Whether we’re talking about the redefinition of marriage or taxpayer funded abortion and contraception, one question is crossing many Christians’ minds: where will the next challenge to religious liberty arise? Among some, there is a growing concern that the next threat to religious liberty will be a cyber showdown.
That was one area of concern addressed by Joe Carter, communications specialist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and editor for the Gospel Coalition blog, during his lecture at the Family Research Center (FRC) on December 10. After an inspiring presentation on various strategies necessary to defend religious liberty, concern over online threats to freedom arose during the following Q&A.
“Where do you see our biggest potential threat to religious liberty on the internet side of things as far as corporately-owned websites — not just websites — but platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google?,” asked one member of the FRC audience. “And will anybody even hear about it if our freedoms in that area are removed?”
The audience member’s question nodded towards recent comments made by Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
“We should build tools to help de-escalate tensions on social media – sort of like spell-checkers, but for hate and harassment,” wrote Schmidt in an op-ed published by the New York Times. “Without this type of leadership from government, from citizens, from tech companies, the internet could become a vehicle for further disaggregation of poorly built societies, and the empowerment of the wrong people, and the wrong voices.”
Schmidt’s op-ed focused heavily on terrorist recruitment and other activity, but as the audience member noted, “That could easily be extrapolated over to any kind of religious speech.”
Carter agreed that corporately-owned websites whose board and share-holders largely oppose Christian values could employ algorithms which block our message. “We focus right now on the individual privacy, freedom of speech issues,” Carter explained. “But it’s going to get to the point where our message isn’t even seen by anybody and we can’t even get our message out there because the algorithms are blocking it.”
There is still time to prevent this future threat to religious liberty from becoming serious, says Carter. “We still have a lot of power over Twitter and Facebook, but if we wait too long we might lose the advantage we have to do something.”
Carter particularly urged Christians with technological skills to take the lead and develop alternative search engines and social media platforms “so when Facebook blocks us out we can have somewhere else to go.”
Carter also reminded Christians that we have the benefit of evangelization. He encouraged Christians to build connections and personal relationships with those working in technology or in Silicon Valley. That way, our techy friends can see for themselves that our message isn’t one of hate, but truth in love.
I’m thankful for Carter’s thoughtful optimism and encouragement of innovation in the religious liberty debate. And hey, if these social media threats come to fruition, well, that’s certainly one way to rouse Millennial Christians to defend and protect religious liberty. Imagine the uproar…and Tweets…and, oh, the many, many hashtags.