It used to be that you had to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic to be exposed to sarcastic, misleading, and — fine, I’ll admit it — occasionally entertaining slogans about politics and spirituality.
No longer is this the case.
If you use Facebook with any kind of regularity, you’ve probably witnessed photo memes popping up like dandelions. And you may have liked them. You might have shared them. You might have even created a few. But I implore you — please stop. You’re making it hard for real communication to take place on Facebook, which is one of the few places where people with radically different worldviews can engage in honest dialogue.
Don’t believe me? I offer several reasons, with examples:
Reason No. 1: They’re often inaccurate or misleading.
Exhibit A in our proceedings is this gem above rebuking Christians for focusing on the wrong things. Now the fact is, the underlying truth behind this is something that I believe in strongly — Christians should be known more for how we help the disenfranchised than for what political stands we take. But the actual statement is just not true. Plenty of Christians line up at food banks and homeless shelters all the time — so much so, in fact, that these days it fails to even qualify as news. But you’d never know it from this meme photo, which relies more on stereotypes than actual data.
And this image is just the tip of the iceberg. With the next big story involving a church or a Christian leader, there’ll be plenty more.
And even the ones that aren’t snarky in tone can be disingenuous. If they include any kind of statistical graph, for instance, they’re bound to manipulate or distort the truth in some way. After all, there’s a reason why Mark Twain referred to statistics as the worst form of lying. The best of these are usually large and thorough enough that they require full-screen viewing to accommodate all the details. But even these should be taken with a grain of salt.
And don’t even get me started on the photos-with-long-stories-as-captions, which are often just the same recycled urban legends from email forwards.
Reason No. 2: They exist primarily to amuse or incite people who already think like you do.
Let’s be honest. People don’t encounter these photos and say, “Wow, perhaps I’ve been wrong all these years, and my long-held political and/or religious beliefs are actually dangerous and wrong.”
It never happens because these aren’t designed to engage people who hold different views. Rather, their purpose is the same as much of the partisan-slanted media we see today — to reinforce your views and help you feel better about yourself for believing that way.
Now, I’m all for exercising free speech — but images have power. And as we know from Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility. And if this were only a political issue, I might not be as concerned. But in today’s political climate, where being a Christian is still associated with being Republican, these photos are making it harder for unbelievers to see the truth of the gospel because of all the political baggage.
I believe that everyone, Christian or not, has a right to participate in the political process. But Paul told the church in Galatia to avoid letting their freedom become an excuse to indulge in their sinful nature. For many of us, sharing these photos is a way of sticking it to the people who we feel are “the problem.”
As citizens of a global community, this is wrong.
Reason No. 3: If not misleading or divisive, they’re often so generic as to be meaningless.
Because “if at first you don’t succeed” at motivating your friends, maybe there’s something missing.
And that something is context. Many of these inspirational quotes and images, if they were on my refrigerator, I might find really moving. But the thing is, they would only be there if I put them there. People self-select these things. You can’t pass out inspirational nuggets like candy and expect them to be effective. One person’s inspirational quote is another person’s cheesy platitude.
Reason No. 4: They make it harder to enjoy actual photos taken by your actual Facebook friends.
No disrespect to George Takei, the Japanese-American Star Trek alumnus whose posts get shared like crazy by his millions of Facebook fans, but he’s not my Facebook friend.
I know that in today’s relational economy Facebook friendships are slightly more meaningful than people with whom you make eye contact in elevators … but still. With so many people in my Facebook feed, I find much more meaning and significance in the large and small details that my friends post about their lives. You know, babies, vacations, meals, costumes, graduations, etc. So by constantly sharing these photo memes, you’re cluttering your feed with stuff I’m not interested in.
Because that’s the point of Facebook, right? To make connections and enjoy relationships. So if you want to be someone who builds relationships across the cultural divide, do us all a favor and stop posting these photos.
….but the point of meme photos isn’t to be correct or accurate in any capacity. It’s all for the sake of humor.
And if you actually get your views on religion and politics from a meme, that honestly says more about /you/ than the people posting it.
Yeah, see I think you’re only partially true. The point of SOME meme photos isn’t to be correct or accurate (for example, just about any meme involving Ryan Gosling). But especially for the first two that I included as examples, they are clearly advancing a particular political agenda. They may be using humor to make the point, but the humor itself is not the primary goal, in my opinion. And even if it was, even if your point was to make a joke, and you use a political or spiritual statement in order to get a laugh… well, consider Prov 26:18-19.
You mad, bro?
Jelani! This is *exactly* the thing that I have been trying to tell some of my FB friends about for the last couple months. Unfortunately, my experience when sharing this has been ineffective, at best and downright angering and negative at worst. My husband and I have had long conversations about this and we’ve come to the conclusion that the people posting the memes truly believe what they are posting – and so therefore, feel they are doing exactly the thing that you say FB was made for: sharing in order to make connections and (possibly) further enjoy relationships. Not one person I’ve talked to about the memes has seen my point about the memes themselves being ineffectual, a tarnish on their Christian witness, or harmful to honest dialogue. I pray that with this article and more people sharing it, that might change!
We can easily forget that we are communicating to a crowd, because we are alone in front of our favorite electronic device. And with electronic devices, we don’t see reactions first hand. That makes it harder remember to give others the respect we would afford them in person. I don’t think that Facebook is necessarily a good medium for friendly discussions or persuasions with those we disagree. It is too easy to belittle, to make fun, to bash others without experiencing the results in person.
Kathie, I agree that it’s not the best medium for connecting with those with whom we disagree, but in today’s hyper-partisan society, where else are these interactions taking place? I think Facebook is one of the few places where you can get liberal atheists and conservative Christians in the same place and actually get honest responses (as opposed to the polished, prepared statements one might hear in a debate or a community forum).
This article is an attempt to make the environment a bit more amenable to civilized discussion.
In my opinion what people choose to put on their Facebook walls is another way they reveal themselves. When I go to someone’s house I always look to see what’s on their refrigerator and notice the art and photos around the house. I check out the cartoons people put up in their work spaces, too. Some of those memes are hilarious and I can use all the laughs I can get. People who post mean or rude memes or demand that I “like” some spiritually oriented post in order to prove I love Jesus are not generally people whose refrigerators I want to see. If this is their habitual practice I just hide their posts.
I’ve found memes quite useful. I make grammar memes for my classes. Grammar and vocab is more fun when Inigo Montoya explains “that word doesn’t mean what you think it means.”
I guess your FB feed is a more pleasant place than mine. 🙂
Bonus points for the Inigo Montoya reference.