An Online God: Facebook
-Rev Melissa Fain-
It was five or six years ago. I don't remember exactly how long ago, just that I was a newbie to the world wide web. (Before this I was proficient at maybe Facebook with their limited pre-expansion features, and that was it.) I was engaging someone online, when they ripped into me, telling me I was wrong. They left the conversation stating they were a minister. Not to leave that statement hanging, I looked the user up, and sure enough, he was ordained clergy.
How could someone who was chosen to be God's shepherd be so callous and so... un-pastorly? My first thought, and probably yours too. I didn't hide my calling from him. He knew he was talking to a fellow minister. Then I mentally put him in a room with my colleagues, and played the words out IRL (in real life).
Nope! I couldn't in a million years imagine what he said leaving the lips of ordained clergy.
This was a life changing event for me. I understood something in that moment. People were going more and more online, and we (ministers and leaders of the church in general) were moving farther and farther away from connecting to these people.
Having explored this wilderness of the World Wide Web, and having only fringed the edges, I want to share what I've learned so far: Over the coming weeks I'll share what I've learned in the various online oasis' that exist.
Facebook: The Land of Me
If you are a church with absolutely no online presence, you are typically going to turn to Facebook to dip that toe in the water. Many of your friends and congregants already have profiles, and it's a great place to drop information quickly. Five years ago the ministerial questions were mostly about Facebook and went something like this: How real do we need to be online? Do we un-friend people when we leave a congregation? If those are still the questions you are asking, you're doing it wrong.
The new question should not be unfriending, but whether we should be leaving the various private groups your church should have for community building. Yes, the public group is a bulletin board. Private groups are the fellowship halls. They are the places where joys and sorrows can be easily shared with others. They are the places where congregants can share local stories and others can discuss. They are safe places, moderated by the leaders of the church.
Facebook is also the "Me Show."
Let's be honest. No one is 100% authentic on Facebook. We are vying for attention from everyone on our friends list. The "Me Show" is the result of that. There are people on my friends list who have pulled me aside to apologize for their brand of "Me Show" knowing I'm a minister. My answer is always the same. Be your brand of authentic. I know who you really are. If you can stand my "me show," I can appreciate yours too.
I used to believe the "Me Show" was only a bad thing. In a world that is hyper-conscious of the individual, how are we going to see the community? Let me make this crystal clear- I still don't think it's great. We should be less quick to unfriend, and more available to hear views that counter our own. That's where Facebook fails.
Where it succeeds is in the transparency. I know who gave that angry react to my content and why they gave it. Because I know the person, and why they did what they did, I know they were not angry at me personally. Facebook forces us to give more IRL reactions to others. I know others choose not to react at all, because they don't want to sadden me. If my face wasn't attached to the content, they would angry react. We all care about how people view us, and so we don't give some reactions that can be viewed as mean or spiteful.
See, as much as Facebook is the "Me Show," we come there to be real.
Levels of Real
Here is how I do Facebook... poorly.
Yeah, I said it. There are people who are friends with me simply because I'm the minister of Fig Tree. They are there to see the content that is produced each week. So I share Fig Tree content on my main profile. This clashes with people who are there because they know me as a person. Therefore, Fig Tree content is always public. Anyone can see it, even people who are not my friends. Content just meant for friends are often things only friends would care about anyway.
Also, I will almost never share names or pictures of people I don't personally know, or have permission to share. Our family was at a band concert the other day when this woman tried to take a selfie where our family would have been in the background of her photo. I proceeded to photo bomb her picture because I didn't want our family in her photo. Eventually she gave up and gave us a look, and I gave her one back. (I would later find out my husband was doing the same thing, which made the situation hilarious.) Thanks to the Boy Scouts of America I'm very aware of images and the internet. Even an innocent group photo will include people who don't want their picture taken. Your are breaching their personal boundaries posting those pictures online without their permission.
The internet is forever. In around 30-40 years some great mind is going to pass away. Maybe we know who they are already, or maybe they are living their life oblivious of their future fame and influence. Either way, someone is going to suggest something huge. Because of how Facebook saves all information, recognizes faces, and the like- data from that person's life can be brought together and viewed. Imagine knowing the mundane of Martin Luther King's life? Would you want that information? Could it have shed light on other choices he eventually made? I'm sure many would want a peak into that world, and would support that kind of information being released.
Now imagine you are that person. Not so magical anymore, is it? One thing I can say, is I try to do Facebook like what I'm writing might be read in 30-40 years by someone I've never met. It keeps me honest, and transparent. If that feels too outlandish for you, imagine your dream job is 10 years away. Your future boss is going to read what you are writing to that pleb you're currently owning with you sophisticated but low brow response. Is it worth it?
I'm going to answer for you. In the moment you might think it is, but it isn't. We have no idea what we might be throwing away with our online actions. Facebook holds us accountable, and that's a good thing.