Community is not just a cure for what ails us; it is also what ails us.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg set out this year on a tour of the United States. In trips to twenty-four states he hadn’t visited before, he planted a garden with teens in Dallas, stopped by a bar in Mobile, Alabama, and chatted with oil workers in North Dakota. New York magazine reports that “in nearly every state he’s visited, Zuckerberg has attended religious services or met with religious leaders.” No wonder: the creator of the world’s largest social network wants to understand what makes a community, as he recasts Facebook’s mission as “building global community.”
People crave community. We feel things in crowds that we don’t feel elsewhere: the support of a roomful of fellow mourners, the rush of an audience roaring for an encore, the resolve of protesters, the fury of the mob. (Getting “likes” feels great, too.) And we act, through communities, in ways we simply could not alone. Because Facebook functions, by design, as an echo chamber, showing me more of what I “like” and less of what I ignore, it helps me find my people with incredible efficiency. Yet growing evidence makes it clear that the same things that make Facebook appealing also enable the spread of lies, fake news, and international mischief.
Zuckerberg’s manifesto, “Building Global Community,” doesn’t grasp that “community” is not just a cure for what ails us; it is also what ails us—in tribalism, groupthink, racism, nationalism. The world’s largest social network is no global community, but I’m glad that Zuckerberg is thinking about how religious communities function. A faith community like ours—that champions both the “free and responsible search” and “peace, liberty, and justice for all,” that binds us together through service and ritual and story—helps us love those whom we find hard to like, and invites us to introspection and change.
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Christopher L. Walton is editor of UU World. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Utah and is a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.