One of the most difficult assignments I have in this type of ministry is concerning research. It is something I do much of the time. It can be all-consuming, especially when working on the content needed for a major project such as a book or DVD.
Some of the hardest decisions that I have to make, whether writing, preparing notes for radio or working on a television script, is what do I leave out? Particular topics, such as some of those touched on in this three-part article, are worthy of much more attention than I am able to afford them here. So please understand that there is much, much more to be said on this subject matter.
They Want it Where?
One of the most disconcerting pieces of information that I came across in preparing this article is that, besides the various Amazon Echo home units I discussed in part one, there is a home unit, the Echo Look, that Amazon suggests users place in their bedrooms.
Amazon's own web page about this unit announces "Echo Look | Hands-Free Camera and Style Assistant with Alexa—includes Style Check to get a second opinion on your outfit."
Yes, it is a camera that allows Amazon's programmed Artificial Intelligence (i.e., A.I.) to offer its advice on your clothing selection, color coordination, and overall apparel for the day!
One headline read, "Amazon Wants to Put a Camera and Microphone in Your Bedroom - Echo Look will use machine learning to decide if you look fat in that shirt."
Jason Koebler at Motherboard.vice.com wrote, "Amazon is giving Alexa eyes. And it's going to let her judge your outfits. The newly announced Echo Look is a virtual assistant with a microphone and a camera that's designed to go somewhere in your bedroom, bathroom or wherever the h--- you get dressed."
Amazon's desire for consumers to trust their algorithms in making style choices isn't nearly as intimidating - or as foolish – as it is to trust your personal privacy to them.
Another headline contained my personal sentiments and stated "Amazon Wants to Put a Camera in Your Bedroom. What Could Go Wrong?" That headline belongs to an article from www.inc.com by Joseph Steinberg, who is a cybersecurity expert and entrepreneur.
Steinberg is CEO of SecureMySocial, which recently brought to market the world's first system to warn people in real time if they are making inappropriate social media posts. His article, concerning Amazon's Echo Look, should be read by anyone who already has a stand-alone Amazon or Google device of any kind or who is considering buying one.
Style and fashion aside, what about hackers? Even if every individual at Amazon with the ability to access uploads from Echo Look possessed the highest integrity and were governed by ethics as pure as the driven snow, there is always the issue of misuse.
Uploading various types of photos to public places on the internet for the purposes of humiliation, embarrassment and retaliation is about as common as vile language in an "R" rated movie. However, many people have watched as their lives and futures have suffered devastating harm because of the practice of "Revenge Porn" online.
This issue reached a critical stage late last year when Facebook actually began soliciting salacious pictures from users - even if the particular pictures had not been used to damage another party's reputation. This is not a misprint, folks. Facebook is actually seeking to digitally stamp images in such a way that pictures submitted could not ever be uploaded to Facebook by jealous angry spouses or former love interests with axes to grind. So this is what happens when everybody has a camera and internet access?
One has to wonder how many hackers seeking to blackmail whomever possible are determined to unlock the Facebook server containing those files to riffle through them. But wait... relax. Facebook has all their files secured, right? Google has reportedly now set a team in place to review and delete pornographic images. What a sick and dangerous task. Without expounding on this, I wonder how many employed in such a job will suffer irreparably?
Addicted. Admit it or not, Addicted
Devices, be they PCs, tablets, phones and now stand-alone home speakers, are all part of an addiction process. That may seem like a strong word but it really isn't. In 2017, some gasped upon hearing more than one former Facebook executive publicly admit that Facebook was, by design, constructed to addict.
Apple has finally owned up to the fact that older phones were built to slow and regress. It is also a fact that all of the tech giants undermine and suppress conservative or biblical values, either through dead-ending posts or censoring searches on their platforms. But now comes perhaps the most concerning revelations from inside the tech jungle.
During an interview conducted before a live audience at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in early November 2017, Chamath Palihapitiya, Facebook's former head of user growth, told those gathered, "The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, [but] misinformation, mistruth."
Palihapitiya's comments concerning the foundations of Facebook were even more troubling. "Even though we feigned this whole line of, like, 'There probably aren't any really bad unintended consequences,' I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of our minds, we kind of knew something bad could happen," he said. "We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are." (Emphasis added)
Business Insider reported that Palihapitiya said that he feels "tremendous guilt" over Facebook's divisive role in society, as exploited by Russian agents in last year's U.S. election."
In the November 9, 2017, edition of Fortune Magazine, Tom Huddeston Jr. wrote, "Sean Parker, the onetime founding president of Facebook and co-founder of Napster, is not the social media advocate he once was."
Parker said, among other social media entrepreneurs, Facebook CEO and co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg (right), understood that they were launching a website that could be addicting, "and we did it anyway."
"The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them . . . was all about: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'"
Parker concluded, "God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains."
