Understanding, Reaching, and Serving the Millennial Generation. Countless Gen-Xers and Boomers write often about Millennials and Millennial Evangelicals. Nobody wants to be “the voice of Millennials” because nobody can accurately describe every Millennial all the time, even Millennials themselves. My goal here is not to be “the voice of Millennials.”
I read the Bible in a year for the first time in 2010. I was a sophomore in college, a Biblical Studies major, and was pretty sure I had never read some parts of the Bible in my entire life. I figured it was a good time to try reading through the Bible in a year for the first time. So I did it. It was great, but it wasn’t easy.
After reading through the Bible in a year for the first time, I decided I would try to do it every other year (so every even year). When it comes to reading and studying the Bible, I prefer to read a small passage and dig deeply into it, so reading a bunch of text in one day is stretching for me.
I read through the Bible successfully in 2010, 2012, and 2014, but I failed in 2016. In the past, I have read the Bible in a year by reading it chronologically. This year, I am using this five-day plan, which offers some flexibility in case you miss a day during the week. I love that this plan gives some Old and New Testament each day, which should make it easier than the chronological plans which don’t give you any New Testament until late in the year.
So, if you’ve started a Bible reading plan for the year, you need to be ready for what happens when you fall so far behind on your reading plan, and you realize you aren’t going to read the Bible in a year.
What do we do when we fall so far behind on our Bible reading plan we “fail?”
First, don’t be discouraged.
You aren’t a terrible person if you fall three weeks behind on your Bible reading plan. Life happens, and sometimes we fail to make Bible reading a priority.
In the past, when I have failed at my Bible reading plan, I have become so discouraged that I stopped reading my Bible consistently for long periods of time.
I remember shortly after I failed my Bible reading plan in the spring of 2016, I would get so discouraged when I would sit down to read my Bible, I would just not read my Bible.
Don’t do that. Don’t be discouraged. It’s OK to fail your Bible reading plan.
God’s love for you is not determined by whether or not you read the Bible in a year like you planned.
But, when you fail your Bible reading plan, what should you read? If you don’t have any ideas, it’s pretty simple…
Keep using the plan!
This is my plan for this year, if I happen to fall far behind in the plan. If, for some reason, I fall so far behind in the Bible reading plan that I come to terms with the reality that I won’t be finishing in the year, I am just going to keep using the plan as my Bible reading prompt until I’m done with it, even if it’s halfway into 2019.
I work with students, and a lot of them struggle reading their Bibles because they don’t know where to start. They sometimes have this idea that they just need to open their Bible to a random page and just start reading. I know the feeling.
If you fail your Bible reading plan, you may have this feeling, too. But you don’t have to have that feeling. If you fail your Bible reading plan, just continue using it as your guide whenever you are able to take time to read.
But, about time for a minute. I want to remind you of what I often remind myself: “I don’t have time to read my Bible,” is a poor excuse. We make time for what we want to do. “Not having time” to read our Bible is our own fault.
We are not a victim of not having enough time, our inability to prioritize Bible reading is our problem to solve.
If you are trying to read the Bible in a year like I am, I hope your first couple of weeks are going well. If you fall behind, don’t get discouraged, and just use your plan to guide you throughout the rest of the year without the urgency of finishing before 2019!
Hey there, everyone! It’s been a long time since I’ve published something on this blog. I’ve drafted a few pieces in the last few months, but I didn’t like any of them enough to publish them for everyone to read.
So here we are in 2018. Just a couple of days in and a few weeks away from writing the right date on stuff.
The purpose of this blog post is to look back at what happened in my life in 2017 and ahead toward what is coming this year.
What Happened in 2017
We got a puppy. His name is Rizzo. He’s pretty great, but also super frustrating sometimes. He eats socks. Like whole.
I graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with my M.Div. in May. It was good to graduate. Attending SEBTS was a great experience, but I am happy to have a bit more time to spend with friends, serve in the church, and read a bit more widely than I had time to do in the past.
Then, about a month after I graduated, I turned in my 30,000+ word book manuscript to my book publisher. Ministering to Millennials should be released in the first quarter of this year. We are working on the final edits and the cover art right now.
