March 5, 2017: And So It Begins
From Paul Turley
When a 32-year-old white American man writes a letter and posts it on the internet he usually doesn't get much attention beyond his friends and family. But when that man is Mark Zuckerberg, the creator and controller of Facebook, more than family and friends pay attention.
Facebook has 1.86 billion users. That’s half of all the world’s internet users. According to the latest figures, in the last quarter, Facebook earned 8.8 billion dollars. A Pew Research report from May 2016 states that 44% of Americans get their news from Facebook at least some of the time. So any letter written by the person who controls Facebook really is required reading.
This is how Zuckerberg opens his letter: “To our community, On our journey to connect the world, we often discuss products we’re building and updates on our business. Today I want to focus on the most important question of all: are we building the world we all want?”
Given that we in the Christian Church have talked about and strived to build community for the 2,000 years of our existence, we want to welcome and pay attention to anyone who wants to be part of that project. However, we have some questions to ask Mr. Zuckerberg. Principally, who is the “our community” to whom the letter is addressed? Are they the same “our” as the “our”’ in, “On our journey to connect the world”? And who are the “we” who “often discuss products…” And who is the “we” who is “building the world we want”? These might seem to be pedantic questions, but they are not; they are vital because surely true community can only be built when everyone is included in the ‘we’ and the “our.”
The letter goes on to articulate a vision for Facebook: “In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us…”
Because it is a technology company, many of the tools that Zuckerberg goes on to suggest will build a global community are technological. We must ask, who is going to build this infrastructure? Who is going to decide how this infrastructure operates, what assumptions it incorporates, and what priorities are set for it. Presumably it is the owners of Facebook, not you and I.
The letter talks a lot about the Facebook community. The question we must ask is, to what extent is Facebook a community? Does opening a Facebook account make you part of a community? Whatever Zuckerberg’s letter says about community, those of us who are on Facebook are first and foremost, customers of a very large corporation. We can interact with the software they offer us, but we can have very little influence over the development of that software and we can make very few modifications.
Community is at the heart of Jesus’ life and message. Because he wanted a world where all people belonged and were equal, he resisted the temptations that were offered to him to manipulate the world.
What kind of community of faith might have developed if Jesus had succumbed to the temptation to rule the kingdoms of the world?
What do you think your faith community’s relationship should be with social media and Facebook in particular?
What do you think Jesus meant when he said, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
God, we long for the true community for which Jesus longed, worked, and prayed. Help us to work together for community that welcomes all, and that does not discriminate or manipulate. Give us courage and strength to be true sisters and brothers to each other. Amen.