The two most populous religions globally are Christianity and Islam with 2.5 billion and 1.5 billion followers respectively. In June this year, Zuckerberg celebrated 2 billion monthly users on Facebook. If Facebook was a religion, it would be the second most populated religion globally, closely behind Christianity. Meanwhile there are about 4,200 religions (not counting denominations and sects) on earth right now. This means that the religion of Facebook would be more populated than each of Islam the other thousands of religions. And that’s Facebook. If you add other social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc) to the equation, I’m sure you already know what I’m thinking about.
But for crying out loud, why are we comparing social media and religion? Social media platforms are technological services that people subscribe to. It’s not as if people go around and say they must dress or talk this way or that way because they’re Facebookites or Twitteratis like they would because they’re Christians or Muslims. Social media doesn’t give people scriptures, doctrines, and creeds like religion does. So why the comparison? Anyway, that’s why you’re here. There’s so much comparison between social media and religion. You will see it. Just read on.
As we proceed, please note that I will be limiting the discussion to organized religion. So the word ‘religion’ will mean ‘organized religion.’
A religious gathering is a social gathering. Some Christians argue that their religion is not a religion but a close walk with God. Muslims too claim that Islam is more than a religion but it is a way of life. However no matter how much people deny it, religious peoplel form a community that gathers together weekly and perhaps daily and share a common bond. This is exactly what the word ‘social’ means. It is thus not a mere coincidence that the word ‘social’ which can be used to characterize religion is also in the phrase ‘social media.’
People gather in church just like they gather on social media. One can know if you are in the house of worship (church or mosque) or not just like one can know if you’re online on Facebook or not. People compare one another in their house of worship just like people compare their DP’s or the sizes of their online followership on social media. The possible comparisons go on and on.
One of the reasons why people hold on tightly to their religious beliefs is that it provides succour to them. Karl Max aptly called religion ‘the opium of the oppressed.’ Many religious people claim that while praying, singing or reciting their religious text, they experience peace and tranquility even in the midst of fears and life challenges. Faith is the only assurance such people have in the face of trials and tribulations.
Somehow social media too does something similar for people. If you’re looking for proper entertainment, it is on social media. From jokes to well-touched beautiful photos and videos, there is no shortage of entertainment on social media. Why do you think people stay glued to social media and binge on it all day? It is because they get to laugh and feel good on social media. Drinking doesn’t achieve the same effect since it is not something you can do all day everytime and everywhere like prayer and social media.
The communal phenomenon of religion is amazing. In their places of worship, people like to be greeted by others. They like to be asked about how they’re faring. People like to have others say good things about their appearances. It is the same thing on social media as people expecting others to like and say good things about their selfies.
People go to church for instance to be uplifted and inspired. A lot of people get encouraged by words from their clergy and spiritual brethren. The same thing happens on social media. No matter how we all go hypocritical about the vanity called social media, many people derive their self-esteem from social media. Whether you like it or not, there are people whose feeling of self-worth notches up an inch with every like or comment they get on their post or picture or notches down an inch with every minute their post or picture spends online without a like or comment.
There are people who don’t command much social significance in real life but garner heavy social media followership: the social media joy blots out the anguish they get from their real lives. There is a Brother Smith who doesn’t get bothered by his unemployed and penniless status at 38 because he’s a unit head in church. Then there is a Catherine who doesn’t get bothered by her real life struggles all because she has 200K followers on social media.
This is why you notice that some people who are dull, depressed, and uninspired in real life are all cheerful and energetic on social media. Some people who are timid and shy in real life are all bold and confident on social media. I heard the story of someone who was contemplating suicide but jettisoned the idea after an uplifting joke he read on social media. Social media uplifts as much religion does. And if you say people can get depressed and bullied even to the level of committing suicide on social media, doesn’t the same happen in religion too? People have had to commit suicide because of some things they saw, heard, experienced in their places of worship. Social media can uplift or depress just like religion too can. They both are similar in this regard.