Beyond that, the summer was pretty uneventful. A highlight was definitely leading a summer Bible study with some of the students in our youth group. It was a lot of fun and I got a lot closer with the youth guys that I help lead at our church.
Spanning the entirety of 2017 is a little project called LifeWay Social.
Like most people who work in social media, I have done a lot of contract work on the side. Around the summer of 2016, I decided that when I finished seminary in the spring of 2017, I wanted to formalize the contract work into more of a side business.
Long story made short, that project turned into LifeWay Social and it became part of my job at LifeWay instead of a project on the side.
LifeWay Social was announced in July 2017 and signups opened in October 2017. So far, I have been really happy with how it has done and my hope is that 2018 will be a great first full calendar year for LifeWay Social.
The LifeWay Social project is the main reason I have not written here on this blog nearly as much as I used to. So much of my time is caught up in, basically, studying social media and coaching Christians on how to use it better. From October through December of 2017, I was working 10-12 hour days pretty regularly as we ramped up LifeWay Social and got it rolling.
After doing all of that, when I finally have some free time at the end of a day or on the weekend, the last thing I want to do is sit down in front of yet another WordPress screen and write more blog content.
So, if you’ve been sad that I haven’t been writing here, I apologize. But I know most of you don’t care, so let’s move on to looking ahead to what 2018 holds.
What Is Ahead in 2018
We are just a couple of days into 2018. I love the start of the New Year. There isn’t anything spiritually significant about going from December to January, but it is helpful to have a sort of mental reset, and the changing of the year does that for me.
Also, the last two weeks of December each year are about the only time I let myself be lazy as a creator for any significant period of time. I try to write nothing, post little, and just relax the last two weeks of December each year.
By the time New Year’s Day rolls around, I am chomping at the bit to get back to work and get back to writing blog posts or articles for the various outlets I have the opportunity to serve.
Every even year since 2010, I try to read through the Bible in a year. I failed in 2016, but am picking it up again this year. I tend to like reading small chunks of Scripture and diving deeply into them, so read-the-Bible-in-a-year plans are a bit out of my comfort zone, but I think it’s a good practice and I have always enjoyed it in the past.
At a professional level, I hope I learn more in 2018 than I have in any year previously. I hope I become a better co-worker and a better coach. I learned a ton about social media and content creation in 2017, and I hope I learn as much in 2018. I want LifeWay Social to continue to grow and be a valuable resource for Christians trying to use social media well.
But beyond that, I hope 2018 provides me more opportunities to create content and put into practice what I have been learning the last year.
Through LifeWay Social and perhaps some other outlets, I am hoping to create more video content than I have in the past. I detest being on video. It makes me very uncomfortable because I lack self-confidence and I don’t like watching myself. But, it’s a growing area of content creation and I think I can be good at it if I work hard.
On a personal level, I want to be more involved in the lives of the students I have the opportunity to lead at our church and I want to be a more selfless husband for my wife. I want 2018 to be the year Susie and I look back on as the year we opened our home up to more people than we ever had before.
Anyway, that’s a bit of an update from me on the last year. I hope this site is still helpful for any of you who may read this.
Here we find ourselves, in the first week of 2018.
What does it hold? Who knows?
The turn of the year provides us with a mental reset and it should remind us that, while the year on the calendar may change, the Lord doesn’t. The faithfulness he has shown throughout our lives will remain in 2018, regardless of how unfaithful we may be.
One of the many unique attributes of Donald Trump’s presidency is his prolific use of Twitter. President Obama used Twitter, but not in the same ways President Trump is using the platform.
President Trump’s Tweets on Trial
In the last week or so, there has been even more attention directed at President Trump’s use of Twitter than normal, primarily because of what he is tweeting about North Korea and the effects his tweets could have on geopolitical relationships.
Here are a couple about North Korea from the last month or so:
Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!
President Trump’s tweets have been interpreted as threats by many including North Korea. Really, anyone with common sense would interpret these tweets as threats, however realistic or unrealistic these threats may be.
