by Virginia Forste and Dale Reeves
Recently, Frances Haugen, a former employee for the social media giant Facebook, released a series of documents showing its weaknesses as revealed in internal documents she had been collecting for some time. Violations ranged from a potential role in the January sixth Capitol riot to internal research revealing Instagram’s potential risk to young girls to privacy issues. Frances appeared on “60 Minutes” this past Sunday night. Interestingly, mere hours after the accusations surfaced, Facebook’s internal servers and connection to the rest of the world went black for about six hours this past Monday.
Frances Haugen collected a trove of private research she took when she quit the company in May this year. She says in her time with Facebook, she saw “conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook.” She talked about how people who scroll through Facebook are incited by content that spews hate, violence, misinformation, and political unrest, and Facebook often amplifies the worst of human nature. A data scientist from Iowa, Frances has been called the “Facebook whistleblower.” Among her other accusations, she said that angry, polarizing content is tearing our society apart—not just in America, but in many foreign countries.
The Church and Social Media
Social media and the church have a lot in common. People come to both for many of the same reasons. They come for community. On Facebook, you literally type in names to find friends. At church, you shake hands or join a ministry in hopes of starting friendships. We look for common ground. We follow people like ourselves. We find groups we like. We share our opinions and offer advice. We seek recommendations from people like us. In both church and social media, we seek validation. That’s not a bad thing. The difficulty is when we expect a website to fulfill the deep needs in our hearts—things that only God can satisfy. We get ourselves in trouble when we look to social media for this kind of validation, or when we just are looking to chime in with the critical crowd that thrives on this platform.
The apostle Paul warns us in 2 Timothy 4:3, 4, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (ESV).
The difference between church and social media is that we can cherry pick on social media. We share and retweet ideas that confirm our own worldview. The point of the church is to teach us to adjust our worldview in light of God’s Word. God’s Word is the way to be able to discern the fake news in our culture. God’s Word tells us many things we don’t want to hear: We are dead inside, we can never be good enough for Heaven, we need someone to save us, we have perverse hearts. We go to social media to be told we’re right. We go to church to learn the right ways of God. But, consuming a steady diet of the negative content that is so prevalent on social media just feeds our discontentment. We each have the opportunity and the obligation to choose wisely for ourselves, and for our families.
Where Were You?
Where were you when Facebook went down this past Monday, October 3? Facebook went offline along with Messenger, but Virginia says, “I actually did not notice. I use the site socially and just figured it was a problem with our router at home. I did not realize anyone was left affected. I was quite wrong. People and businesses all over the world were feeling the hurt.”
More than 3.5 billion people around the world use Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family, distribute political messaging, and expand their businesses through advertising and outreach. When the shutdown happened on Monday, businesses were cut off from customers, and some Facebook employees were locked out of their offices. Mark Donnelly, a start-up founder of a clothing line in Ireland that uses Facebook and Instagram to reach customers, said this, “We lost thousands in sales. Missing out on five hours of sales could be the difference between paying the electric bill or rent for the month.” According to several reports, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took a hefty financial hit on Monday, losing some $6 billion in one day.
Was there a cost to you personally, did you discover on Monday that you waste too much time on social media, did you fill this time with other productive uses of the minutes you got back—or did you even notice?
Who Should Take Responsibility?
Pastor and educator Voddie Bauchum has said, “I don’t write the mail. I just deliver it.”
One study that Frances shared reveals that 13.5% of teenage girls say that Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse; and 17% of teen girls say that Instagram makes eating disorders worse. There is no doubt that this app has a very strong link in contributing to lower self-esteem of many teenage girls across the globe. Ms. Haugen testified in Congress on Tuesday of this week about Facebook’s impact on young users. She contends, “Facebook prioritizes profits over safety.”
Virginia summarizes, “I am a mother of two young children. Honestly, I am surprised by the crackdown on Facebook because I find YouTube a much bigger problem: make one tiny spelling error and your child or teen might find themselves staring at horrific or damaging images that cannot be unseen. If I leave the YouTube app on my smart TV and my kids wake up early and start watching anything without me, I’m going to turn it off, and not send YouTube an angry email about their content. The issue for me is that it’s not up to Instagram or Facebook to make changes. Facebook and its entities certainly have an obligation to follow the law. Unfortunately, the law in the technological world does not seem to keep up with the advancements. Congress can enact laws for stricter regulation on social media. But ultimately, it is our responsibility to put guardrails in place to keep ourselves and our children safe. We are to guard our eyes, our bank accounts, and our families.”
“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:37, ESV).
“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23, NLT).
There was a huge lesson for all of us this past week. It’s up to individuals and parents, not a business, to protect ourselves and our families. Don’t allow a business to be solely dependent for profitability on Facebook or any other digital platform. And, perhaps the biggest takeaway is this: Our validation should not come from faulty humans, but from a flawless God.
Virginia Forste is a former elementary teacher. She is excited to be involved in the Moms’ Group at Christ’s Church in Mason, Ohio.