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God's Chosen Tweeters? Religion and Social Media

Members of religious groups are joining the social-media revolution at a faster pace than the general population. Enter the God-geeks.

The following is reprinted with permission from  Religion Dispatches. You can sign up for their free daily newsletter  here.

Social media fans were all atwitter last week about a new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, “ Social Networking Sites and Our Lives.” The most pronounced finding across all social networking sites (SNS) was that active social networking participation does not, as is commonly opined, result in social isolation or a lack of relational intimacy. Further, SNS participation tends to enrich rather than diminish participation in face-to-face relationships.

Key findings of the report focused on the dominant site, Facebook, where some 92% of social network users have a profile. Among a long list of virtues, Pew researchers found that:

* Facebook users are more trusting than non-SNS users.

* Facebook users have more close relationships than non-SNS users.
* Facebook users get more social support than non-SNS users.
* Facebook revives “dormant” relationships that are lost to non-SNS users.

After a couple years of being derided for their brain-rotted shallowness, it should come as no surprise that in no time at all, my network of witty Facebook and Twitter friends added to the list of laudable social networking aficionado qualities:

* We floss after every meal!
* We freed Egypt!
* We’re grounded, and well integrated, intuitive, not too full of ourselves, yet fully realized in the fabulous glow of our authenticity. Gosh we’re swell!
* We’re God’s chosen Tweeters!

Finding God on Facebook

Ah, God. Was there any good news for religions in the Pew report? Certainly, the report makes clear that the vast majority of believers and seekers of every age group, gender, and educational level are likely to be found on Facebook (92%), MySpace (28%), LinkedIn (18%), and Twitter (13%) on a regular basis, though participation varies in any platform based on demographic characteristics. Want to engage thirty- and forty-something white, college-educated men? They’re on LinkedIn. African American women? Try MySpace. Hispanics? Visit Twitter on your way to MySpace. Of course, pretty much everyone’s also on Facebook, so you’ll need to wend your way there as well. What about that Ning site you created for your church? Not so much.

But the Pew data point beyond where people are to what they do in ways that should interest God-geeky types. (Bear with me; this is going to get a little wonky…)

The researchers also studied the relationship between internet and SNS participation and membership in voluntary groups: community groups, sports leagues, youth groups, social clubs, and the Big Kahuna of local social hubs, religious groups. Participation in voluntary groups overall increased nearly 10%, from 65% in 2008 to 74% in 2010. Participation in religious groups tracks just north of the general increase, at 12%, moving from 42% in 2008 to 54% in 2010.

There are lots of reasons for this—not least the floundering economy and its demand for ceaseless praying and the occasional soup supper. Pew researchers found little causal relationship between SNS participation and voluntary group membership. Still, the data are telling. We can’t predict that someone who uses Facebook is more likely to go to church, synagogue, mosque, or temple than is someone who does not. But the data show that, among those who do participate in religious groups, participation in social networking communities has grown tremendously—from 36% in 2008 to 52% in 2010. This is highest rate of SNS usage and the single largest increase (16%) in SNS usage among all voluntary group participants.

At the Intersection of God & Neighbor

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