How Social Media Helps & Hurts Serving the Poor

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

Not long ago, the local library was our most convenient source of information. We sat at our computers listening to an awful dial-up sound while we waited to download a song. Fast forward 10 years and any information we need about anything, anywhere, is just a click away. We can download an entire album on our phone in seconds, even from an airplane. Every day we join millions of others on Facebook and Twitter, to document our lives and watch the world unfold.

We receive information faster than any generation before us. Access to social media has revolutionized how we communicate and what we know, so facts like these come as no surprise:

  •  The number of individuals involved in the global slave trade today is higher then at any other point in history.
  • There are over 500 million Facebook users. Over 900 million people are experiencing hunger right now.
  • Yoko Ono has over 600,000 followers on Twitter, nearly the same number of refugees living in the camps as a result of current famine in the Horn of Africa.

As the Internet and social media usage boast huge numbers, poverty claims even larger numbers.

Many wonder if our unlimited access to information and to the world is good thing. So 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 was inspired by his daughter who was shocked by a picture of an impoverished little boy she saw on the internet. She was saddened to learn that children died 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 6 week. 18 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; however them knowing doesn’t feed the hungry or clothe 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.

Caring for the poor, not about them: 

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.

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.

 

 

Micah Boyce has spent the majority of his life working with youth. From Youth for Christ, to being a lead singer of a band, to spending some time on the 30 Hour Famine team, Micah loves empowering youth to care for the poor. Micah currently lives in Chicago, IL with his amazing wife, Heather, and their dogs.