Privacy, safety, openness and transparency – how do we faithfully use digital tools?


I was about to send out a newsletter earlier this week – when my Facebook feed exploded with news of concern.  Data had been shared, suspected to have been crucial in manipulating US elections.   By now you probably know the news, and can certainly investigate the details wherever you get your news.  But it seemed right to write a bit about privacy, and safety – but also how social media has been (and will continue to be) a tool for ministry for me.

It seems like there are two related but different issues here.  The first is data mining. When you use an app through Facebook (a quiz, a fun game) Facebook collects data.  That data is very valuable – it can be used to target advertising to seek you things you might be interested in – but don’t know you even need.  Facebook does this in multiple complicated ways – anything public and searchable – in fact, I’d say anything you type into Facebook (even with strict privacy settings) might provide data to their company for use in other ways.  This is similar to all the information you provide every day to companies and organizations you partner with.  Yes – by “partner with” I mean when you scan your CVS card for a discount, when you use your gas discount card for a purchase, when you intentionally give anyone information – or simply share information at all.  Marketers build this feature into their sales and products – they want to know who you are so they can see you more things.  Your friends are also much more likely to purchase the same things you do.  You may also have characteristics that tell others how you might vote – and how easily swayed your vote might be, through the power of suggestion, not intentional coercion.  (The current controversy with Facebook is around the company violating an agreement for release of data, which is another legal issue, and beyond what people thought they were releasing.  That loophole was changes in 2011, and Facebook did make an attempt to make sure all data was purged and not shared – but that may not have happened.  Again, details around this specific case are extreme – but should give us all pause.)

You can provide Facebook (and other apps and companies) with less information.  You can reset your account, block certain sites, set up privacy blocks.  You can check and see what information you are allowing Facebook to see.   You can block others from seeing your page.  But really, there is only one way to keep you information off the internet.  Don’t put it there.  Ever.  No privacy setting, no guarantee, even in the best and most helpful of circumstances, can protect your data once it is out of your brain.  And be clear with how you share your data unintentionally as well.

There’s a second piece to this though.  This is the spiritual one for me.  And it requires discernment, and personal opinion, so I’m sharing this as my view based on my experience.

Social Media continues to be a helpful tool for support of the ministry I am called to in this time.

Note I define social media as a “tool” – it could be like a nice pen.  It could be like a very big and dangerous chain saw.  It could be like an invasive, strong antibiotic with side effects.  Who gets to decide that, and how?

I would argue that is a question for you (and your family, your loved ones perhaps), and for your meeting.

For me, I assume (regardless of settings) that everything is public that I post.  What does this mean when it is read by others?  How does it reflect my values, my concerns, my holding of that-of-God-in-all?

Personal Conduct

  • Do you live with simplicity, moderation, and integrity?
  • Are you punctual in keeping promises, careful in speech, just and compassionate in all your dealings with others?
  • Do you take care that your spiritual growth is not sacrificed to busyness but instead integrates your life’s activities?
  • Are your recreations consistent with Quaker values; do they refresh your spirit and renew your body and mind? – From NEYM Faith and Practice, Queries

Answers to these queries might vary from person to person.  In addition to sharing my own views – am I re-sharing words or posts that might be harmful?  Humor at the expense of others?  Advertisements and products that are not aligned with my values?  Am I making space for differing opinions that might also be carefully thought out, and have learning for me?  Am I merely contributing to more “noise” and stress in a time where I might best be offline completely?  Am I careful to not share information that others might not want shared more widely?  Am I attentive to the spirit, and willing to remove a post or edit my posted views if I find I am in error – and apologize for a wrongdoing?

I can think of many ways in which I can mess up, use this medium poorly, and get swept up in controversy and turmoil (not just here, in other life places as well!).  My daily prayer life, my conscious and intentional returning to Love of my neighbor and myself, my wondering how to be in all places (including Facebook) with integrity all help me to be faithful.  For now, it seems I am still led to be in thee digital spaces.  Others may not be led to use this tool at all, or use it sporadically. Here’s a few positives:

  • I can keep up with news of meetings/churches I have visited
  • I can announce upcoming travel, and invite friends widely
  • I can share inspirational quotations, passages of scripture, and other encouragements
  • I can connect with Witness actions, and faithful presences online when I cannot be there in person for health or other reasons
  • I can amplify faithful voices – sharing messages from others that open us to the love of the Divine
  • I can speak faithfully the Truth I am given, testing each post as if it was a message in worship
  • I can learn how to be a better person, more faithful, more obedient, more loving, as I see examples of others.
  • I can invite friends to my experience – not to convert them, but simply to extend a loving invitation to a spiritual practice that has been life-giving to me.

How can my meeting be a part of this process?  How can we issue a clear and living invitation?  How can we model faithful and careful behaviour in a space that can be challenging?

Is this the behaviour you see on social media?  Is it the example you would like to bring to the world?  If so, you may want to stick around.  But be clear of your intent, clear of your boundaries, and know when this is one more of many ways you may experience that of God in others, and in yourself.  All powerful tools deserve that kind of caution and respect.

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