So, how did Twitter respond?
This is how Twitter responded on Monday (see full thread):
THREAD: Some of you have been asking why we haven't taken down the Tweet mentioned here: https://t.co/CecwG0qHmq 1/6
President Trump being an exception to Twitter rules has upset Twitter users and people in general. So then here’s the question:
Should Twitter Ban President Trump?
No. Twitter shouldn’t ban President Trump from Twitter. They should change their Terms of Service to reflect the unwritten reasons they have allowed him to stay on the platform, which is exactly what they said they’re doing.
Obviously, I don’t think making threats on Twitter is good, I just think banning everyone who makes threats on Twitter is an impossible expectation. I think people who make threats should be able to use Twitter because policing every threat on a platform like Twitter is unrealistic and potentially does more harm than good, especially when AI and algorithms get involved (just ask Facebook about that).
The reality is that hundreds of thousands of Twitter accounts are making threats to other Twitter accounts on the platform every single day. In one instance, it may be a friend jokingly threatening to punch another friend in the face if he doesn’t pay him back for the lunch he bought for him. In another instance it may be a head of state threatening nuclear war with another head of state.
Neither user should be banned, I believe, for a number of reasons. The first of which is that the user could just create a new Twitter account with new information and continue making threats as he or she so pleases, so the banning wasn’t really effective anyway.
Another reason is that, if President Trump was banned from Twitter, Twitter would be compelled by its users to go through and ban every single user who has ever made threats to others on the platform, which would be an impossible task.
President Trump and celebrities like him should not be protected from being banned for violating Twitter’s Terms of Service, and nor should President Trump or celebrities like him be more likely to be banned than the average Twitter user for violating the Terms.
Either you ban every single person, famous or not, who breaks the Terms, or you don’t ban any of them. I think the second option is more realistic and manageable than the first.
Further, from a business perspective, Twitter would be silly to ban President Trump from their platform because he has brought more attention to the platform than anything else in its history.
Twitter has their reasons for not banning President Trump. Whatever they actually are, I think they are doing the right thing by letting him stay. If they decided to ban him, they’ve be opening up a Pandora’s box of subsequent actions they would be compelled, and I believe unable, to take.
I’m curious what you think. This is just my opinion. I could be convinced otherwise.
My primary work is helping authors with their social media, but as anyone who works in social media will tell you, when you work in social media, you get questions from all kinds of people.
One of the groups that asks me questions most often is local churches. Church leaders often have a dozen good, relevant questions about social media, but one of the most common is simple this: “How should I use Facebook?”
To many (especially young people), that may seem like a simple question. But for church leaders who spend the majority of their days trying to counsel hurting people and prepare for weekly church events, Facebook strategy is one of their least concerns.
Here are three basic ways I think churches can cut through the complexity and use Facebook well:
1. Share gospel content.
Anyone who spends any amount of time on social media can attest: social media can be a dark place more often than not.
For many Christians, this has made them leave social media platforms altogether—they simply cannot justify willingly coexisting with such darkness. I get that.
At the same time, I think the common darkness of social media creates an even stronger case for Christians to be involved in these online spaces.
One of the best ways a church can use its Facebook presence is to share encouraging, gospel content such as blog posts, Scripture, or sermon videos. This lets the church shine the light of the gospel in the darkness of social media conversations.
2. Create gospel conversations.
When churches share gospel content on Facebook, gospel conversations often result. Whether in the comment sections, privately via private messages, or offline, churches can create gospel conversations with a healthy Facebook presence.
If you’re unsure about what to post on your church’s Facebook page, just post Scripture or ask people for prayer requests. Know that Facebook’s algorithm favors videos and images, so the more of those you post, the better. But, creating gospel conversations usually starts with sharing gospel content.
Along these same lines, be sure to avoid unnecessarily controversial content. Yes, the gospel is going to be offensive to some people no matter what, and you’ll have to deal with conflict of that kind at some point. But church Facebook pages need not be a battleground for political or cultural skirmishes. This often does more harm than good.
3. Buy Facebook ads.
You may be thinking, “The church doesn’t need to do any marketing! The gospel is attractive enough itself!” Ok. I understand. But hear me out.
