Technology and social media have taught us a whole new language. If you want to know a particular piece of information you just google it. If you want to snoop on a certain somebody, you Facebook them. Old words, too, have taken on new meaning. Tweet is no longer a bird sound, but a 140 character soundbite. You can also retweet others’ tweets. On Facebook the terms “like” and “share” take on new meaning as well. If you are in agreement with someone’s status update , think their picture is awesome, or really dig their link you simply click the “like” icon. If you want to go one step further and think that others need to know this information or see these pictures, then you click the “share” button.
This all sees harmless enough but in the latest incarnation of Facebook a new phenomenon is taking over newsfeeds. It is the “share if you’re against/for ___________ or “like if you _____________”. Into these blanks you can insert just about anything: Jesus, cancer, cruelty to animals, AIDS, moms, dads, babies, etc, etc, ad naseum. It’s a form of protest or support that you can do from the comfort of your own profile page. I think it gives us the illusion that we’re doing something, when in reality we’re not.
As much as I love social media and use it daily, I think it does have its downsides. One of these is that we’re creating a society where people have very low commitment levels. People are disconnected from the reality of complex issues, a world with no easy answers and where things are very rarely black and white. Do we really think that sharing a picture of an aborted fetus is going to stop abortion? Do we really think that liking a status update about Jesus really means that we are followers of Jesus? Is that retweet really going to cure cancer? Social media can do a lot of things but it cannot take the place of good old fashioned, rolling up your sleeves, and tackling a problem head on. Simply retweeting, liking, or texting money to an organization will not make terrible things like cancer, AIDS, or human suffering go away.
We live in a culture that is terrified of suffering and becoming increasingly disconnected from those who do suffer. We are increasingly separated from the poor, sick and imprisoned. War happens over there on some other continent. Our economy grows at the expense of workers, often children, in other parts of the world. Chronically sick people are locked away in institutions where others care for them. Social media gives us the illusion that we are doing something.
A recent phenomenon that illustrates this was the Kony 2012 project that swept Facebook and Twitter early in the year. The campaign sought to raise awareness about the atrocities of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Videos and links we’re tweeted and retweeted, liked and shared. It certainly did cause a buzz. But other than giving Joseph Kony his 15 minutes of fame it didn’t really do anything.
This week there have been some great examples of what is cost to truly make the world a better place: the anniversaries of Vimy Ridge, Dietrich Bonehoeffer’s opposition to Hitler, and Terry Fox’s courageous Marathon of Hope. All of these show us the great cost and sacrifice that it takes to truly make a difference. Last week’s celebration of Good Friday and Easter teaches us the same. God takes on human flesh and confronts human suffering and the dark powers of this world, ultimately dying on the cross. But Easter shows us that love is stronger than hate , suffering, and death. The answer to the world’s problems is love, love that enters into human suffering and pain, love that comes alongside, love that gives of itself.
So before you click “like” think about what you’re doing. Ask yourself if there is some better way to act. Then go and love.