About Social Media

August 19, 2014 | 17 comments
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Elder David A. Bednar just delivered a talk on social media at BYU Education Week. The text of the talk is already posted at LDS.org (video also available). You are probably going to be hearing about this one so you’d better go read it. Here are the highlights. Quotations in the italicized blockquotes; my commentary in plain text following the quote.

Approximately 40 percent of our worldwide missionary force soon will be using digital devices as tools in the work of conversion, retention, and activation.

It appears that implementing this change has not gone as quickly or as comprehensively as originally planned.

A technology known as social media is evolving in our day and playing an increasingly important role in hastening the work of salvation. The term social media refers to various channels of Internet and mobile-based communication that are used by individuals, families, and large groups of people to create digital communities wherein they share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content such as pictures and videos.

He identifies Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, but not blogging. So is blogging a social media? At least as we do it around here, blogging does create a digital community that shares information and ideas, so yes. Compared to Facebook, the focus is on content; the social aspect of blogging is rather muted. This seems like an advantage to me.

Social media channels are global tools that can personally and positively impact large numbers of individuals and families. And I believe the time has come for us as disciples of Christ to use these inspired tools appropriately and much more effectively to testify of God the Eternal Father, His plan of happiness for His children, and His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior of the world; to proclaim the reality of the Restoration of the gospel in the latter days; and to accomplish the Lord’s work.

I’m thinking we need a discussion about contexts where testimony works and where it doesn’t. Cold-call testimonies delivered online don’t strike me as the right approach. Elsewhere in the talk, he encourages online Mormons to “be authentic.” That works, but it’s a much broader spectrum. If he spent an hour at [fill in your favorite edgy LDS group blog] I’m guessing he would add, “but not too authentic.”

We will now see a brief trailer from the film.

It’s Meet the Mormons (trailer here; it’s only 90 seconds). Think six Mormon.org profiles blown up to documentary length. The end of the trailer says it will be released in theaters on October 10, but I’m thinking that’s just the Legacy Theater on Temple Square.

The last third of the talk states some social media guidelines: be authentic and consistent; edify and uplift; respect intellectual property; and be wise and vigilant (“the Internet never forgets”).

Beginning at this place on this day, I exhort you to sweep the earth with messages filled with righteousness and truth — messages that are authentic, edifying, and praiseworthy — and literally to sweep the earth as with a flood.

So there you have it. Stop scrapbooking; start Facebooking. Less golf, more blogging. Turn off your TV, turn on your iPad. Welcome to the Mormon MMPG (massively multi-player gospel).

17 Responses to About Social Media

  1. adano on August 19, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    According to the SL Tribune, the movie will actually be released to real theaters, with proceeds donated to the Red Cross. But the movie will also be posted online. I’m trying to think who would pay money to watch it in a theater. More to the point, I guess, I’m trying to think what movie theater (outside of tithepayer funded malls, perhaps) would bother carrying it.

  2. MagpieLovely on August 19, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Yes, adano, I can confirm that too. I know they are working to place it in actual theaters nationwide. Where there are theaters that have proven profitable in the past (commercial theaters where indie Mormon films have made money) they are working to book Meet the Mormons. Commercial theaters will carry anything for one weekend if they have some hope of making money and there isn’t another large release commanding the screens. I have heard some gossip from solid sources that we should be hearing about this film at conference too.

  3. Geoff - Aus on August 19, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    I already wonder when I read the super righteous responses on some blogs whether they are missionaries. They could make Mormon blogging impossible if every blog was overwhelmed by missionaries doing their righteous thing.

  4. Ziff on August 20, 2014 at 10:34 am

    ” Elsewhere in the talk, he encourages online Mormons to “be authentic.” That works, but it’s a much broader spectrum. If he spent an hour at [fill in your favorite edgy LDS group blog] I’m guessing he would add, “but not too authentic.””

    LOL! Well put, Dave!

  5. DQ on August 20, 2014 at 10:53 am

    “I already wonder when I read the super righteous responses on some blogs…”

    Could you also wonder if they were Lehi, Nephi or Moroni? Just curious how you see a super righteous response from a supposed missionary compared to a response from Nephi.