If you’re spending hundreds of dollars on paper flyers to post a coffee shops or post cards to put in mailboxes, I would contend that your money would be better spent on purchasing Facebook ads.
When used correctly, Facebook ads allow your church to reach people in your communities more effectively than paper flyers or post cards, and with less hassle.
Really, buying a Facebook ad really just amounts to you promoting a piece of content on Facebook so that it can be seen by more people in your community that use Facebook and may be interested in checking out your church.
But, buying Facebook ads and figuring out the best audience to which you should boost your content can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re doing.
A while back, I announced that I’m launching a new service through LifeWay called LifeWay Social. The purpose of LifeWay Social is to help Christian leaders, including local church leaders, better use social media to serve other people.
Next week, the LifeWay Social site will launch. I’m super excited.
If you want to stay aware of the latest regarding LifeWay Social, join the email list here. I only email you once a week. I promise I won’t annoy you.
Why has Fifty Shades of Grey sold over 150 million copies? (It’s not just because of the content.)
In the book’s “interlude,” Thompson gives a brief history of teens. Studying Millennials is fascinating to me, but studying teens of any generation is just as fascinating. Teens are on the forefront of popular culture. As go teens so go their parents (see every social media platform).
(FYI: current teenagers are not Millennials, but are part of iGen, or Gen Z, those born after 2000.)
Perhaps the most interesting part of this interlude on the history of teens was on the effect phones are having on teens and their relationships with each other. After explaining that the logos on teens’ clothing once defined them, Thompson writes:
In a new age of cool, the smartphone screen has displaced the embroidered logo as the focal point of teen identity. It was once sufficient to look good in a high school hallway, but today Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram are all high school hallways, where young people perform and see performances, judge and are judged. Many decades after another mobile device, the car, helped invent the teenager, the iPhone and its ilk offered new nimble instruments of self-expression, symbols of independence, and better ways to hook up.
This paragraph just breaks my heart for today’s teenagers. I was a teenager only eight years ago, which seems both like it was yesterday and it was long ago, but even we didn’t have it this bad. The iPhone was released when I was a junior in high school and even then few students had such phones. We often “performed” in online spaces like Myspace and AOL Instant Messenger, but we weren’t carrying those platforms around in our pockets, thankfully.
In an article published earlier this summer in The Atlantic titled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?,” Dr. Jean Twenge makes her readers aware of what’s at stake for a generation of young people glued to their phones:
What’s at stake isn’t just how kids experience adolescence. The constant presence of smartphones is likely to affect them well into adulthood. Among people who suffer an episode of depression, at least half become depressed again later in life. Adolescence is a key time for developing social skills; as teens spend less time with their friends face-to-face, they have fewer opportunities to practice them. In the next decade, we may see more adults who know just the right emoji for a situation, but not the right facial expression.
(Dr. Twenge just released a book called iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us, which is now on backorder at Amazon.)
Today’s teens are always in the hallway because the 21st century adolescent catwalk is the smartphone and the terrifying worlds it holds.
Whether you’re a parent of a teen, a boss of a teen, or a pastor of a teen, please be aware of the sad fact that teens today feel as though they are always performing—perhaps they’re even performing for you. Be a person in the lives of the teens you know who doesn’t require them to perform. Be a person teens can approach with their real selves.
Breaking down both white Catholics and white evangelicals by age cohort, millennials (18-to-20-[sic]-year-olds) constitute just 11 percent of the total, making them the two oldest religious traditions in the country. White mainline millennials come in at 14 percent.
Among all millennials, eight percent are white mainliners, eight percent are white evangelicals, and six percent are white Catholics. By comparison, among Americans 50 and older, white evangelicals outnumber both white mainliners and white Catholics roughly three to two.
Rather, what (relative) strength it [Mainline Protestantism] shows is likely to be coming from outside — from millennials raised Catholic or evangelical who want some other, dare I say more liberal, form of Christianity.
