly) get angry with Facebook and Google, it is becoming more and more difficult to live without them. From the email services that we depend on, to online bill pay and banking and the convenience of shopping online, there are many, many benefits to the society we now live in. We're not likely to give that up anytime soon.
What we are doing is becoming smarter about what we share, and weighing the risks.
Faith Communities' Key Role-Embracing the Sunlight
Certainly, people today are more nervous about privacy issues. But they also show no sign of dropping their mobile phones, iPads, or laptops.
If we've learned anything over the past two years, it's that people generally understand the trade-offs and still believe the risk is worth it. What they have no patience for are organizations that routinely lie about privacy regulations.
It's not, for example, that Facebook does the things it does, but that it consistently misleads about your ability to opt out, or how much control you really have. The same is true of Google, which recently announced, for example, that your email isn't private at all.
With this in mind, here are three simple things every church can do to raise your congregation's level of confidence in social media, and help them live into the power it provides the church for connecting both internally, and externally.
Yes-our understanding of privacy is changing rapidly. This isn't the first time it's happened. Many of the same concerns were voiced when the telephone came into common use. And when computers first made their appearance in the work place. And when security cameras began popping up like so many ant hills during the summer.
Greater challenges are ahead. Facial recognition software is further eroding the idea that our lives are private. Wearable technology is raising deeply profound questions-does a Google Glass wearer have the right to "research" you while talking with you? Can they photograph you without permission?
These are difficult legal, and moral, issues. And as people of faith, we have a prominent role to play. And it begins by learning to use these tools honestly, and openly, in our own communities.
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