Brace yourself. If this report is true then Facebook curators aren’t honest brokers when it comes to managing the company’s “trending” news section. It would seem that said curators ignore some trends while manufacturing others. But the doctoring of the news trends wasn’t an attempt to drive more traffic thereby generating more revenue. No, the trends were tampered with in order to–brace yourselves–suppress conservative news.
Those of you hearing this for the first time (what? you didn’t see this story on Fb??) may need a moment to get over the sudden onset of the vapours. For the rest of you I hope that you file this story under “unexpected, not surprised” since Facebook isn’t the only member of the media industrial complex to use their platform to serve an agenda. I guess part of what makes the story “newsworthy” is that not an insignificant portion of the population (millennials?) is purported to get their news from Fb. I suppose they had to find another reliable source when John “Just-the-Facts” Stewart stepped down from the Daily Show.
On a more serious note, I draw attention to the story for two closely related reasons. First, Fb (et al) has been something of an unofficial bellwether of societal mood and thought. Second, if the fix is in at Fb we have to seriously question whether or not features like “trending news” show trends or steer trends.
The plausibility of the report should at least give us pause. If Fb has tinkered with the trends what might that say about the incessant effort to keep Christianity “relevant”?
It’s not easy to buck the trend or to run against a headwind which is why on a host of issues–sexual ethics, racial reconciliation, biblical authority, etc–too many prominent Christians have assumed the role of ecclesiastical pioneer so as to lead the rest of us plodders into a new frontier. In the hope of saving Christianity from itself these brave souls run against doctrinal headwinds as they ride the cultural gusts. As one Dr. Zeitgeist has said:
Culture is like the wind. You can’t stop it. You shouldn’t spit in it. But, if like a good sailor you will adjust your sails, you can harness the winds of culture to take your audience where they need to go.
But what if the new winds blowing aren’t all-natural?
What if portions of that perfect storm have been generated by an industrial blower?
The ubiquity of social media has made it an essential tool in ministry today and a helpful, albeit imperfect, measure of issues that require a Christian response. We can and should use it responsibly.
But a word of caution is in order. If keeping up with trends is one of the conditions for maintaining your Christian witness, you’ll look back one day and be shocked to discover that you were the tool all along.