    I understand it’s not hip to be Molly Mormon and Peter Priesthood but when people try to see things from the perspective of the inspired prophets in the scriptures (choose God or choose captivity and death with the Devil) I don’t understand the almost fundamentalist worldly zeal to to bring them back down a notch.

  6. JohnnyS on August 20, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Interesting post. Thanks, Dave, for sharing it. I do find, as you pointed out, a conflict between being “authentic” and being what I call a “cookie-cutter Mormon.” Should I be authentic about my disagreeing with the church’s stance on gay marriage? I am, but I’m not sure the church leadership would be thrilled by it. Authenticity, I suppose, is in the eye of the beholder.

    This effort, worthy though I think the ultimate goal is, just smacks of being kind of out of touch with what usually happens on the internet (lots of snarky comments, many people promoting causes, blogs, etc. that are easy to ignore, etc.). Thinking that the internet is (or could be) a place of civilized and elevated discourse where people go to find “truth” is astonishingly out of touch. I actually think that working to spread the gospel electronically diminishes its impact greatly. It’s easy to click past a web page, but it’s harder (IMHO) to ignore a missionary who’s teaching you and sharing a powerful testimony of the gospel.

  7. fbisti on August 20, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    I have a negative reaction to the overly-typical choice of words Elder Bednar (and all the leadership) uses when speaking–especially about something as modern as “social media.” For example, he refers to these media as “inspired tools” (listen up Zuckerberg) and he uses GA-speak/ Old Testament-speak… “I exhort you to sweep the earth with messages filled with righteousness and truth — messages that are authentic, edifying, and praiseworthy — and literally to sweep the earth as with a flood.” Urge, encourage, and other less KJV/ 17th Century hyperbole would be my preference.

    Beyond those nit-picks: interesting new development in messaging.

  8. Cameron N. on August 20, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    I thought the talk was interesting, not because I don’t believe Elder Bednar is fluent with social media (I’m sure he is), but because he took time to educate the older generation about it.

    Also, IF anyone actually watched the video Elder Bednar had plenty of good caveats and guidance on not being overbearing, spammy, or contrived.

  9. ceejay on August 20, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Have the leaders have ever wanted the silent majority to live up to that name? I don’t think so. And now they’ve made it clear that silence online is also not OK. I bet Elder Bednar felt really warm and fuzzy as the word “authentic” came to his mind and then eventually made it into his presentation. Of course there’s a tension there, between group loyalty and authentic expression regarding experiences with the group, but it’s not an impossible balance for most people. I’m glad to see this idea reinforced, that saccharine and cheesy expressions regarding our church are inconsistent with how most members experience the gospel and should be avoided.

    It can seem sometimes to web surfers, like me, that speech online is overly representative of abnormal life experiences. Thus it makes sense that the leaders would want a greater number of centrists to make noise so that web surfers (terrible metaphor mixing) would be able to get a better sense for how the center really thinks and feels about issues within and around Mormonism.

    Will all the members, many of whom don’t have strong feelings about “big ideas” and even less interest in publishing those feelings online, suddenly feel motivated to engage those who challenge the status quo? Seems doubtful, but overall I see this as a net positive. Some members will follow through. These people will find that communicating online can be less intimidating than talking to people face-to-face. Reading and writing online provides an alternative opportunity for dialogue that can help to augment relationships and to connect with human being generally. I hope to see many more life experiences shared by people from all walks of life on the interwebs, not just Mormons. But I like the see other Mormons at the party too.

    Another benefit to loads of Mormons using the internet is that maybe it will become more apparent to rule-makers in the USA and elsewhere how out-of-balance our copyright laws are.

  10. Mike Maxwell on August 20, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Authentic will wrestle with relevant. All too often, our Mormon lingo loses those it is intended to reach because it is not their language. The stuff the church publishes on social media (Mormon Channel, etc.) is pretty awful, in this regard. My favorite example of irrelevant was the text the church used on advertizing visits to Temple Square on Interstate highway billboards leading into Salt Lake City and at the SLC Airport. The slogan was “There is beauty all around.” That is just a weird phrase if you don’t know the hymn, which no one in the target audience does because the hynm is exclusively LDS. I do fear we will see the floodgates of the zealous opened by this talk. Let the un-friending begin.

