Has Social Networking Changed our Morality?

Today’s guest post is by Jennie Pollock.  Jennie is currently Editor of UK media and communications at Newfrontiers.  Prior to that she worked for Theos think tank.  She is endlessly thankful that she gets to live in the heart of the world’s most incredible city. She attends ChristChurch London and loves tea, old maps, books and the theatre. She is passionate about seeing a transformation in the way our culture understands itself, and hopes her writing will help.  Jennie has written for various Christian organisations and websites.  You can find her collective writings at Jennie’s Bean Bag blog.

Trending on Twitter last week were two people fundraising for charity. Both raised far more than their original, humble goals, and both are under ten years old!

Joel is six. He had heard about poverty in school and church, then saw a video from Tearfund that tipped the balance. He couldn’t stand by and let it happen any longer. He might not be able to eradicate all poverty worldwide, but he could do something, and he would.

“I’m getting really sad about the people who are poor in the world”, [he explains on his dad’s blog]. “I don’t understand who did this to them. I watched a video about people who are poor, and I want to help them…It isn’t fair that they drink dirty water from wells, and we get clean water from our taps. Some of them can’t go to school, and they don’t have any money. I want to help them so that they can have lots of food to eat.”

After raising £7.22 from family and friends in his home-made ‘Poor Box’, Joel got frustrated. He wanted to make a big difference so he’d have to do something big. For him, this took the form of a sponsored 2 mile run. “He is aiming to raise £60,” his dad says, “because that seems to him to be the sort of amount that can do some serious good (his other suggestion was ‘a trillion pounds’).”

By the power of the retweet, Joel raised over £5,700 (including tax-back from Gift Aid) within a week!

Nine-year-old Martha is an aspiring writer. To give herself some practise, she started a blog about school dinners. Martha writes engagingly about the food that is served to her each day, uploads a photo of it, and rates it on how much she enjoys it, how many bites it takes to eat (as a way of assessing portion-size for a growing girl who needs to concentrate all afternoon), and how healthy it is. Rather than just focussing on herself, though, she connected with a charity called Mary’s Meals, which raises money to provide school meals in countries like Malawi, Liberia, Kenya and Haiti. Anyone who’s interested can donate through a link on the blog, and Martha was aiming to raise £7000 – enough to build a kitchen in a new school.

Martha was somewhat disappointed when her local council asked her to stop posting pictures of her – sometimes disappointingly inadequate – school meals on the grounds that “media coverage of the blog had led catering staff to fear for their jobs.” She did as she was asked, and went to school on Friday feeling sad she hadn’t reached her funding total.

This time Twitter had help from the national media in disseminating her story. By mid-afternoon, under pressure from the news, from Twitter, from emails to the council and from support of celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, the council had reversed its position, and the blog was ready to be reinstated. As of today (Wed 20th), Martha has raised nearly £93,000, and the total is still rising.

This week 4thought.tv is asking ‘Has Social Networking Changed our Morality?’ The programmes were recorded some time ago so none of the speakers has been able to reflect on these two stories, but I think they illustrate the point Christian blogger James Poulter makes in his segment: Social networking hasn’t changed our morality, but it does give us a new, more public, way of expressing it.

Yes, people are able to hide behind the anonymity of Twitter and blog comments to post vicious, hurtful or intolerant comments, but no-one really believes that all those people were sweet and lovely before the advent of the internet. Blaming social networking for causing people to say hurtful things is like blaming the cotton manufacturers for the activities of the Ku Klux Klan – the anonymity afforded by those white hoods enabled people to commit terrible crimes, but was the evil in their hearts caused by the hoods? Clearly not.

Social networking allows us to do what it is in our hearts to do much more easily. People who would previously have muttered under their breaths at articles they disagreed with, now do so in print. People who wish they could help clean up after riots in their cities now know when and where to go to help out, and people who respond positively to innocent children’s humble attempts to change the world put a few pennies into a virtual ‘Poor Box’ and help them make a real difference.

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Categories: Media, Morals & ethics

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