Faith and social media

Michael Booth recently wrote a piece for Living with Conflict, a website which I help to edit, about Email, Social Media and Conflict in the Church. It’s a very interesting report and it came at just the same time as some discussion in the Quaker Renewal Facebook group about the possibility of revising our Book of Discipline, currently called Quaker Faith and Practice – a discussion partly prompted by Oliver Robertson’s post on Nayler about the subject. The combination reminded me of some discussions in a study group about QF&P which I ran in 2013; we looked at ten chapters from the book over ten weeks, looking for our favourite passages, most useful passages, and for gaps. One of the gaps we detected, and which has come up in other conversations since then, was a lack of material about online activities – understandable in a book approved in 1994, long before Facebook had been invented, but an obvious omission to our ways of living in Britain now.

One of the exercises I set the study group was to try writing a new ‘Advices and Queries‘ passage, engaging with the concerns we had identified as absent from the current book. I chose to write something about internet use, and produced the following:

Sharing online can be an important part of our lives as social beings. Does your internet presence reflect you as a whole person? Strive for a right balance between electronic and analogue communications, and remember that working asynchronously can provide extra time for thought and prayer. Do you consume news and other information in ways which support your freedom and positive engagement with the world?

Looking back on it after almost two years, it still reflects many of the issues I am considering. I might add some of Michael’s points about who we represent online, not just ourselves but our organisations; and in a book of discipline generally, I would now also want to add something about the use of phones and tablets in worship or Meeting for Worship for Business. (Not, I should clarify, to ban them, but to encourage thoughtful and appropriate use, and patience and charity from those who do not understand what they are being used for.) On the other hand, the question about whether your online persona represents your life came up again over Christmas, when some people posted on Facebook about it being particular hard at that time of year to see everyone’s happy-family-together pictures and posts, and others responded to say that this was only a part of their experience. How honest are we going to be online? I know there are things I avoid posting in some spaces – I have my reasons for this and they feel like good reasons to me – but do those omissions lead people to an untruthful, or at least one-sided, picture of me?


9 responses to “Faith and social media

  1. This is a fascinating area to explore (and again I have been thinking about a blog post along similar lines). The issue of rapid escalation of conflict that Michael identifies is of particular importance, and it would be useful to consider further some of the ways that this can be avoided or constructively handled. Your point about how (and how much) news and information we consume is also very significant for our daily state of mind. The question of self-presentation on social media is also intriguing. It is discussed in some depth in a blog post here:
    It would be good to explore all of this further, perhaps through the Quaker Renewal UK group.
    In Friendship,

    • Yes, I’ve seen the Pilgim 52 post before, although it didn’t come to mind when I was writing this. I’ll keep an eye on the conversation as it develops on Quaker Renewal, too – I’m sure members of the group will have interesting thoughts. The issue about how we consume and respond to news reports is acute for me again at the moment with the events in Paris; I’m not convinced by some of the mainsteam reactions and wonder how we can nuance our responses (in particular, avoiding false dichotomies – you are either X or Y, no middle ground, no other options).

  2. In some cases people might be more truthful or open on-line, as often there is time to consider what you are saying. And maybe you can be more open with strangers. Do people you see every day – or at Meeting – have a rounded view of you – or is that one-sided/part sided? I am suddenly thinking of taking a photograph of someone: it is hard to get a full rounded portrait of someone as you see them, the camera catches such a brief slice of expression that it might not even look like the person you know.
    The internet can open up the world for some people. Offer up exchanges of views, introductions to other ways of seeing the world that are impossible in the analogue world – for a variety of reasons [transport, illness etc]. Twitter has really opened up my understanding of people very different to me – I follow mostly people that I don’t know – it’s been an amazing education. Yes I also see very abusive things going on too. People who just like to provoke. But I have managed some prolonged exchanges with someone very different to me but with overlapping knowledge of rural life without it falling into the abusive conversations I see them getting involved in elsewhere.
    I have an on-line name that is not my given name. It started as an art project and a protest. But I have made friends with some people and met them in real time. I’ve got used to having 2 names; I am now merged! The anonymity does allow an exploration of parts of oneself. There are several identities I have left behind but that have served me well.
    The news: I have been trying to educate my Pa about online news. He tells of an outrageous news stories and I have to say Who published it? What might their agenda be? Have you done a search on that story for wider opinions? With recent tragic events the internet has been a great source of opinions, thoughts from a wide range of people beyond the mainstream media. But of course it can entrench inflexible ideas too…

    • I also have experience of online communities where I used a different name – I’m still semi-active in some. And even members of my family turn out to have less-than-full pictures of me; my grandmother was horrified recently to hear me talking about reading comics/ graphic novels, which I didn’t think was controversial and hadn’t tried to hide. I guess some of the danger comes when people assume that they do know you! I’ve also found myself trying to educate, e.g. my grandparents, about email forwards, especially things which contain fake pictures. A hoax picture can be very convincing especially if you don’t know where to go for information about such things.

      • I begin to see that with on-line communications there is the opportunity to pause before responding but also it is very easy to re-post with outrage and with out checking the facts – all those fake privacy scares on Facebook and yes email scares too. Oh and those awful stories that seem to be news but are really about prejudice, especially with regard to Islam, and not true, but once said it is hard to erase. I remember my Pa getting stuck on one, I showed him the full story but the notion took so much pulling out, he kept saying but X and I had to keep reminding him that X had been disproved- and he is pretty accepting of the world and doesn’t like prejudice. The internet gives the opportunity for such research but you do have to learn how to use it.
        I was talking about expectation yesterday after MeetingfW and how it can affect you emotionally, thinking of assumptions about people, that can translate as expectation in terms of how you expect someone to behave, to believe.

  3. Pingback: Worship, Prayer and Social Media | Silent Assemblies

  4. Could somebody provide a direct link to the Quaker Renewal Facebook group as, having forced facebook to remove my account, I cannot access it without logging in unless I have a direct link – this usually allows you to at least read some of the postings without having to sign up to the dreaded facebook itself.

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