Monday, May 13, 2013

The Plus and Minus of the Social Network

A person in a crowd does not shoulder any personal responsibility. A truism amply illustrated in the scriptures: "There was a lot of talk about him [Jesus] among the people." Some said, "He's a good man," but others replied, "No, he's misleading the people" (John 7:12). A little later, with one voice, the crowd shouted, "Take him away! Crucify him!" (John 19:15).

Who makes up a crowd? And what voice do you and I have in a crowd? A religious sister who studied media ecology, and spirituality reminds us, in her article in the Kyeongyang Magazine, of a few important points when using the social networking services (SNS).

It is easy to overlook the fact that a few people when aligned together can become the voice of a crowd without the  approval of many in the crowd. People who have come together in such a crowd are anonymous. In much the same way the social networks are following the rules of mass psychology, those with the same interests often coming together to make their own group, where they find and enjoy security.

Teenagers are beginning to use in their conversations the word "KakaoStory bullying." (KakaoStory is a Korean photo sharing social networking service.) It's a form of bullying in which a person is invited to a cyberspace room and, with pictures, is attacked in a way that exceeds the worst of the 'word only' type of bullying. This kind of bullying lasts 24 hours a day, and you can't hide from it.

A boy who was participating in this kind of bullying was asked why he was using abusive language. He said, unperturbed by what he had been doing, that it was bullying, simply bullying. Doesn't that bother you in any way? he was asked. No, was his unemotional and matter-of-fact answer. We also find this unemotional involvement, she says, in other age groups and in other segments of society who are using the same bullying tactics with malicious comments that are often seen on posts.

We all have a desire to relate with others, and to be ostracized hurts. The possibilities that are offered by the SNS are numerous. The sister feels that the personal values one has are weakened by these services, as we gradually are influenced by the values of others participating in the service, and to want to imitate the perceived 'stars' of the SNS, and when we are not able to do so, the sister says, it can lead susceptible individuals into depression.

There is a limit to the number of friends we can have, and those made on SNS, we know, can be easily forgotten. A true friend is one we can meet with at any time, a person we can easily ask for help and support. We have to practice this type of meeting, the sister says, and come out of the crowd, meeting on a one-on-one basis. We are not sufficiently consoled merely by words in cyberspace. We need the presence of the other.

Referencing Peter 3:10: "Keep his tongue from evil and his lips from uttering deceit," she hopes that we can elevate the social media from being a place where one frequently feels no sense of responsibility for what one says, to a place where joy is experienced.

She quotes a professor who cites studies that found that happy people have surrounded themselves with happy people, and unhappy people are surrounded by unhappy people. She hopes that SNS members will foster a desire to support each networking member, so that ultimately we will build a network of joy that will be truly social, because, she says, like all good things in life, social networking is a blessing and a gift of God.

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