Sunday, May 22, 2016

In Print: On Mission Online

My latest article, On Mission Online, is in print today in The Lookout magazine.

It's a list of Do's and Don'ts, but really the only Do that is necessary is this:
DO be on Mission. 

Is the mission of winning to people to Christ more important to you than winning arguments?  Then let that drive everything you do, including what you post on social media.

Is God's truth more important to you than pushing your spin on the news, sharing your hot take on the trending topics of the day? Then talk about that online.

Are you more interested in drawing attention to God than drawing attention to yourself? Then make sure everything you post or share brings glory to God.

On the other hand, I worked really hard on that list of Do's & Don'ts, so go ahead and take a look HERE.

Meditation Metaphor: Facebook

The social media world was in a tizzy in 2014 when it was revealed that Facebook had allowed researchers to perform a mood manipulation experiment on their users..

For one week in January 2012, data scientists skewed what almost 700,000 Facebook users saw when they logged into its service. Some people were shown content with a preponderance of happy and positive words; some were shown content analyzed as sadder than average. And when the week was over, these manipulated users were more likely to post either especially positive or negative words themselves. (
I found the results of the experiment revealing, if not actually surprising.

I wasn't surprised or shocked that Facebook or any other online website would manipulate what their users see in hopes of manipulating behavior.  That's the basic business model of the internet:

  1. Collect every bit of data you can about each user
  2. Make use of that data to determine what ads and information that person sees
  3. The goal is to monetize the website by inducing the user to respond in some way that earns the internet company money through ad sales or direct sales. 

All of these companies are constantly tinkering and experimenting with the algorithms that manipulate the input and output of all that data, because the profit margin for all this electronic manipulation is extremely small. In the second quarter of 2014, Facebook reported an average profit per user of just $6.44.  That's just under six and a half bucks per Facebook user over the entire three month period.

One of the best arguments to be leery of the growing ability of Facebook (and other online sites) to manipulate the minds and emotions of the public is about how much we trust them to not manipulate things more important than our response to cat videos or even our interest in certain products. What if they decide to subtly push us toward positive emotional responses to certain candidates and against others?

I use Facebook and other social media as much as the average wired person does. Certainly less than those in the under-35 demographic, but probably as much or more than the average person over 55. Am I concerned about being manipulated?

Not all that much, actually.

If my Facebook or Twitter feed is my only input on how I felt about products or issues or candidates, I deserve to be manipulated. That's not how I approach the world, though.

I consume a wide variety of news, information and commentary from a broad range of viewpoints. I don't rely on rumors bandied about on Facebook, viral memes about culture, or the click-bait shared "articles" like "Five Things You Don't Know About the Militarization of the Police".

Moreover, I guard my heart. It's an old approach, but one worth rediscovering by your average Christian caught up in the social media manipulation-fest.

Constant exposure to the unreliable and possibly algorithmically skewed social media information cycle can alter a person's emotional responses to the world, a reality which has now been confirmed by that creepy Facebook experiment).

It's equally true that practicing the spiritual discipline of meditating on the Word (reading, studying, absorbing it) can train a person's heart to respond to the world in a way that honors. This is a reality that has been proven over several centuries of faithful people practicing the classic spiritual disciplines.

Wouldn't it be great if we could experiment on our neighbors, friends and everyone else we encounter, by subtly interjecting a Word-soaked perspective into every interaction? What would be the results of casually inserting God-flavors (salt) and God-colors (light) into people's lives? (Matthew 5:13-16, MSG)

We don't need a website or an algorithm to accomplish this.

We just need a simple "business model":
  1. Devote yourself to knowing the heart of God through his Word, and letting it change your heart
  2. Devote yourself to listening to people; find out what interests them, what makes them tick, where they hurt
  3. Make use of what you learn to interact with them in a compassionate, loving, missional way
  4. The goal is to be Jesus to the world, to win them - not manipulate them - to knowing God's heart like you do.
Updated May 2016

You also might be interested in my other Meditation Metaphor posts