Dr. Silk cites the recently-released PRRI data to imbue hope into Mainline Protestants by effectively saying, “Hey, I know we’re hemorrhaging followers, but this latest data shows we’re grabbing the ex-evangelicals!”
As if that’s supposed to be encouraging news.
Is Growth By Acquisition to Be Celebrated?
In the business world, growth by acquisition is often regarded as an unsustainable, unreliable means of growth. Sure, growth by acquisition is better than precipitous decline, but if business leaders had their choice, they would prefer to grow by improving their own products and services rather than relying on their ability to purchase the right companies that add to their worth.
Dr. Silk says in his article that the future of Mainline Protestantism largely relies upon young people leaving more conservative Christian traditions like Catholicism and evangelicalism and joining Mainline Protestant churches.
Is that sort of growth to be celebrated? Is that kind of growth even sustainable?
The sort of growth upon which Dr. Silk says Mainline Protestantism is relying for its youth movement requires young people to leave one tradition for another because their views of Scripture become more liberal than the conservative tradition of which they were a part.
Such growth isn’t really sustainable and can barely be called “growth.” It is not as though all young evangelicals are going to decide evangelicalism is too conservative. At some point, the winnowing will cease and a certain number of young people who reject the conservative tradition of their youth will leave it for Mainline Protestantism and the “growth” will cease.
Then, it will be up to Mainline Protestantism to do what evangelicalism could not: convince those young people that the God of the Bible affirms the liberal views to which they so tightly hold.
The Problems With the PRRI Data
To this point, this blog post has been taking the PRRI data and Dr. Silk’s piece at face value, without taking a critical look at the actual data or how it compares to other religious survey data.
We’re going to do that now, and it…changes things.
The problems with the PRRI data are best explained by Tobin Grant, himself a columnist for RNS. He tweeted shortly after the data was released:
Not identifying as "born again" or "evangelical" doesn't make you "mainline"
What a lot of people don’t understand about comparing the growth/decline of various Christian traditions is that how you categorize people as “Mainline,” “evangelical,” or otherwise matters.
In its report, PRRI says this:
In this report, “evangelicals” are defined as those who self-identify as Protestant Christians who also identify as evangelical or born again.
Then, in a footnote on that sentence, they say this:
All respondents who identify as Christian are then asked the following question: “Would you describe yourself as a ‘born-again’ or ‘evangelical Christian,’ or not?” Respondents who self-identify as white, non-Hispanic, Protestant and affirmatively identify as born-again or evangelical are categorized as white evangelical Protestants.
That sounds all well and good, but the problem is exactly what Mr. Grant says: “Not identifying as ‘born again’ or ‘evangelical’ doesn’t make you ‘mainline.'” This is a common mistake in surveys such as this. Mainline Protestants are not just “those Christians who don’t identify as “evangelical.”
This is problematic for a number of reasons, but one timely issue is that this survey was done in 2016, a period of time in which many Americans would have been hesitant to self-identify as “evangelical” because of the unusually harsh political ramifications of that word throughout the election season.
Another major issue with the PRRI data is that it runs contrary to almost all other data of its kind.
Here is Mr. Grant again in a series of tweets:
A 5% drop is 10 million fewer Americans? Wow.
But @PRRIpoll didn't really do a 100,000+ survey. It did lots of little surveys 2/
The best longitudinal surveys to compare PRRI’s results are the GSS and the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES). Both have the advantage of being large, national samples, and both include two different approaches to measuring evangelicals – affiliation with specific denominations and self-identification with evangelicalism (which PRRI used). There is some scholarly debate about which evangelical measure is best, so we thought it was helpful to include both. In either approach to categorizing evangelicals, we limited our evangelical category to white Protestants, which is common practice. Essentially, comparing the GSS and CCES data with the PRRI results using both measurement strategies allows us to fully assess if there is decline. The GSS and CCES also allow us to look at two different survey methods, as the GSS is conducted face-to-face, while the CCES is conducted online.
Then they shared this line graph of the data from those studies:
Further down on that article, they shared this graph, which depicts what I said above: the PRRI data may be a bit exaggerated because of its methodology.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking:
Dr. Silk’s optimism about the youth movement of Mainline Protestantism is founded upon unreliable acquisitional growth and wobbly survey data.
