The power of social media

A Christian Science perspective.

We’ve seen the headlines for a couple of years now, from Iran, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and other countries where people are rising up to overthrow dictators. A recent Monitor feature details the role of social media in this year’s Arab Spring. One of my favorite headlines is from Wired magazine: “Tweeting Tyrants Out of Tunisia: Global Internet at Its Best.”

That is social media.

There are more forces at work, but there is no question: Social networks are key components in today’s efforts to overthrow dictators. Why? What’s the power behind it?

The very design and fabric of social media has the grain running in a singular direction: Collaboration. Community. Communication. Sharing.

And what underlies those key qualities, but love? And as Christian Science teaches, love is the reflection of Love, one name for God as Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, outlined in her description of the Almighty (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 587).

I recently taught in a journalism history course that “linking” is at the very heart of the World Wide Web, where social media services reside. Tim Berners-Lee and his colleagues cooked up the concept of the Web because he was looking for a way for one computer to link to another computer; to share information, data, ideas.

So connecting (linking), sharing, and their underlying principles of openness and accessibility, are the principles on which the Web is built. Those are such powerful qualities and concepts that they can – simply, disarmingly – take down tyrants. As Mrs. Eddy wrote in “Science and Health”: “Progress takes off human shackles. The finite must yield to the infinite” (p. 256).

That kind of openness, that kind of direct connection, is what authoritarian regimes despise; no wrongly based material power can abide by the light or the goodness that takes a stand against evil. In this light, social media can be seen to represent one of the five smooth stones in the shepherd’s bag that David shrewdly used in his battle with Goliath, as described in the Bible (see I Sam. 17:4-50).

But can’t social media be subverted? Yes. And there are instances – Iran is one example – where the social media-fueled uprisings do not, at first, succeed. But as with any battle with evil, it is important to “hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true...,” as Eddy wrote elsewhere in “Science and Health” (p. 261). The glowing goodness of its design, its intent, its very form – is, at the core, connection: Love. That, plus the moral courage to stand against what is wrong, is a potent combination. Again, from “Science and Health”: “Moral courage is ‘the lion of the tribe of Juda,’ the king of the mental realm. Free and fearless it roams in the forest. Undisturbed it lies in the open field, or rests in ‘green pastures,... beside the still waters’ ” (p. 514). Note the marginal heading of that paragraph: “Qualities of thought.”

So the battles are not easy, and the wins are not always immediate. But the quality of thought plus the power behind social media – love – is a world-changing force that cannot be denied.

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