Archives For The Dangers of Social Media

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the seriesThe Dangers of Social Media

During this time of year many Christians around the world begin to focus their thoughts and alter their daily practices while considering the days leading up to the death and resurrection of Christ. This is done by observing Lent. Last week, most of our attention was re-focused on another man whom a relatively small group of people intend to make famous. The man is Joseph Kony and the medium was our beloved social networks. They seem to have done a good job of making him infamous, which is probably the word that best describes him.

In the first few days, everyone began sharing the video with brief captions explaining why it was so important for all of us to watch and take action. In the following few days, people began to both criticize and defend against criticism; people began taking sides and advocating for all types of responses, well beyond what was suggested by the film’s narrator. The video quickly went from 1 million to 60 million views in only four days. As I post this almost one week later, it’s been watched about 74 million times.

We live in a time that allows for the spread of information and ideas in a way that was not even possible ten years ago. Internet based social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, allow us to keep track of our friends, enemies, acquaintances, musicians, and favorite brands. We show who we are or how we want to be known through what we “like.” A century ago it would have taken us a lifetime to gain the information we can now gather in a day. The newest inventions then were the telephone and the airplane. We had no idea how much they would change the way we live. We are beginning to see what kinds of things can be accomplished now that millions of people can be convinced to act on an idea within a matter of days. Just consider the recent Arab uprisings and the way they have totally altered a region of the world in a relatively short amount of time.

If you’re reading this and you are not familiar with Kony 2012, I want you to know that I am not going to use this post to explain it. You can easily find the video, news coverage, and other related blog posts by doing a quick google search. In a series of posts for the next few days, I’m only hoping to get a conversation started by raising a few key questions. I also won’t use the posts to defend the merits of the movement nor will I explore the valid criticisms. Instead, I want to focus the discussion on some ways that we can think through the implications of the video’s popularity and ways we may engage in local or international issues of injustice when we learn about them. In some cases, we may have to decide that it is better not to act, which can be one of the hardest things for us to accept.

Question #1: What was your immediate reaction to the video when you saw it? What did you think and do?

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the seriesThe Dangers of Social Media

Question #2: What voices do you allow to have influence in your life?

Kony 2012 is an example of marketing genius and demonstrates an effective exploitation of social media to move a story quickly and generate massive amounts of support for a cause. It raises many interesting questions if we decide to take the time to think and investigate instead of simply reacting to a message from a short video that a lot of our friends like.

If you follow a few hundred people on Twitter and a few hundred people on Facebook, you have the opportunity to be bombarded each day with whatever those people think is most important for themselves and everyone around them. You will also occasionally receive messages encouraging you to click a link to see who is saying bad things about you, or to get a free $1,000 gift card to one of your favorite stores. The moment you do it, you release your identity and allow someone else to use your reputation to influence your friends. They will then use your identity to convince your friends that you believe it is worth their time to do something you value, except that it’s not what you really value. Our fears and desires are well known and they are targeted every day. Who are we really allowing to speak to us and how much of what we are listening and responding to is an accurate portrayal of reality?

One reason I am personally passionate about this whole phenomenon is due to my former ministry. I worked for almost ten years, traveling internationally to visit churches and equip them for compassionate service to the poor in their communities. I have friends in Uganda and I know missionaries there who have first hand experience working with children who have escaped out of the LRA. Because of my experience, I also know that if you were to listen to the voices of many people living in Northern Uganda today, they would tell you a very different story than the one you heard through Kony 2012.

When I first entered the world of church based international relief and development all those years ago, one of my predecessors gave me some very wise advice to consider that is beneficial for any Christian who wants to get involved in serving the poor and the suffering in international contexts. It has everything to do with your choice of counselors and the partnerships you develop.

1. You should begin by seeking wisdom and understanding from God. What do the Scriptures say about it? Pray and ask God to show you what He has said about something, what he is already doing, and how you can best be involved. Ask if he is calling you to do or support a specific kind of work in a particular location. The difficulty in deciding what one thing you should do often comes because there are so many good things you could be involved in. You need God’s guidance.

2. Find people who are already involved in the kind of work you want to pursue. Learn from their successes and failures. Watch them for a while before you start doing anything. If you are responding quickly to the first thing you hear, you will always be prone to being led into doing all kinds of things for other people. Find and listen to people you respect. Make sure they demonstrate humility, trustworthiness and experience in the kind of work you are considering.

3. Develop relationships with the people you want to help. You must know the people you want to serve, otherwise you will end up doing things that you think are best for them, without any concern for what they think and how your help affects them. You may actually end up hurting them, even if it’s not your intention.

This is an important litmus test: Anyone who asks you to get involved in a cause and gives you the impression that there’s no time to ask questions is using you. The cause may be for a good purpose, but the method of employing your help must also respect your ability to think. People seeking your help need also to recognize the responsibilities and priorities God has called you to be faithful with in your own life. There are many ways that people will try to lead you to help with their mission, and it may have nothing to do with God’s mission or your part of God’s mission.