The purpose of this blog post is not to say, “Evangelicalism’s decline isn’t as bad as Mainline Protestantism’s decline, let me prove it to you.” Evangelicalism is experiencing a bit of decline, and we evangelicals will simply have to trust that faithfulness to the Scriptures will outlast the seduction of liberal theology.
The purpose of this blog post is to say that a movement that celebrates a youth movement founded upon acquiring young people disgruntled with conservative theology from conservative movements is in a dire place, indeed.
On Monday nights this summer, I hosted middle and high school students from my church at my house for hamburgers, Mario Kart, and a discussion of the book of James. We walked through a chapter of James each week. We read the chapter together, discussed questions or confusions we had about the text, and discovered how the words may affect our lives in the day-to-day.
As I prepared for our study each week, alongside reading the chapter to be discussed, I read a commentary on the book of James called Be Mature by Warren Wiersbe. In his chapter on James 3:1-12 and controlling the tongue, Wiersbe shares 12 words that, he believes, can transform our lives.
I happen to agree with him—these words can transform lives.
Words are important to me. In everything from my favorite school subjects growing up, to how I best express and receive love, to my present job, words are everything.
With people I love, I am more likely to share an encouraging affirmation than I am to hug them. With people I hate, in my sin, I am more likely to deliver a destructive word of discouragement than I am to throw a punch.
So, what are the 12 words? They’re quite simple:
“Please” and “Thank You”
The power of these words is sort of underrated, and I think it’s because using them has become so routine that they don’t carry much meaning sometimes.
We’re taught and reminded to use these words from the time we can speak, and we’re rebuked when we don’t use them. But, when is the last time we used “please” or “thank you” beyond as a matter of course in the grocery store checkout line or passing through the Starbucks drive thru?
Make it a goal of yours this week to look someone in the eye and give them a heartfelt “thank you,” perhaps even elaborating on how they blessed you or encouraged you in some way.
It is tragic that we lose the power of these three words because of their ubiquity.
This phrase tends to get thrown under the bus because “I apologize” communicates a more powerful feeling of remorse in the eyes (or ears?) of some.
I really think either phrase will do because the real problem isn’t that we use the wrong one, but that we don’t use either enough!
In our pride and often out of fear of shame, we withhold these two little words and forsake friendships as a result.
Wiersbe says, “These two words have a way of breaking down walls and building bridges.”
Indeed, out of love for our neighbor and faithfulness to Christ, we need to put aside our pride and be better about acknowledging when we’ve messed up.
“I Love You”
Too many of us refrain from using the words “I love you” with anyone outside of our significant others because we wrongly assume the phrase has to carry romantic meaning. Guys should be able to tell their brothers in Christ they love them without having to feel weird.
You can show love to your brothers and sisters in Christ all day in a variety of ways, but words matter.
You can help a couple in your community group move, but if you never tell them you love them, they may just think you want to be nice.
You can set up a meal delivery plan for new parents in your church, but if you never tell them you love them or if you never spend time praying with them when you deliver the food, how will they know you aren’t just begrudgingly trying to be a good friend?
There is no reason we, as a Church, cannot be more explicit about our love for one another, using our words.
“I’m Praying For You”
This phrase, like the others in this list, gets tossed around so often I sometimes wonder how much meaning it still has rattling around inside of it.
Here in the South, especially, saying “I’m praying for you” can be as common of a courtesy as “Please” or “Thank you.”
When we use these words, which we should, we need to be sure we mean them. I am ashamed at the number of times in my life I have told a friend or family member I was praying for them and then neglected to do so. We’ve all done it.
About “I’m praying for you,” Wiersbe writes, “We say it in an encouraging way, to let others know that we care enough for them to meet them at the throne of grace.”
There are few acts of love as great as being willing to walk with a friend into the throne room of God in order to petition on their behalf.
Our words matter. God help us when we use our words to sin, and may God give us the grace to use these 12 simple words to transform the life of our local churches and communities.