At Stanford, Chamath Palihapitiya revealed, "My solution is I just don't use these tools anymore. I haven't for years. It's created huge tension with my friends...I guess I kind of innately didn't want to get programmed." Palihapitiya added that he also doesn't allow his children to use social networks.
Ironically, while I was researching information related to the ex-Facebook executives, a video ad kept popping up on my screen announcing that Facebook has unveiled a new Messenger app for children. Wonderful. I mused, "Did that message actually say, 'Start them young and addict them early?'" No, but that was actually what I whispered to myself as I watched. Somehow, in the midst of that disturbing information concerning Facebook and kids, I was snapped away from the winding rabbit trail of research and back to reality.
Social Media Self-Exam
I know some of those reading here might be wondering if my solution for the social media dilemma is simply to unplug completely. Perhaps some individuals need to limit or stop online activities because of addiction, dependence or simply because without restraints Facebook, Twitter and other platforms can, at very least, dominate one's time. For some, especially young people without much life experience, it may be difficult to determine when, how, or even if social media should have a place in their lives. That statement may seem odd to those who have grown up with social media being such a large part of their lives. However, it seems to me that many kids and adults alike just dive in without clear understanding of what they may encounter. It is an understatement to say that there are many traps online and one bad decision can result in many regrets. These are all questions and choices that each family or individual should assess for themselves.
Rather than unplugging from the online world altogether, we might consider hitting "refresh" instead. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and other platforms represent millions of lost people that we've been commissioned to reach. This is why our ministry targets users on these and other social sites. Unless one simply needs to step away from the mouse and keyboard for a season, refocusing what we do online with a goal of representing God and Kingdom principles on social media could position us to be instruments for His service - which is exactly what He has called us to be.
Millions are trapped in the online world today and some of those held captive are Christians. Regardless of what activities one may engage in, it's a fact that idolatry could be the result. How? Simply because of time. Every one of us needs to be challenged to consider how we spend our free time. That statement alone will cause angst for some. But I'm obligated to ask: who or what is dominate during those precious and fleeting moments we call "free time"? Is it God or gossip? Are we redeeming the time and renewing our minds or filling our hearts with what, in old-fashioned terms, we'd refer to as unrighteous? The Scriptures instruct us to inspect our own walk with God to assure that we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). It may be unsettling to evaluate, but can we really declare that we are Christians and that Jesus is indeed Lord of our lives when hours pass daily perusing the world-centered pleasures of social media or online gaming - yet only a fleeting minute or two is spent on God's Word, in worship, prayer, or in service to the King? Not one of us here is perfect, but I wonder how many have gone sideways simply because they'd allowed seemingly harmless activities to interfere with simple, daily communion with the Creator.
Work While it is Day...Stay Focused on Our Mission
A time is coming in days future when the hardware, software and media platforms we now think nothing of using may represent danger zones in a world turned against Christ and His followers. Just using electronic communications may present impossible challenges for believers, and yes, I am speaking about the period between now and the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church. However, those days are not yet upon us and our task as believers is to communicate the Gospel and alert others as to what is actually taking place in these perilous days. For mature, thoughtful Christians, some of the negatives of social media can be turned around and used for the good.
Social media presents an unparalleled evangelistic opportunity. We can certainly use the medium for God's glory - but not without understanding, caution and self-control. As you have read here, Facebook is programmed to keep you logged in and coming back as often as possible. If we'll pray and ask God for boldness, wisdom, and ingenuity, there is no doubt that we are going to have an audience for our message. It's no secret that believers can and are reaching many souls for the Lord with Information Technology today. But the warnings are out concerning the addictive nature of social media, gaming, etc., and we need to be wise and led by God.
Just as in any other facet of our lives, we need preparation and a plan for success. But before we log on we must pray, focus and remain dedicated to God's will. Below, I've listed just a couple of passages that we can all draw strength from as we seek to reach a lost world for Him.
Let's not be conflicted or allow the world, the flesh and the devil to interfere with the high calling encapsulated in the word "Christian." When Jesus comes for His Church, will we be checking our status and trolling for 'likes' on Facebook or will we be about our Father's business?
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
- 1 Corinthians 15:58
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
- Matthew 28:18-20
Eric Barger is the founder and president of Take A Stand! Ministries headquartered in the Seattle, Washington, area. He is the author of numerous books and has produced dozens of videos detailing various aspects of the Cults, the Occult, World Religions, Current Events, Bible Prophecy, and today's Entertainment Industry all in the light of a biblical worldview. Now in his 35th year in Christian Apologetics and Discernment Ministry, he travels extensively to conferences and churches across the US and Canada presenting the Take A Stand! Seminar series. Eric also serves as the co-host of "Understanding The Times Radio with Jan Markell" and hosts Take A Stand! TV weekly. Please visit www.ericbarger.com for more.