  11. kenngo1969 on August 20, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    Re – #4: Reminds me of an exchange that took place on Mormon Dialogue and Discussion when posters were speculating about what “For The Strength of Youth” pamphlets said in the 1960s. Someone asked, “Be hip, but not too groovy”? In response, I posted the photo of Elders Bednar and Perry fist-bumping at Conference and asked, “Are these guys (a) hip; (b) groovy; (c) both; (d) neither?” ;-D

  12. Dave on August 21, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Geoff (#3), nothing was said directly about full-time missionaries, although we know they are out there. I wonder if they will start some sort of online program for ward missionaries?

    Johnny (#6), yes GAs don’t quite have the online touch of the wired generation, but you can’t really blame them for using the technological tools at hand to communicate the gospel message. What I’m worried about is that many well-intentioned members don’t really have the online touch either. At least his guidelines, if taken to heart by online Mormons, might increase civility.

    Mike (#10) said, “Authentic will wrestle with relevant.” Well said — a lot of the initial responses are weighing what is meant by the counsel “be authentic.” I suspect what it might mean in practice is, “Say what is deep in your heart if it is something like what your bishop or seminary teacher would say. If your heart thinks differently, say it anyway, authentic or not. If you want to say something entirely different, just don’t say anything.” Uh, which means that is probably something I shouldn’t have said. But it’s an authentic statement.

    Here’s a question for thought: If your Sunday School teacher talks about Elder Bednar’s talk this coming Sunday and asks you, as someone who has been active online talking about Mormonism, what advice you have for this coming wave of newbies … what would you say?

  13. J Town on August 21, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    “It can seem sometimes to web surfers, like me, that speech online is overly representative of abnormal life experiences. Thus it makes sense that the leaders would want a greater number of centrists to make noise so that web surfers (terrible metaphor mixing) would be able to get a better sense for how the center really thinks and feels about issues within and around Mormonism.”

    I completely agree with this comment.

    My fear is that most people already using social media are going to receive any “influx” of centrist Mormon input very negatively, no matter how authentic or eloquently stated, and will then scare away anyone who tries to contribute, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It isn’t popular to agree with the status quo on the internet, even if (especially if?) you run in Mormon circles. Most people are pushing their own agendas or simply pointing out issues with certain things as they see them. If you’re ok with things the way they are, make that clearly known, and don’t cater to those with more “progressive” (for lack of a better term) viewpoints, then you are often ostracized by the online community. And called names.
    I have already seen mention in the comments of “un-friending” people who are zealous. I don’t assume that means the poster will do that personally, but I absolutely believe that will be a frequent response and it will cause hurt feelings and negativity. I’m not a huge fan of social media, if that isn’t obvious.

    To be honest, I’m very leery of this. Not because I believe it’s the wrong thing to do. Just when I think of what I consider the most likely response. But then again doing the right thing is often hard, so I suppose I shouldn’t be deterred by considering the potential response, even if I’m correct. We try so hard to convince people that missionary work is easy, when in reality it can often be extremely hard. It’s no less essential for all that, however, and no less worthwhile.

  14. Cameron N. on August 21, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    This is a lot of hand wringing about simple social media gospel sharing. It’s the easiest cop-out for sharing the gospel ever. ‘Be authentic’ is very complicated. It means be who you are. If you’re already spammy and assertive, your facebook friends know that. If you’re reserved and make an occasional mention of gospel topics (like a few times a year), your friends shouldn’t be offended. And if they are, maybe they aren’t real friends. I certainly wouldn’t unfriend an atheist for posting about atheism every now and again.

  15. J Town on August 22, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Cameron,

    A very rational response. Social media is not exactly chock full of people who respond rationally.

  16. Cameron N on August 22, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    Agreed J Town. Perhaps what Elder Bednar would have us know is that we shouldn’t shy away from the accompanying mess and offense and baggage that come with it, because that is all worth it when virtual invitations are acted upon.

  17. BevP on August 26, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    When this morphs into a recommend question, I will feel my personal agency has been violated. I do not want a public existence. [So what am I doing writing this...] I don’t feel like a drifting church member, but I much prefer to communicate with others one to one and personally. I worry about institutional hijacking of “the people’s media” – but “the people” will move on to a different scene if that becomes the widespread perception.

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