Today a post by one of my authors was removed from Facebook. On reading the post I must conclude that if a reader finds a problem with it that would justify removing it from social media, the problem is with the reader, not the post.
At the moment we are seeing people in a variety of positions on the political spectrum resorting to government action to protect their kind of content. The debate, of course, is whether these things are factual.
I like factual. I dislike fake. I go to fact-checking sites, where I read not only their rating, but their reasoning for it, and the evidence they provide to back up that reasoning. Sometimes I disagree with the fact-checker. I expect that. I appreciate those sites that provide both reasoning and references.
I am a publisher (Energion Publications). From time to time I am asked whether everything I publish is true. My answer is that it is not possible that it is all true because I publish books that are opposed to one another. I have authors with a variety of opinions and viewpoints from progressive to conservative, to a number who object to that spectrum, as I do.
They can’t all be right.
I have had people question whether I should publish certain viewpoints. In fact, I once had complaints about a book I published from both sides. A conservative said it was too liberal. A liberal said it was too conservative. That is a valid discussion.
When I publish a book I disagree with, am I promoting some viewpoint I shouldn’t? That is a question I have to ask and answer with each book. If I disagree strongly with the content of a book, should I publish it?
For me, that question is always much more one of approach then of actual content. Yes, there are viewpoints that I think are not really needed as part of our public conversation. I make a choice not to publish those. But there are other viewpoints that I think are dead wrong, yet I think need to be part of our discussion. I will publish those.
Inevitably, some people will object.
My response is simply that I am a private company and that I make the rules. I’m also a firm believer in free speech. I’m not anxious to shut some other publisher up because he or she follows different rules than I do. I am also not anxious to force some other platform or publisher to advocate for material of mine that he or she considers inappropriate.
All of this is carried out by private individuals working under the umbrella of free speech. Free speech does not mean I have to support or even respect your viewpoint. It doesn’t force private individuals (as practiced in the USA) to support various positions.
As a result, while I think Facebook has an atrocious system for determining what to publish, I do not advocate—in fact, I vigorously oppose—any effort to force them to present or not present something legally. I don’t care how big they are. They got big by doing things that kept people coming back to their platform. There is nothing they are doing that will not be made worse, in my view, by government regulation.
At the same time, I think there is a way to deal with Facebook. For example, I publish my primary material on a separate platform. Facebook can reduce my reach by cutting off access to their platform, but my material is still online. One of the ridiculous aspects of modern discourse is that people trying to get Facebook (or other social media platforms) regulated are at the same time providing the very numbers that make those platforms strong.
And of course, I am still on Facebook. Why? Because most of you are. I can be as annoyed as I want to be, but I’ll still be there using social media to get my own message out.
And to share pictures of cats. Always cats.
The one—and I believe the only—solution to disinformation is an educated and informed public, a public which demands truth. I’m not that optimistic about this in general, but no matter how much disinformation others consume, you can be a fact-checker. And no matter how many regulations you pass, there will still be some people who will believe whatever rumor best suits them.
Those who read my postings regularly, if there are any such, should know by now that I despise the algorithm Facebook uses to arrange my feed. Even the one that claims to be in date order isn’t. There is simply no Facebook reading option that I like.
In addition, I agree with those who say that the algorithm tends to promote the more sensational and less truthful. This isn’t a problem of left or right. I see complete garbage from both sides in my feed. It’s annoying. It’s disturbing to think how many friends I must have who actually share the sort of things I see, assuming Facebook uses my friends’ likes and shares as part of their algorithm.
But today I saw yet another headline about someone wanting to fix all of this by regulation. Bad idea! Very bad idea! This “solution” is much worse than any problem we have.
I find it disturbing that so many of my friends seem to like inaccurate or, when accurate, unhelpful news. I’d really like them to try to be more thoughtful and engage in constructive dialog with their opponents.
The very last thing I want is for the government to be somehow making the determination, or even shaping the way in which the determination is made regarding what I will see and what I will not see. What possible reason would I have for thinking the government would do a good job of that?
I really love the first amendment to the U. S. Constitution, because I believe that free speech in a free market of ideas is the best way to go. I have been accused of being against religion because I also believe that the government shouldn’t be determining or shaping religious speech. Thus I vigorously oppose the legislation just passed by the house here in Florida to put “In God We Trust” in public schools. I oppose this for the same reason. As a sideline, I should note that I see “In God We Trust” as much more the national lie than the national motto. We don’t trust in God, rely on God, or even defer to God. We just use God to try to enforce our own selfish desires. This is government mandated opinions. I don’t want teachers, who act as agents of the government, speaking to a captive audience, to be enforcing prayer. (For what it’s worth, I don’t find the relationship made in the story between the motto and gun control, except for the general uselessness.)