It can be as subtle as being untagged in an Instagram photo or as explicit as being called a “slut” on Snapchat. Online harassment is ravaging young Americans.
Online harassment is made up of a dozen problems and is caused by a number of factors.
Killing online harassment cannot be done with government regulation or other such means. Like a cancer, you might be able to kill online harassment one place only to see it pop up someplace else more fierce than ever before.
Perhaps the most chilling fact about online harassment is this: few of us seem to do anything about it.
Learned Helplessness and Online Harassment
In the 1960s, psychologist Martin Seligman conducted tests on sets of dogs in order to learn more about depression. Allow me to oversimplify his experiments for you.
Seligman paired dogs together in harnesses and shocked them. For some of the dogs, the shock was able to be stopped by pushing a lever. For other dogs in the same situation, pushing the lever did nothing.
At a later experiment with the same dogs, a shock was able to be escaped by moving from one part of their enclosure to another. The dogs who were able to stop the previous shock with their levers learned how to avoid the shock and moved to the other part of the enclosure.
The dogs whose lever did nothing to prevent the previous shock made no attempt to escape the shock like the other dogs did. All they had to do was move to the other side of the enclosure. But they didn’t.
They simply took the shock. They thought they were helpless because of their previous experience.
This is called “learned helplessness.”
When it comes to dealing with online harassment, I believe most of us have this sort of “learned helplessness.”
In our early days on social media, perhaps we were a bit more voracious in our attempts to stop trolls and quell harassment—I know I was. But every time we would try, we were unable to eliminate the trolls from our experience entirely.
You can’t really ban trolls from the internet. It’s just not realistic.
So, as the following data shows, we sort of disengage and give up.
We have learned we are helpless.
Online Harassment Makes Us Anxious, Few of Us Care Enough to Act
According to data released last month by the Pew Research Center, most of us don’t really engage with harassment online if it’s not directed at us.
About 30% of American adults have responded to online harassment they have witnessed.
That means that, about 70% of us see someone being made fun of, sexually harassed, or otherwise on the internet and just go along our merry way.
I confess: I rarely say anything. Because I usually ignore any trolls that try to harass me, I am not usually prone to engage harassers on behalf of others.
Further, almost a tenth of Americans have experienced a high level of anxiety after witnessing online harassment. Of young Millennials, ages 18-29, 48% experience some level of anxiety when they see harassment take place online.
We do not feel at all nonchalant toward online harassment—it makes us anxious—but we rarely do anything about it.
The good news about our engagement with online harassment is that the more serious the harassment, the more likely we are to engage, as this chart shows.
So, while not many of us do anything to stop harassment, we do think it is a problem.
That’s a start, I guess.
Harassment: A Problem, But Not a HUGE Problem…?
This graph shows us that 77% of Americans believe privacy violation is a serious major problem, 73% believe seeing false or inaccurate information is a major problem (fake news), and just 62% of Americans believe people being harassed or bullied online is a major problem.
I agree that both privacy and fake information are major problems, but it is troubling to me that significantly fewer Americans think harassment is a major problem.
I think this shows that we still sort of see the online forum as a not-quite-real forum.
I could go on and on with all kinds of data from this study, but I think I need to leave some of it for future blog posts. I can’t have this post be two thousand words long.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to just ban hateful people from the internet?
Not so fast. That may not be the best course of action.
The Free Speech Conundrum
We need to examine the free speech element of this discussion that makes everything sort of sticky here.
In the last six months or so, one of the most popular topics in Christian conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and otherwise has been how Christians conduct themselves on the internet.
Should Christians care about being “verified” by Twitter?
Should pastors be paying social media consultants thousands of dollars to pad their Facebook page likes?
What is an online “platform?” What is “influence” in a world in which everyone can look professional and important?
A lot of the talk about Christians building their online presences has been negative, rightly dissuading Christians from building a platform on anything but actual expertise and experience in a given field.
But, unfortunately, in a lot of the social media discussion about platform, the overwhelming negativity has made it seem as though building an online presence is an inherently self-focused enterprise.
