Social Media and Ministry

Studies have shown that heavy usage of social media is linked to depression. Are you surprised by the findings? I am not too surprised, after being in the social media for a while, using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest myself. The social media is rift with highly stimulating videos, untrue digital contents, misrepresented/reported news, unrealistic “good/high life”, and prone to cyber-bullying. You know this, and I do too. The rule of the game is to draw eye-balls and traffic to each of these websites and platforms.

Back to the study (here). Take for example, the study, which polled 1,787 adults in the U.S. between the ages of 19 and 32. That’s the young adults group of people that was polled.  According to the questionnaire results, the participants:

  • Used social media 61 minutes per day
  • Visited various social media accounts 30 times per week on average
  • More than 1 out of 4 were classified as having “high” indicators of depression

Why would heavy social media usage cause depression? The result asks. There are a few reasons:

  1. Highly idealized (read: unrealistic) representations of peers leads to feelings of envy
  2. A distorted (read: untrue) belief that others lead happier, more successful lives
  3. Activities of little meaning (read: unfruitful) on social media makes them feel like they are wasting time
  4. Social media fuels “Internet addiction,” (read: uncontrollable) which is considered a psychiatric condition linked to depression

Facebook knows that its social network feed tremendously affects the moods of its users. For example, Facebook’s data scientists conducted a controversial human behavior experiment back in January 2012 where the News Feeds of 689,003 users were manipulated by having either all positive posts or the negative posts removed to see if it affected the moods of those users. It turns out the experiment worked as expected. Users that saw more negative content shared more depressing content and vice-versa.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we must recognise the Internet and social media is a double edged sword. Be wise in using it for ministry, and be aware that it is never intended to be a replacement for face-to-face, relationship enhancing interactions with God’s people. If you can meet up physically, do all you can to invest time in meeting up people, for that is how people are built. Technology changes but humans have not evolved much over time – there is still the cognitive and emotive portions of our being.

I was recently discussing with friends about the various space food that NASA astronauts eat, and how, while it may meet the physical needs of the person, may not meet the emotional and experiential needs. There is a reason why over year and through civilisations, people enjoy food. Because it is a human experience. It have emotive power, it is more than just a physical action of putting things into your mouth. There is a taste to it (and so does social interactions – remember sentences that goes “that dinner left a sour taste on my mouth”?), there is an emotion to it (and so does social interaction) and there is a memory of it (and so does social interaction). I was reminded of a video (here) that talks about the “LifeBurger’ (referring most memorable burger people ever had). And so yes, food is one of the most fundamental and powerful human experience.

In the many ways, social media is like that. It brands itself as the platform for collaboration/community, but falls short of the emotional and experiential requirements of human interaction, which is the basic foundation of human relationship, spiritual friendship, and community building.

What does a “Like” means on Facebook? Does it means affirmation and support?

What does a “Like” means on Facebook? Does it means affirmation and support? Do you feel you have interacted with the person by your “Like”? How do you feel after “Liking” a post by your friend? When was the last time you actually meet up with him or her? Are you closer or have built more trust with him/her simply by “Liking” posts alone? Can we disciple our charge entirely through these means? These are the questions we should ask, when we adopt social media for ministry.

And if you answer is mostly no, then it means we need to get out there, reach out to people, get to know them, listen to them, ask questions, laugh with them, eat with them, pray for them and build them up. That’s the time tested and proven way to draw people unto Christ, and to build God’s kingdom, till He comes. I am proposing total avoidance of social media, but I am saying that it is a poorer and less effective substitute for any serious and meaningful human communication and relationship building.

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