Rolling out Facebook’s new mission, founder Mark Zuckerberg mentioned church as an example of community. It made me wonder if he thinks church and Facebook are interchangeable, although he never actually said that.
Zuckerberg compared organizers of Facebook groups to pastors who care for their congregation. Then he said, “Membership in all kinds of communities around the world has been declining, in a lot of places by as much as one-quarter. That’s a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else.” He continues, “This is our challenge. We have to build a world where every single person has a sense of purpose and community.” With that he announces the new mission: “To give people the power to build community to bring the world closer together.”
Zuckerberg’s Facebook groups are going to reach out and hug the whole world! Sounds inspiring. But it’s much less so that Facebook plans to harness the power of artificial intelligence to nudge users to join Facebook groups. It’s no wonder that Tristan Harris, former Google product manager, accuses social media of brain hacking. He says, “Never before in history have a handful of people at a handful of technology companies shaped how a billion people think and feel every day. The constant distraction of phone aps and emails are weakening our relationships to each other.” The more user attention, the more advertiser revenue, at the cost of relationships. Zuckerberg is right about our need for community, but the paradox is that marketing his product can militate against it.
A friend of mine said, “The community on Facebook might be interesting, or entertaining in ways, but can never replace a true personal relationship, or Christian fellowship.” In his book, “Faith Seeking Understanding,” Dr. Daniel Migliore explains that the New Testament church “is a distinctive form of human community characterized by mutuality, interdependence, forgiveness, and friendship. Ecclesial life is a new community of free persons centered on God’s love in Jesus Christ and empowered to service by the Holy Spirit.” Christian fellowship means dwelling together in unity (Psa. 133), sharing meals and possessions with one another (Acts 2), stimulating one another to love and good deeds, and encouraging one another (Heb. 10). This means hugs, laughing, crying, giving, and receiving. This means “facetime” not Facebook.
Social media may be harmful or helpful depending on how and why it is used, but it will never be a substitute for the fellowship of believers, “and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 1:3). That is the church’s blessing, and we don’t need artificial intelligence to enjoy it.