Perhaps this is why in poor countries of the world where suffering is much, people practise religion so much and they also subscribe to social media so much. It is because these two entities have the ability to make people forget their sorrows. Look at Nigeria. It’s one of the poorest countries in the world. Yet religion is so established in this country that we produced 5 of 10 richest pastors in the world. People give up their life savings and even sell their belongings to service those who give them hope. In the same country, despite the fact that Facebook is one of the most data-consuming apps, millions upon millions of Nigerians are signing up for it. And for those who can’t afford data for browsing, they get to subscribe for internet access to just Facebook. Heavy usage of social media and heavy followership of religion despite all odds in a country with a high poverty rate can not be a mere coincidence.
There are denominations on social media just like there are in religion. On social media, we have religionists, irreligionists, feminists, liberals, racists, sports enthusiasts, sex talkers, gossip lovers, etc. Just like members of the same religion will always support each other so do members of the same ideology support one another on social media. If one writes a post, he tags the others for solidarity. In fact, some of these sects manifest as Facebook groups where members are admitted or evicted, etc. Just like religious ideologies are spread via preaching, these social media ideologies spread on social media by active proselytizing of its members. While sectarian beliefs in religion are spread by tracts, billboards, etc, sectarian beliefs on social media are spread by posts and comments. And just like people convert from one sect to the other in religion, people do undergo ideological changes on social media too.
And talking about changes, religion moulds our mentality and lives the same way social media moulds our mentality and lives. This mentality change includes moraliry too. People have become better or worse people via social media just like religion. How we talk, interact, dress, etc have been affected by social media as much as religion. Our language has been modified by social media just like religion. Social media is every part of our culture just like religion is.
You can argue that there are people who do use social media for other things. For instance, people promote their businesses on social media but so do people use religion to promote their businesses too. On social media, people get to meet strangers and through this, make professional connections for get dating partners. Isn’t that what religion too is about? The religious houses too operate like some dating website where intending lovers meet up. There is no difference between both communities.
Perhaps all these aforementioned points are the reasons why people log on to social media first thing in the morning like they would do their devotion first thing in the morning. Perhaps people give as much priority and attention to social media as they give to religion because they are equally and similarly important. Social media has become another way of looking at life, some sort of worldview, just like religion.
It is true that there are folks who don’t care about social media. Such people see it as a distraction. Some people have never opened a social media account while some others who used to have accounts have closed them. However you can see that they are a minority just like those who don’t subscribe to religion are a minority. Such people have refused to subscribe to religion because they too see religion as unnecessary, a distraction, etc, the same reasons as those who don’t do social media. And just as people have closed their social media accounts, people have abandoned religious belief too.
Religion doesn’t have to have a deity it worships. So social media doesn’t have a deity — at least for now. However Mark Zuckerberg thinks since church attendance is reducing in America, Facebook with its community of 2 billion monthly users can perform the same functions church has hitherto performed. In other words, he thinks his Facebook can be a religion. Should he be God or just a religious leader? Depends on who you talk to. If the Church is Jesus’ fold and the Ummah is Prophet Mohammed’s Ummah, perhaps Facebook is Zuckerberg’s congregation too, properly monickered ‘Zuckerville’. Facebook actually belongs to Mark Zuckerberg because it was his invention (or revelation) just like Christianity belongs to Jehovah because it was Jehovah’s revelation and Islam belongs to Allah because it was Allah’s revelation.
Since we haven’t started worshipping Mark Zuckerberg, let’s just call him the Presiding Bishop of the global Church of Facebook or the Grand Imam of the global Facebook Ummah. One day if we begin to worship him, then social media will tick all boxes for a theistic religion. Meanwhile that there is no deity for social media yet doesn’t detract from its religion status though. After all, there is a group of religions called nontheistic religions which are religions without a deity. Social media is already a religion even if it is a nontheistic one.
In conclusion, we need to stop the hypocrisy now. Social media plays very important roles in people’s lives, roles that might not be any lesser than those played by religion in people’s lives. We need to realize this fact henceforth. Welcome to the 21st century when technology has become religion. Or better still, welcome to the era when religion in all its braggadocio has got nothing on social media!