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The data has been collected, the interviews have been transcribed, the academic references have been studied and 22,000 words have been written. Thank you to everyone who helped along the way, whether by filling in one of the surveys, subjecting yourself to a detailed interview, supplying additional data, recommending references, providing helpful criticism or proofreading. 

Having been submitted earlier in the summer, the paper is now available to read online

I also have the privilege of presenting some of the findings at The Salvation Army's media symposium in New York next week, alongside some other practitioners who are at the top of their game. If you're planning to be there, come and say 'hi'... or tweet me @FaithSoclMedia!

Is it finished? Not really - there's lots more that could be done, even with the data already collected. And, as with many academic studies, it raises just as many questions as answers. But I hope it has added to the discussion and will help people of faith - and faith leaders - to use social media with more confidence and clarity.

If you haven't got time to plough through 141 pages (and who could blame you?) I'll summarise some of the key findings here over the coming weeks, and am really interested in your thoughts. Don't be shy!

The final furlong

We've now had hundreds of responses to the Faith In Social Media research study - thank you for your participation. It's been extremely helpful to read about the different experiences of so many people across the country and around the world, and the mainstream media interest has been fascinating as well. Further down the page, as a token of gratitude, you'll find some of the findings so far - ahead of the report's publication later in the year.

But with just one month of data collection left, I'm writing to ask if you could encourage your friends, colleagues, family members and social media contacts to also share their experiences via the www.faithinsocialmedia.orgquestionnaires. The more data we have, the more representative the findings will be. This in turn will improve the practical advice that can then be offered to social media users and faith leaders who want to engage people online about spiritual matters. Please share the link as widely as you can, online and through church news bulletins, etc. Whether you can invite 5 people, 10 or 100 to take part, that would be massively helpful. Thank you!


Key findings so far...

  • 86% of respondents 'often' or 'sometimes' talk or write about their faith, with 76% thinking social media is an appropriate platform for this. 
  • One quarter of those surveyed feel 'uncomfortable' mentioning their faith on social media.
  • Around 70% of respondents feel happy sharing social media posts originated by religious leaders and/or faith-based organisations.
  • 22% of respondents indicate they are comfortable sharing their own prayers via social media channels (39% suggest they are happy to share a prayer written by someone else).
  • In terms of reaction to faith-related social media posts, respondents report they are slightly more likely to receive a negative response from a member of their own faith, compared to a member of a different faith, although more than 70% say they 'rarely' or 'never' receive any critical reaction and only 9% feel discouraged about sharing their faith online.
  • 49% of respondents report that their faith leaders actively encourage them to use social media to discuss spiritual matters, while 48% say social media is rarely/never talked about (the remaining 3% report that social media use is actively discouraged by their leaders).

The detailed report, covering all of the subject areas investigated in the study will be published later in the year. It will also draw on longer interviews with practitioners of different backgrounds and experiences, crime reports and other sources. In appreciation for your participation, a copy will be emailed to you when it is ready.

Thank you again for your support.

From the Fry to the fire

Stephen Fry has left Twitter. Again.

Comments he made about a friend's apparel at last weekend's BAFTA awards ceremony were pounced upon by hundreds of people who apparently didn't get the joke. Some of the more repeatable of such Tweets include:

And so, after an expletive-laden riposte of his own, @stephenfry signed off. And the following day posted an explanation on his website. 

'Let us grieve at what twitter has become,' he writes. 'A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended – worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know. It’s as nasty and unwholesome a characteristic as can be imagined. It doesn’t matter whether they think they’re defending women, men, transgender people, Muslims, humanists … the ghastliness is absolutely the same. It makes sensible people want to take an absolutely opposite point of view. I’ve heard people shriek their secularism in such a way as to make me want instantly to become an evangelical Christian.'

Powerful words, from an indisputable king of language. 

Mr Fry's 'inflammatory' comments related to fashion rather than faith, of course. But the Faith in Social Media survey is already hearing from respondents who either avoid commenting on matters of faith entirely or are extremely cautious about what they say for fear of a vitriolic response.

And it's not necessarily people of other faiths (or none) they're concerned about. Some have reported that they avoid some topics of faith because they don't want to 'light the touchpaper' of others within the same faith. 

Social media's selling points are arguably democratisation, free speech and spontaneity. It's easy to express a view. But it's also very easy for a counter-view to be expressed, and with some considerable force. 

Have you experienced any reactions to faith-related Tweets, Facebook statuses or Instagram posts that have caused you to reconsider your involvement in that platform, or deterred you from posting on particular subjects? Please do tell us about it. You can fill in the questionnaire here, or email me in confidence at david@davidpgiles.co.uk. And I won't bite. Promise. 

