Facebook is in the news again. Shocking, right? Lawmakers are trying to figure out how social media might be influencing public opinion – either on purpose or simply by default. While the government trying to fix social media sounds like the blind leading the blind, that’s not what this post is about.
The hoopla is all about the algorithms that are used. If that’s not a familiar term, here’s the definition:
Algorithm: (noun) a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.
While I have a computer programming background, there’s a lot about algorithms that can be hard to understand. It seems a lot like the magical Wizard of Oz that was finally revealed as a little man hiding behind a curtain.
As far as Facebook, it has been at least partially revealed how some of their rules work. There’s an economic principle we often forget. If a product is free to use, then YOU are the product! Facebook makes profit through advertising. The more content a user consumes, the more advertising opportunities there are. Their “man behind the curtain” has rules (algorithms) that try to provide users with the kind of content that makes them keep scrolling. We are the product Facebook sells to advertisers.
In 2017, Facebook rolled out new ways to interact with content. Until then, users could click the thumbs up to indicate they “liked” a post or image. It seemed innocent enough to add love, care, laugh, wow, sad and angry options. But then the algorithm kicked in.
It appears that some of this was automated, and some driven by human oversight, but here’s what happened. The data analysis showed that users interacted more with things that made them angry. They stayed longer on the content, commented, and shared more. If the goal is to keep users scrolling, then how do you keep them there longer?
Give them more of the content they interact with the most.
And that’s exactly what the algorithm did. Posts that evoked anger performed better – so guess what happens to your newsfeed? More posts that make you mad will show up. In fact, the algorithm counted anger five times more important than the other responses and provided content accordingly.
This made perfect business sense. However, with the extreme polarization, we’ve seen since 2017, many are asking – has this also increased the angst and division in the world today?
I’m not going to attempt to answer that question. It’s way beyond my pay grade. However, for a Jesus follower, it’s important to understand that way before social media existed, we were warned about the anger algorithm.
The entire framework of creation is kind after kind. We are told repeatedly that we reap what we sow. You will only harvest what you plant. There are both physical and spiritual rules in place… God’s algorithm. What we focus on, we get more of!
Galatians 6:7 (NLT)
Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.
Facebook has learned that anger produces more anger and trouble. The Bible told us that thousands of years ago!
Psalms 37:8 (NLT)
Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper— it only leads to harm.
There is a very real anger algorithm we should be aware of. Anger may feel right at the time, but it only leads to wrong. Even if our anger is justified, that’s not the way God handles justice! Human anger is not a good thing. Ever.
James 1:19-21 (NLT)
19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.
20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.
21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
Facebook will be testifying before lawmakers soon about how they’ve tried to fix the anger algorithm. Jesus followers should already know how deadly our own anger issues are.
Matthew 5:21-22 (NLT)
21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’
22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
Reading on in Matthew 5, Jesus talks about reconciliation. That’s the cure for anger. Getting mad is easy. Forgiving and reconciling takes work but it’s worth it!
Unfortunately, there are so many voices in the world that not only justify our anger, but actually promote it like it’s a good thing. You can’t follow Jesus and also follow the ways of the world. You can’t do the right thing, the wrong way.
We need a new algorithm. Anger just creates more trouble. Jesus said the world would know we are His disciples by our love one for another. Unfortunately, what many see right now is how angry we seem to be.
This is how we change the algorithm. This is the way a Jesus follower should respond when we are offended. Stay away from that anger emoji!
Colossians 3:12-14 (NLT)
12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.
Love is the only antidote to the anger algorithm. What seeds are you planting today? That’s what you will get more of. #lovefirst