Whoever is in power seems to want to use government authority to try to make people think their way. Sometimes it’s blatant. Sometimes it’s subtle.
However stupid people get, it’s nothing to how stupid they can be when collected into political parties and put in charge of a government.
I’ve watched with some annoyance as trust in the mainstream media (whatever that is) has diminished, to be replaced by trust in even less reliable news sources. Many media outlets earned popular contempt by their carelessness with the facts. My observation is that the news media have been more biased toward “shallow” than in any other direction.
From there, it seems, we went from somewhat biased to totally biased, and finally to fake news. It is, I am told, an epidemic. Something must be done! Let’s fix this situation! Just search Google for “fake news” and “epidemic” and you’ll find references. You’ll also find plenty of people blaming social media and others defending it. I’ve even written about it before.
Fake news is really nothing new. It’s called gossip, and it’s just about as accurate. What social media does is provide more efficient distribution. God makes his sun to shine on the just and the unjust and social media smiles on stories both true and false. The context changes, but people remain the same.
What bothers me right now is that people are calling this an epidemic. “Epidemic” is one of those words that are used by people who would like to influence public opinion so as to make us all do something about it. And when you get to the point where someone just has to do something about it, the solution is generally worse than the problem.
In various countries we have calls for government action. But as soon as you have government action on fake news, you have government deciding which news is true and which is false. Whether we like to believe it or not, we in the United States are susceptible to this temptation.
The one and only answer to fake news is for individuals to use good judgment and spread stories that are verifiable, which will include actually reading stories before you share them. And while companies like Facebook and Twitter are not the government, they might well do better not to get into the truth filtering business, or at least be very careful.
Seeking truth is up to each one of us. As long as there are people who will post, share, and tweet things that are unverified, and other people who will read them and believe them, we’ll have fake news. You can channel it a bit, but you won’t get rid of it.
Yesterday I wrote about checking the truth of what we post on social media, (though I was more interested in us checking the truth of what we share about one another personally), and today I note that a post by Ed Brayton (Dispatches from the Culture Wars), written by a liberal urging liberals not to share/quote certain (types of) sources (Please Stop Sharing Links to These Sites), now has 581 comments (It’s 10:30 am central time). Most of these comments clearly demonstrate the problem that Ed is talking about. (Mental Health Warning: Read only a judiciously selected small portion of these comments.)
And since I know I have both conservative and liberal readers, and many that defy classification, if you’re nodding your head about the liberal sites, be aware that there are plenty of conservative sites that behave likewise. The names aren’t the key. It’s the behavior and the content.
Before you continue, look at the tag line for this blog. I self identify as a moderate, though I have a somewhat eccentric view of being moderate.
My view of moderation doesn’t really solve the problem, however. As a moderate, I believe I should examine the whole spectrum of views on any issue before trying to select a particular view to advocate. There are two reasons for this: 1) There’s no guarantee where on the spectrum the best approach on any issue will be, and 2) If compromise is necessary, as it may well be in a variety of social or political situations, I know what the options are. I’m not a centrist, i.e. I don’t believe that I need to be toward the center on all or most issues. My actual beliefs, politically and doctrinally, may be on different sides of the spectrum on different issues. For example, I can (and do) believe both in drug legalization (for the most part), but at the same time believe in fairly vigorous law enforcement.
But there is a potential for arrogance in this view as well. Let me just illustrate this personally. Every day I see a stream of social media posts from people in a variety of points on the political and religious spectrum. No day goes by without me sighing a bit at some people who seem over the top about one issue or another. It’s very easy for me to become arrogant and think, “Wow! I’m so much smarter than all those people who get so worked up about ______.” If I’m on one side of the spectrum or another, I get a double dose of feeling superior. I’m so unextreme! “Lord, I thank you that I am not as other people are, overwrought over so many extreme political or religious positions.” You should pardon the paraphrase.
But a moderate position, or each position that falls within it, is an opinion on a topic as well. It is something that I prefer, something that I advocate. It may be that I am not passionate enough in my own advocacy of that position. It’s easy for moderates to sink into apathy and spend their day not advocating stuff. It’s also easy to decide that because others are so extreme, a lack of a position on an issue is a better.
But people’s passion is not wrong, and a lack of a position is not a virtue. In many cases my decision to advocate on some issue or another is a strategic one. Where should I spend my time? What is my emphasis going to be? As a publisher, I place myself as an advocate of advocacy. I’m looking for passionate people to write books about the subjects that drive them. It should not be surprising that they are, in fact, passionate about the issues they write about. In fact, some of them are passionate about not being at the extremes, and that is also not a bad thing.