You must involve your heart and mind in preparation to act. You must seek wisdom. If you do not, you may end up contributing to something you think you believe in, only to find out the full story is different than what you were told. Do you only listen to what’s most popular or to those who speak the loudest? Do you listen to the one who speaks first, or do you wait to hear from others (Prov. 18:17)? Wisdom comes from having a multitude of counselors (Prov 11:14, 15:22, 24:6).

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the seriesThe Dangers of Social Media

Question #3: What is your motivation for wanting to get involved or respond to the Kony 2012 movement (or any other cause)?

We are often convinced by a good argument or the way something makes us feel. We trust in the authority of people we respect, people we love, people we want to imitate, or a good story with a vision that is bigger than us. We love to believe that we can make a difference. We want to change the world. If we think something is bad, we want it to be good. If we see something that looks like injustice, we want to help bring about justice. If someone is suffering, we feel compassion and want to help. What is it that causes these reactions?

The Christian, of course, has the Spirit of God, the Scriptures, examples from history, and the fellowship of other believers who encourage us to do things that are pleasing to God. Your motivation may have been sparked by one or most of those things while watching the Kony 2012 video. But does your motivation to do something good include a concern for the means you use to accomplish the good thing as much as it includes a desire to see a particular result? In other words, do you believe the end justifies the means? Or do you believe that the way you do something is just as crucial to getting the kind of result that will please God?

I’m aware that questions can be never-ending and may even become useless or detrimental to those who are actually suffering if they never produce action. Our fears of doing the wrong thing can paralyze us and prevent us from doing a good thing. Failure to confront injustice out of fear, or acting impetuously because we believe that “doing something is better than doing nothing” are both bad motivations.

Much of the criticism about Kony 2012 and Invisible Children comes from people who have knowledge and personal experience with the situation in Northern Uganda. They are not saying that nothing should be done. Often they tell us of things that have been done. Many of them are simply advocating for solutions other than what has been proposed by IC. And these are not armchair aid workers. They are people who have lived and worked in the area since before the conflict began. They understand the culture and they have lost family and friends. You can hear from former child soldiers, politicians, international aid workers, missionaries, and community leaders who have been connected to the situation in different ways. Many of them are motivated out of love for God and their actual neighbors. They have important things to say to us and should not be ignored.

You need to consider very carefully whether you want to get involved because of some sense of responsibility you believe Americans have to help the rest of the world. That motivation has led to all kinds of abuses of power and influence perpetrated by the citizens of one country towards another throughout time. You may even have the idea that as a Christian you need to be involved because God calls us to care for widows and orphans in their distress. It’s true that he does. But does it mean you are the one who needs to help them every time? Does it mean you don’t care if you don’t get involved? There are an estimated 143 million orphans in the world. The relatively small scale of the Kony situation does not make it less important, but it must be viewed in relation to many other things that also need to be done in Uganda, and over 190 nations in the world that all have issues of injustice to be addressed.

So what is motivating you? Might your motivation need adjusting? What would be the best way to flesh out that motivation?

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the seriesThe Dangers of Social Media

So, you heard a story about a man who is kidnapping children and forcing them to fight in his personal army and you want to help bring it to an end. Have you considered methods beyond the ones suggested to you from a single source?

Have you asked why Kony might be doing these things?
Are you aware of the history and politics of the place where it’s occurring?
Is the situation the same today as it was 5, 10, or 20 years ago?
If we petition the U.S. government to get involved, how do you think U.S. leaders and military will respond based on their record?
Are there Ugandans already helping?
Are other African nations or agencies involved?
Why haven’t previous efforts produced the intended result?
Who should receive your money, your time, or your voice?

All of these questions and hundreds more need to be asked before you can determine what methods you should use to respond to a problem like the one which has been raised in Kony 2012. Our ideas of how to best help someone in the U.S. could produce an entirely different result if done in the same way in a different culture.

I’ll use this final post to direct you to people who are presenting some other thoughts and ways for you to consider what is going on, what others are already doing, and what you can do to learn more and decide if you should act.

A few responses from some thoughtful people living and working in Uganda:
Kony 2012 and Social Media: Think Before you Post
Kony 2012: A Survivor’s Perspective

A list of organizations I trust, operating in Uganda:
Africa Renewal Ministries
New Hope Uganda
International Justice Mission

A list of organizations that promote nonprofit accountability and transparency. Search their databases to learn more about a particular nonprofit and compare it with others:
Charity Navigator
Guide Star
Ministry Watch
Better Business Bureau

The most humbling thing for us to consider is whether we are really even needed in this, or in any given situation. We are often being drawn into someone else’s cause or mission. There are any number of things you can do in a day or decide to devote your life to accomplishing. We are aware of many things that we simply cannot do and it makes us feel powerless. We love to hear that we are needed and that we can make a difference. There are things in our personal lives we know we should do and we often do not do them. It is humbling to realize sometimes that God is accomplishing something with other people and he has a different job for us to do. Your mission may not be glamorous and it may not capture the attention of the masses, but you are called to be faithful with your time and place in God’s story.

I’ll leave you with one final thing to consider from Colossians 3:23-25.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”

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