A Hong Kong professor claimed that social media might be a new mission God called Christian reconcilers to make good use of.
In the last session of the eighth Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia which concluded virtually on June 24, Alex Hon-Ho Ip, assistant professor of Divinity School of Chung Chi College of Chinese University of Hong Kong, gave a lecture titled “The Digital Literacy of the Reconcilers”.
Featuring “Divisive Social Media and the Ministry of Reconciliation,” this year’s forum, which began on June 3, was initiated by Duke Divinity School's Center for Reconciliation, Mennonite Central Committee, Collaboration Council from Northeast Asia.
The forum adopts the phrase "Word Made Flesh", examining the three critical dimensions that it contains: theological ("the Word"), contextual ("became flesh"), and practical ("and dwelt among us"), according to 2 Corinthians 5:18.
Aiming to “bring the implication on our spirituality of reconciliation in this digital world”, Dr. Ip stated that the digital world could bring reconciliation to the broken world as digitalization has penetrated every part of our life. Citing the statistics of the world’s average time spent on social media that has increased from 80 minutes in 2012 to 140 minutes per day in 2021, the professor said that the influence of using digital technology is evident. As people spend six hours every day on the Internet and the number of Facebook users has reached more than 2,850 million in 2020, the impact has been broad and deep. Meanwhile, the year 2016 saw the manipulating influence of social media power in the U.S presidential election and the U.K. Brexit vote.
The professor said, “Digital companies can collect our preferences and values through our interaction in social media. Every of our move on the Internet is watched, stored, and calculated.”
“Someone says that technology is neutral, I think that is not wrong, but we have to be careful when we hold this point of view. Yes, but the ones creating and making use of the technology are not neutral. Therefore, social media is not value free or merely a platform for us to connect or express our views as they claim,” he added.
“Instead, we have to imagine that there’s a big machine behind the digital world and we are inevitably interacting with it. The knowledge of it is called digital literacy.”
Quoting the saying of Joan Donovan, an adjunct professor of Harvard Business School, he emphasized that the motivation behind the digital world is the search for profit; therefore, the information we receive is not leading people to become “more connected, more understanding to each other, and more eager for truth”, but to become “more individualistic, more self-centered, and allowing the world to be manipulated by hatred and prejudice”.
Dr. Ip wen on to say that social media would pose a threat to our spirituality in our reconciliation mission. The first threat is on our worldview as there is always a market to provide a “simple truth” and certain perspectives for people.
“Their truthfulness will not affect their popularity as they only aim at those who buy their views”, he said, “They package their perspectives into a form of canned truth, waiting for the right customers to buy them. There are some characteristics of these truths. There are photos associated with demo videos helping you connect all unknown factors into a coherent story. There’s a perspective of the story so that you do not need to think about it. You’ll just need to determine whether to buy it or not.
“That is threatening to our reconciliation because we will not have a diverse perspective, to the extent where our and people’s perspectives will become narrower and narrower, and sometimes resulting in a prejudice that is hard to break.”
He explained that another threat to reconciliation is about habits.
“Through interacting or spending time on social media, people become more self-centered or sometimes narcissistic. Social media is described as a social attention economy. It was built at the beginning to attract attention… so the whole social media is around ourselves. The more time you spend on social media, the more you are trained to be self-centered,” Dr. Ip admitted.
“This poses a new problem on reconciliation, as sympathy is one of our key spiritual traits for reconciliation. With people getting increasingly self-centered, it is hard to bring about genuine reconciliation,” he added.
"As God might call us to break those 'filter bubbles', the spirituality of reconcilers is essential", he continued. "Passive spirituality refers to our awareness to manipulation by social media, according to the teaching of 'not being conformed to the world' in Romans 12:2. Christians should do the fact check and spiritual check when using social media.
“We have to be very careful when using and receiving information on social media and the Internet. We have to be aware that what we receive is neither random nor reflective of the truth. Read not only news of perspective that pleases you, but also seek and understand others’ perspective.”
The professor put forward two practical suggestions for reconcilers in the digital world: “follow pages that share different views with you” and “balance your media diet”, which should include short comments, posts, and also long, more deeply articulated posts.
Active spirituality means there is a calling to make a good, righteous use of social media. He cited his own experience in which his four six-hour-long free lectures on Philippians given last year received 100,000 views on his personal Youtube channel in three months.
Dr. Ip proposed four practical advices for Christian participation in the social world: produce attractive but not manipulative good material, make a right target that centers not only on quantitative views, but also qualitative views and right matching, reach the right audiences with the right messages, and create the room for dialogue, not merely argument.
“People need a message, they hunger for wisdom and thirst for beautiful testimonies. These are all essential elements for reconciliation. There are so many hateful messages or popular posts that bring tragedies and isolation. It’s just not realistic to ask people not to participate in this virtual real world. There is a great demand in it.
“I have a motto through my experience of participating in this social media world: be a faithful reconciliation translator. Shape the good message into a great post. Make a loving message into a loving post. If we think about ourselves as a message translator, social media is still one of the places we have to put most of our efforts to bring the spirit back to God,” he concluded.