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The Inhumanity of Facebook

The Inhumanity of Facebook

Facebooks users were in for a surprise as the year comes to an end. Facebook prepared a Year in Review photo album especially for you. It took all of the year’s most famous posts and put them together, put a bow on it, and gifted you with your very own special memories. While my photo album brought back some happy occasions, many could not share in the same happiness. In fact, many were forced to review some of the saddest parts of this year. In a recent blog post entitled “Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty,” Eric Meyer wrote about seeing a preview of his Year in Review that featured his six-year-old daughter who died of a brain tumor earlier this year.

“I didn’t go looking for grief this afternoon, but it found me anyway, and I have designers and programmers to thank for it … Where the human aspect fell short, at least with Facebook, was in not providing a way to opt out.”a

Eric Meyer highlights the inhumanity of facebook. The most popular social media on planet earth failed to bring happiness to one of its users who likely most needed it at this time of the year. Meyers observes:

“Where the human aspect fell short, at least with Facebook, was in not providing a way to opt out. The Year in Review ad keeps coming up in my feed, rotating through different fun-and-fabulous backgrounds, as if celebrating a death, and there is no obvious way to stop it,” he wrote. “The design is for the ideal user, the happy, upbeat, good-life user. It doesn’t take other user cases into account.”b

Is facebook at fault here? The Facebook algorithm did what it does. It takes your likes and translates it into success and happiness.

This raises the question of how much we are expecting from such an outlet. Should we expect that they read into our grief and respond accordingly? Should Zuckerberg provide a human review of our year through an inhuman outlet? These questions have simple answers. Still, we long for a reality where our grief is treated as grief by everyone and everything. In our hope to find comfort we have blamed a faceless mathematical tool that cannot understand our grief.

I grieve for Mr. Meyers and the many others who are re-living moments of utter pain by looking once again at the faces of loved ones who have died.

The truth is facebook could have given a way to opt out, but that would be to assume that facebook knows and understands grief. It does not. It is not human, it simply, mechanically, responds to your humanity. And they have already responded:

The feature has already been tweaked following feedback: it initially ended the slideshow with the words “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” It now uses the more neutral language “See you next year!”c

Yes. Next year there will be an “opt out” option. But then there will be new frustrations. Our human expectations for an inhuman tool will continue to disappoint us.

  1. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/facebooks-inability-human-results-messy-year-review/  (back)
  2. http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/29/living/feat-facebook-year-in-review-tragedy-death/  (back)
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/dec/29/facebook-apologises-over-cruel-year-in-review-clips  (back)

Why Most Christians Should Use Facebook!

It is likely that you are a Facebook user. In fact, over one billion people are on Facebook. And of course, it is likely that you are reading this article because a friend linked to it on their Facebook page. So the majority of you do not need to be persuaded. The small and insistent bunch that will not succumb to the technological and peer pressure may do well to continue on a perpetual Facebook fast. But there is another group of Christians out there that simply haven’t joined for lack of knowledge of the benefits Facebook can offer. As a friend, you may have to print them a copy of this piece, or send them a link via e-mail.

The reason I did not state “all Christians” in the title of this article is because there are legitimate reasons for some Bible-believing Christians to stay away from this tool. And that is precisely what Facebook is: a tool. I agree with Dr. Al Mohler that “Social networking is like any new technology.  It must be evaluated on the basis of its moral impact as well as its technological utility.” We are all called to be stewards of God’s gifts. Money is a tool for good, but the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil. In like manner, Facebook can be a tool for good, and I am arguing that if used wisely it will be.

I am in the redeeming business. I usually prefer to begin with how something can be redeemed before I talk about its dangers. Dr. Mohler suggests ten ways for safeguarding the social networking experience. You can read them. They are helpful and can keep us and our children from abusing something that is so ubiquitous. Before you read those, however, consider how Facebook may actually be a constructive tool in the Kingdom of God, one that can benefit you, your Church and community:

First, Facebook offers invaluable information about loved ones. A couple of days ago as I was leaving the office I scanned briefly through the updates and discovered that the son of a dear friend was about to enter into surgery. She asked for prayer. As I drove home I petitioned to our gracious God on behalf of this little child. Without Facebook I don’t think I would have known about this surgery in time. I could multiply these experiences. Facebook has brought closeness with not only loved ones, but dear friends and their families.

Second, Facebook has provided me tremendous counseling opportunities. I already have a distinct call as a pastor to counsel my flock, but if someone outside my community desires 5-10 minutes of my time seeking wisdom on a personal issue I have the luxury to offer it through this tool. We are all called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. I have done both regularly because of Facebook.

Third, Facebook offers exposure to new ideas. This may not seem appealing, but I have always believed that Christians need to frequently visit C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe. They need to be exposed to ideas that confront their theological paradigms. Of course, sometimes these FB discussions can lead to unfortunate and uncharitable debates that consume a lot of our time, but again I want to redeem Facebook (see Mohler’s list for safeguarding).

Fourth, FB provides a venue to encourage others with words of comfort (see #1). Many have been encouraged by biblical passages and quotes that speak directly to a unique circumstance in their lives. At the same time, the same venue can provide a proper rebuke to our unpleasant and ungodly attitudes. There are pastors and godly parishioners whose FB status I read daily for comfort and rebuke.

Fifth, FB can be a source of intellectual stimulation. I can’t tell you how many books I have purchased or downloaded on Kindle (another useful tool for the kingdom) due to the sample quotes posted on FB. For those with a book budget this can be a temptation, but again I am in the redeeming business.

Finally, FB is inevitable. “Hey, everybody’s doing it!” Seriously, everybody! Is this a good reason to do it? In this case I believe it is! Many Churches, Ministries, Charitable Organizations, Event Planners, all have their own FB page. Of course, you don’t have to be on top of everything, just be a lurker! But at least have a FB presence. FB serves a multitude of purposes, and can in fact facilitate communication, fellowship, and much more.

Facebook has been a tremendous tool for good. And as tool, it fulfills Dr. Mohler’s requirements, since it is morally impactful and technologically useful. So go ahead, start an account and join us!