Pope Benedict has been urging us repeatedly over the past several years to Evangelize the “digital continent.” This is a broad enough call that people can find any variety of means to Evangelize. Pope Benedict does not specify a particular site, like Youtube, Facebook, or WordPress. Neither does he specify in what media: Word, Image, or Video.
Perhaps some people can share a success story of Evangelizing on Facebook. It may be possible. I think it would be worthwhile, not merely to be provocative, but I have yet to hear any reasonable and critical responses to the overarching assumption that Facebook is a good place to Evangelize. I do not level criticisms as someone who is ignorant or skeptical of new media, neither do I have any interest in preserving the “status quo” (assuming that “Not using Facebook” is the status quo, because it is not). I also have not figured out, nor will I attempt to propose what or if there is some grand replacement for Facebook, because I do not believe that any major social media website has successfully done so.
I want to be clear: having a ministry that has a Facebook page is different from doing Facebook ministry. What is said here could be applied to both, and my criticisms are sharply and even indiscriminately divided by two.
1 Facebook shrinking smartphone myopic.
Most Facebook users are not interested in interacting positively or building relationships with strangers. One of Facebook’s advantages was that it built a culture of keeping in touch with classmates, unlike MySpace, which seemed to be about meeting new people. Most people who use Facebook are only interested in adding people that they are familiar with to some degree. In some cases, “Friending” strangers often is strange in Facebook, granted I have encountered a few exceptions.
In addition, being that Facebook is principally engaged in smartphones on the go, it only keeps people more intensely focused on the persons that they interact with. Being that people are engaging Facebook through their phones, that already decreases the likelihood that they will touch anything requiring critical thought or engagement (ie linking to a blog post, or video). This already makes more events, groups, & routine broad status updates irrelevant.
2 Facebookers minimally interact
Facebook caters to their interests. People have hundreds or thousands of friends, likes & subscriptions. Facebook is so massive, that the only way people will use it, is if Facebook automatically prioritizes more interesting things. Facebook currently uses Edgerank algorithms to prioritize what appears on each individual’s newsfeed.
Therefore, Facebook is increasingly becoming a shrinking circle, as people are more focally engaged on the concerns and social interests within that shrinking circle. So not only does your mission field become fixed from ever expanding, it actually shrinks. People are on Facebook in a closed circle, your attempts at broadly evangelizing to all your friends and subscribers will likely be filtered out of their circles, news feeds, and general experience of Facebook.
Of course the exception to this, will be the Catholic superfans who are already heavily engaged: The social network equivalent of preaching to the choir.
3 The Facebook demographic has flipped inside out
I used to find it fun to engage in Social Media with my peers when I was a teenager, and part of what made that fun safe in my mind, was that my parents were oblivious to it. This was the world of AOL Instant Messenger or Xanga. Now every kid’s parents, aunts, uncles, and family reunions are integrative of Facebook groups, photo albums, event invitations, etc.
For many young people today, if it wasn’t hard enough dealing with micromanaging helicopter parents, it is awkward having the world of their family so arbitrarily mixed with their dynamic social relationships at school across teams & clubs.
None of this is meant to be condescending to any of my elders who go on Facebook, some of whom are not looking to evangelize youth. I do, however, find reason to sympathize with younger people who feel Facebook is irrelevant. Like Facebook seemed to correct in what ways MySpace was wrong for me and my twenty-something peers; so too will kids find a new social media venue that fixes what Facebook did wrong for them.
4 Facebook tools are now dysfunctional
People share Images with words on them instead of just saying it, as if it were tumblr. People use hashtags on posts, as if it were Twitter. Instead of creating photo albums & collections, they would rather instagram some peculiar stand-alone moment in their experience they feel is worth sharing. People’s Facebook pages get cluttered with apps from other sites like Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter and other sharing sites.
People create events, and invite their friends. Most people who go to the events do not RSVP either way. The rest do not even acknowledge the event. Most people’s notifications have been so cluttered with event invites from friends all over the country, and all over the world, that it seems futile to even actually look at the event.
Two years ago, had I sent somebody an email, they would have likely only seen it a week later when they checked their inbox. The same person likely would have replied to a Facebook direct message within the hour. Nowadays, there are plenty of people who do not check, respond, or even notice any messages that they receive on Facebook.
I can only imagine, considering all that has been said on Edgerank, that people even broadly engage their newsfeed. Having considered that people are reluctant to engage direct messages & direct invites, how likely are they to engage indirect status updates.
5 Facebook is an extension of corporate america
Every brand and product has a facebook page. Every time you find a brand or product, you find information about their facebook page, that if you like, you will be included with a variety of special offers.
Commercials, promoted posts show up in people’s news feeds. Commercials and Advertisements permeate every crevice of our lives, and Facebook is no exception. I believe that young people have becomes so adept at automatically filtering out uninteresting things in this information overload postmodern age, that the chances of being noticed or acknowledged on facebook are staggering.
Particularly for what I refer to ministries who have a Facebook page, the likelihood of your content being noticed within its scope of relevancy is diminishing. You might be exceptional if you started advertising on Facebook like all these other random uninteresting things that show up in my newsfeed.
A Note to my naysayers.
Some will easily say that I am wrong. People might be able to cite experiences where they have reached people for the good over Facebook. I don’t doubt that perhaps you are connecting to certain demographics via Facebook.
I find it alarming that I have rarely come across intelligent and critical thoughts from Catholics that realistically suggests that Facebook is not indeed the future. Such has been my own personal experience in engaging young people in both Southern California & the Chicagoland area.
I have had a number of friends, many of them inspiring faith-filled persons who have touched my faith life, have not had the grace or patience of Facebook. That is a grace that God has neither given me, being that many others have commented on my gifts with technology.