Without a doubt, too many of us sacrifice our humility on the altar of our online personas.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Self-Focused v. Service-Focused
The Church can engage in the digital space for the building up of the whole body instead of the promotion of the self. We have the ability to serve, not relentlessly self-promote.
God has given us all gifts and interests meant for the building up of the body of Christ and the proclamation of the gospel throughout the world.
Some of us have gifts of writing, speaking, or similar abilities that translate well into social media, blogs, podcasts, and other digital avenues.
It is our responsibility, as followers of Jesus, proclaimers of His gospel, and lovers of His people, to use those gifts for the service of others rather than the service of ourselves.
LifeWay Social is for hopeful authors, church communications leaders, non-profit social media directors, and anyone else who wants to discover more effective and efficient ways to use social media for kingdom good.
LifeWay Social does not exist to make anyone rich or famous. LifeWay Social exists to help people use their gifts in the digital space to serve other people. We aren’t promising riches, fame, or book contracts to anyone.
We simply see a need. We see Christians wrestling with how to use social media in constructive ways while avoiding prideful pursuits of baseless platforms and get-influence-quick schemes.
God has gifted a lot of people in ways that can be used online to shine the light of the gospel in a very dark place.
We just want to come alongside people in that.
5 Ways to Grow Your Online Presence Without Selling Your Soul
The internet hate and bigotry that gained mainstream attention in the 2016 presidential has existed for years in the deep, dark corners of the internet. But its newfound fame has drawn attention toward the matter of free speech and the internet. What is permissible, what is not, and how do we proceed into the future?
The Future of Free Speech Online
The creator of Pepe the Frog never imagined his creation would become a hate symbol, nor did he intend for this to be a case.
Yet, in the end, he was the loser. His art, his “free speech,” was hindered because of how others chose to use their free speech.
What is the future of free speech on the internet?
Based on the data the collected and the insight of digital communications professionals with whom they spoke, they were able to pinpoint the following four themes regarding the future of speech online.
Let me simplify each of them for you:
1. Online communication will stay bad because people are bad.
The human condition is broken, even non-Christians recognize this. People can be disgusting, vile creatures. Christians recognize this as the infestation and pervasiveness of sin in the world, and non-Christians recognize it as simply one of the two choices humans have: to be good or evil.
One possibility for the future of online communication is that it will stay as bad as it is with no improvement.
While I believe in the sinful depravity of humans, I don’t think trolling will stay as bad in the near future as it is today. More on that later.
2. Online communication will stay bad because there is economic and social benefit to trolling.
We saw in the 2016 election cycle that being a troll can lead to great fame and power—online trolls rightly see themselves as having influenced the election and having helped win the White House for their candidate.
This shows us that, no matter the political ideologies of internet trolls, trolling can be a means to grasp the power people so desperately want, however unethical and sickening it may be.
Some people believe this power motivation will make trolling worse in the future. I definitely think this is a possibility, but I’m not sure.
3. Online communication will improve because we will further segment ourselves online.
I think this is the most likely scenario out of the four options presented here. I think trolling will always exist because of sin, but I think it will become less pervasive because I think we will further segment ourselves online and keep people who don’t like us as far away as possible.
I definitely envision social media platforms and other online experiences that protect the sensibilities of their users by restricting others from joining.
Online communication will improve because we will do everything we can to distance ourselves from mean people.
4. Online communication will improve because we will embrace a surveillance state that prevents it.
The final option is perhaps the most ominous. It is possible, in the future, that online communication will improve because we will create an environment that institutes strict penalties for trolling or other online misbehavior.
For those who have been trolled online before, this may sound like a good option. When you are the focus of an online attack, you quickly begin to think such attacks should be illegal and punishable by the court system.
But is that a world in which we want to live? Should people do jail time for calling other people names on social media?
While strict, government-provided restrictions on free speech would improve online communication, this construct could have serious negative side effects.
I could write 12 blog posts on this report done by Pew regarding the future of free speech online, and I will likely do some more beyond this one.
What do you think about the future of free speech online? Should Pepe the Frog be allowed to be used to promote hateful ideologies? Should such actions be punishable by law or simply ignored?