Prayer baiting?

Well, it probably had to happen. The Church of England has incurred wrath and warmth in variable measure over the weekend, after reporting news of Professor Richard Dawkins' recent stroke. It posted a link to an Independent article for its 58,456 Twitter followers with the text 'Prayers for Prof Dawkins and his family'.

While it was rapidly retweeted (at the time of writing by 1,778 people) and liked (by 1,362), not everyone was quite as supportive. The CofE's motivation was treated with suspicion by some, with cinema worker and 'passionate Londoner' Rob Lugg reacting: 'This is EPIC trolling from the @c_of_e. 😂😂😂'

Actor and 'all round clever clogs' Ian Hayles was similarly unimpressed, tweeting: 'disgusting use of a man's illness to score a childish point'. Still others questioned why Dawkins had been 'singled out' for prayer, and dismissed the efficacy of prayer as a response to ill health.

The Church of England, for its part, was swift to explain itself via a blog post by Communications Director Rev Arun Arora on the organisation's Tumblr page. He wrote: 'The tweet was a prayer. Nothing controversial in that,' before continuing that 'Many recognised the tweet for what it was, a genuine tweet offering prayer for a public person who was unwell.'

'Some of the twitter reaction assumed that Christians only pray for other Christians,' Arora furthered. 'In fact Christians pray for all kinds of people.' Arora also paid tribute to Dawkins' support of the Church of England surrounding the banned Lord's Prayer advert that had been planned to play out in cinemas prior to the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise. 'Any suggestion that Christians do anything other than hate Professor Dawkins,' he explained, 'utterly confuses those who think in binary terms.'

Once unsettled, however, Twitterati can be difficult to quell. New Antiquarian and 'killjoy' Sjoerd Levelt calculated that 'The only two earlier individual prayer tweets from @c_of_e to late 2013, by the way, were each for deceased people. #PrayForDawkins', while Gazzz1987 asked 'Should you pray for people even if it would insult them?'     

‘Prayer shaming’, as this exemplifies, is a phrase coined in December 2015, following the terrorist shooting at a social services centre in San Bernardino, California. As had become de rigueur, a #PrayForSanBernardino hashtag had gained momentum on Twitter shortly after the incident became public knowledge. Some of the higher profile users of this hashtag were criticised for preferring to talk of prayer rather than taking more tangible action.

It also gave rise to some heated argument centring on ‘where is God in this suffering?’, a common objection to organised religion which can prove difficult for inexperienced apologists to counter. A pertinent example was a tweet from George Zornik, the Washington editor of liberal-leaning magazine The Nation, America’s longest running journal. A selective screengrab from Tweetdeck illustrated the difference in response from Democrats and Republicans, including then-2016 presidential candidates.

Democrat Hillary Clinton had used Twitter to criticise gun controls – including the phrase ‘we must take action’ – while Republican George Pataki had tweeted ‘Praying for the victims and first responders in #SanBernardino’. It appears that Zornick was portraying a false dichotomy
where Democrats 'do things' but Republicans 'just pray'. The screen grab comparison was authentic – it had not been Photoshopped – but was very selective in its scope.

Where do you stand on the #PrayForDawkins debacle? And does a reaction like this deter you from adding prayers to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook? Let us know!

 

Putting Faith In Social Media

Thanks for popping by. This site, as you've probably gathered by now, is supporting my postgraduate research study into how people of faith use social media to express that faith. 

Why is this interesting? Much has been written - particularly by Christian authors - about how believers can/should/must use the technology that's emerged over the last 10-15 years to spread the gospel or make disciples. But very little has been written about whether this is effective or well received. 

The effects of extremism (ostensibly in the name of 'religion') and cultural dynamics in a generally cynical West appear to be creating an atmosphere where even the devout are less keen to be linked with fanaticism and assumed to have similarly 'extreme' views. Shortly after tragic shootings in the Californian city, the apparently benign practice of using the Twitter hashtag #PrayForSanBernardino was criticised by individuals who felt that it was a poor substitute for 'actually doing something'. And so the concept of 'prayer shaming' was born. Even disagreements among followers of the same faith have apparently given rise to self-censorship and avoidance of some 'hot topics'. 

And yet talk about God, faith and personal beliefs is still rife across social media. This study aims to identify what factors are at play, whether social media is a true vehicle for free speech with respect to personal faith, and aims to equip faith leaders and organisations with evidence to help the development of guidelines and resources that can help those associated with them.

If you can spend a few minutes to fill in the survey, that would be immensely helpful. Please share as widely as you feel able (on social media or otherwise!).