One of the positions I’ve noticed (and participated in) is a desire to draw Christians back from being too invested in the politics of this world. I believe we should be involved, but always remember our commitment, our ultimate allegiance, is elsewhere. But even this can be a cause for arrogance. If I can take the election results more peacefully than my neighbor, that makes me so much better as a person, doesn’t it? Actually, I think not. I will suggest some moderation in tone, but you see, that is a position as well. I think reasoned advocacy and relationship building is the better approach to dealing with political and religious issues.
John Meunier cites comments by Mark Cuban, owner or the Mavericks, who says he doesn’t need the new media because he can reach their readers just as well himself. I would note in passing, though it’s not the topic of this blog, that I think Cuban is optimistic about his ability to reach people directly. I get my sports information via the internet, and I almost never do so through the team’s web site or official channels. But that’s something time will test.
Meunier’s application to the church is interesting, however, and matches with some things I’ve read recently and also heard in discussions at church, i.e. in the physical building we call church. The general idea is that because people can make connections now via social media, they need the church less. I have no doubt that for certain definitions of “church” and “need” this is true. People who attended church for the purpose of social or business networking no longer need the church as much in that particular way.
So if your church exists for the purpose of providing social networking, then your church indeed is obsolete, or is rapidly becoming obsolete. Even someone like me, past middle age, can contact my business associates, friends, and family via social media and text. In fact, I do almost all my business networking online. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever want to physically meet people. In fact, I like to meet them whenever possible. But I have had design work done by people I never physically met. I regularly publish authors I have never met. I sell to people I have never met in physical space.
The problem here is with the definition of church. We use “church” to refer to the building, to the congregation that meets there, to denominations, and to the church universal. Our physical building is diminishing in importance. Not becoming useless (or obsolete), mind you, but diminishing in its role. The local congregation, in the sense of those located in one physical place, is diminishing in importance, as we have it now. But there is no reason in all of this to suggest that the church, as the body of Christ in the world, is diminishing in importance. Unless, of course, we’ve made church equivalent to one of those other things.
Social media is regularly decried as a means of keeping people apart. But people are using it to get together. People complain about how the easy access to one another via cell phones, on Twitter, on Facebook, and in so many other ways diminishes more personal contact. But for me, and I know for many others, all of those are means of keeping in better touch with people I care about. In addition, they make it possible for me to find out about, and care about, people I might never have met otherwise.
The building was never the church in the first place, at least in the biblical sense. Yes, we use the word that way, and I’m not complaining about the way language changes. We just need to be aware of which definition of “church” we’re using. Social media means the building is less important, because it gives us other ways of connecting.
Now if your church, in the sense of local congregation, existed largely as a social network, it’s going to be obsolete as well. It just isn’t as efficient at social networking any more. If that was all your church was, there’s no reason to mourn its passing. But if your congregation was a gather of people filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to do ministry (see 1 Corinthians 12-14 and don’t skip chapter 13), then three things may happen.
First, you can expand your congregation and connect it to other congregations more efficiently. There might be a congregation in some other part of the world that needs to connect to your gifts in order to serve where they are. You can connect with them via social media, and both be more effective.
Second, you can more efficiently get your congregation aware of, and working together on the things you are called to do. You can arrange rapid responses to disasters. You can discuss the Sunday School lesson on your Facebook wall. You can tweet about the church service if it excites you and thus reach people who couldn’t, or wouldn’t (and probably won’t) enter your building.
Third, remember all those buildings? As they became less useful as places for the membership to gather, you can convert them for use in other ministries, or if you find no new use for them, sell them, and use the money to accomplish the church’s mission. I personally think church campuses are the most underutilized class of real estate around. What good is that sanctuary to anyone during the week?
Speaking of which, and only slightly off topic, what is it with all these closed and locked gyms (or family life centers, or whatever you call them)? I’m guessing that if the church was willing to go to work you could have young people using those facilities for fun and learning. Many of them wouldn’t be church members? Their parents aren’t paying tithe to support the building? Good! Learn as a church to give in mission. There’s a risk in having kids off the street in your facility? They might tear it up? Good! It all belongs to Jesus anyhow, and he can handle it.
John Hobbins thinks Jim West’s blogging style is “morally crude.” I confess that I find Jim West’s style mildly annoying, such that I don’t usually bother to read the most popular and prolific biblioblogger except on rare occasions, but he does hit the nail on the head at times.
I read somewhere that there are two types of bloggers-the linkers and the writers. Jim West tends to be a linker, with brief comments. Brief comments do tend to miss the nuances. John Hobbins and I are both in the writer category–we write longer posts on average (and John writes in a much more scholarly way than I do). We’re both less popular in the blogosphere by such measures as are available.
What do you think? Is the style morally crude? Is it perhaps some specific opinions, and not the approach to blogging? (Note that I do find the thread John linked offensive, but I’m used to skipping through things that offend me in the blogosphere.)