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In 2008 I was on a short home assignment in the U.S. when my brother introduced me to something called Facebook. I had never seen it before but was hooked instantly. However, as time has wore on, Facebook (and Twitter) have changed from an exciting way to connect with people to something a bit more tedious, and a bit less personal. Judging by the number of people deactivating their Facebook accounts these days, it seems that others are having a similar experience.
As Christians got on the social media bandwagon, numerous blog posts and magazine articles appeared, warning that if Christians failed to get with the times, they would miss out on fantastic possibilities for evangelism and discipleship. If your church or ministry did not have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, you would become irrelevant. And irrelevance is the thing that evangelicals seem to fear most, even more than sin itself. However, as that wave passed, a small deluge of books (both Christian and secular) have begun to appear, calling into question the utopian claims of digital media. People have started to notice the effect that social media and perpetual connectedness are having on them. And not everyone likes what they see.
I was recently looking at an article in an old missionary periodical from 1912 and came across the following drawing. I didn’t see any explanation of its meaning but it immediately struck me as a fantastic illustration of the relative importance that missionaries need to attach to issues and concerns on the foreign mission field and in their home country.
In response to my post “Should Missionaries Use Facebook and Twitter?”, some missionaries in creative access nations (CANs) have pointed out that I neglected to include one major negative of using social media: Security. They have told me, in so many words, “Nice post, but that’s all irrelevant for us because we can’t use it.”For those working in creative access (i.e. communist, totalitarian, or Muslim) countries, it is imperative that their missionary identity be downplayed or hidden from the general public to ensure their continued ability to do their ministry. If identifying information about them and their ministry was publicly available online, then they would run a high risk of being either kicked out of the country, blacklisted by the people they are trying to reach, or even killed. You can see why a Facebook fan page with a big picture of their face would be a negative.
With the increasing popularity of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, there are lots of advantages for missionaries to use these media for both local ministry, and ministry with supporters in the home country. I have been using Facebook for about two years now, and Twitter for one year. There is lots to like but it is a continual challenge to make them work for me as a ministry tool and not turn into an entertaining distraction. I speak as one who uses both Facebook and Twitter and is continuing to think through how best to use them. Facebook and Twitter are not used in exactly the same way, and depending upon what you want to accomplish, you might choose one over the other. In general, Facebook is good for connecting people that you actually know, whereas Twitter is good for connecting with people who share common interests. Soren Gordhamer’s article, “When Do You Use Facebook vs. Twitter?” gives a more detailed breakdown of why you’d choose to use one over the other. However, for the purposes of this post, I am going to lump Facebook and Twitter together because there are a lot of commonalities between them.
As red shirt protesters swarm into Bangkok, blocking roads and surrounding military headquarters, I have been fascinated to watch the developments unfold on Twitter. An assortment of foreign journalists, local expats, and Thai people on the ground are constantly tweeting (i.e. sending updates via Twitter) about the latest movements of the red shirt protesters. While the up-to-the-minute updates are mostly reports of where the red shirts are now, you also get a fair amount of commentary from foreigners and Thai alike on how they feel about what's going on. Here's a screen shot of the Twitter feed on the topic of #redshirts: