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Does social media really help you help the poor? As the Internet and social media usage skyrocket, poverty continues to claim even larger numbers. Many wonder if our unlimited access to information and to the world is good thing. How can we make sure technology is helping the cause, and not hurting it?  Don’t the internet and social media help in the fight to end poverty?  The answer could be yes and no, and here’s why.

The Upside of Social Media

Popular blogger Jonathan Acuff’s daughter was shocked by a picture she saw on the internet of an impoverished little boy. She was saddened to learn that children die every few seconds from preventable causes. This inspired Jonathan to post something on his blog about needing $30,000 to help build a kindergarten in Vietnam. He thought it would take six weeks to raise the money. Eighteen hours later, he reached his goal. Within a few days, he had raised $60,000, enough for two kindergartens. This was all done through a blog, Twitter, and Facebook.
The Internet gives us quick and accessible channels to engage in social justice issues. It has also expanded the audience. Earlier this year, World Vision commissioned a survey which found that one in three teens say they would “friend.” “like,” or “follow” a charitable cause they believe in. Like Acuff’s daughter, more young people are aware and ready to take action because they have access to the information. We live in a time with an unprecedented opportunity to enact change.

The Downside of Social Media

While the internet absolutely makes us more aware of the needs of others, it also allows us to be more passive. Pastor and author Shane Hipps calls this phenomenon “empathy at a distance.” The problem with empathy kept at arms length is that it rarely leads to real action. One in three teens are admittedly more aware of global issues. Yet knowing more about poverty doesn’t necessarily lead to actually feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. We often feel like we’re doing our part in supporting a cause simply because we’ve become more aware of it. Social media has given us an unprecedented opportunity to enact change, but also an opportunity to not fully embrace what it means to serve the poor.

Slacktivism

The internet and social media platforms have opened up the door for us to care about the poor without actually caring for the poor. We can post links to all of the causes we support, without actually supporting any of them. We can post quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. without actually doing anything to free the oppressed. Our values and beliefs are very much in place, and we adopt them as an identity through an online profile, but our material reality may look very different.
This attitude has become so prevalent in our society that a new term has been created to describe it – slacktivism. The Urban Dictionary describes slacktivism as, “The act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.” The Oxford Dictionary describes it as,  “Actions performed via the internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement.”

Conclusion

Christ tackled this issue many times in the gospels, frequently telling his disciples that in order to truly live, they had to lose their lives, to sacrifice, and to serve. James tackled this issue as well by letting us know that faith without action is dead. All too often we let our simple act of “liking” a cause become a barrier between getting out of our comfortable computer chair and making an actual sacrifice to serve someone less fortunate than us.
Every 20 seconds, technology progresses…and a child will die from lack of clean water. We must learn to use the incredible gift of technology to not only bridge the gap between us and the poor, but to also connect us with tangible ways to actually care for them.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. What social issues have you become more aware of via the internet?
  4. How have you seen money raised, volunteers acquired, or lives changed as a result something posted online?
  5. Describe a slacktivist you know. On a scale of 1 to 10 how much of a slacktivist are you?
  6. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

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