A couple of weeks ago, my wife, our daughter and son-in-law, and I did some Facebook Live broadcasts during Passover, to honor the time of remembrance when God performed a great miracle of deliverance, freeing his people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. Under the watchful recording from our cell-phone camera, we sang worship songs and took communion each night to celebrate the beauty of our Savior’s miracle when he passed from death to life, enabling all humanity to be delivered from the bondage of slavery in sin.
On the final evening, a friend of ours commented “Toda lecha, Adonai!” The English translation of this Hebrew expression is “Thank you, Lord!”
Thank you, indeed. How can any of us ever express enough gratitude for the mercy and gracious kindness of God expressed through Jesus, our Lord?
But I noticed something interesting. Below the comment, Facebook offered me a chance to have the expression translated. For fun, I clicked the link. It informed me that our friend had written “All milk, Adonai!”
The algorithm (or whatever computer magic is used for such tasks) thought our friend had written in Spanish, not Hebrew.
I got a chuckle from that, even as I began thinking. How often do we allow social media to translate and define our lives and experiences, our thoughts and the expressions of our hearts? We write something, or post a photo, and suddenly the whole world is invited to comment and critique whatever we have released. Our messages, as well as the intent of our hearts, are suddenly filtered for consumption and translated for other people to read by the “algorithm” of human prejudice and opinion.
The translation may be unintelligible or silly or comical—such as turning “thank you” into “all milk.” But far too often, translators with preconceptions and bitterness determine they will find secrets dark and sinister in your closet. What you say often can, and will, be turned against you.
Hence, the tragic results in some lives from “cyber bullying.” In our case, Facebook’s translation was funny; it also was not incorrect, depending on your preconceived worldview. “Toda lecha” would be translated “all milk” if our friend was communicating in Spanish. But in this case, the meaning was completely wrong, because the intention of the person communicating was not conveyed correctly. Improper “perceptions” based on a faulty assumption led to an utterly incorrect translation.
So it is when we allow social media to influence and inform our perceptions of truth, of “real” reality, of what genuine love looks like and what truly constitutes a life that is good and flourishing.
And so it is when we—unique individuals who in truth have been created by a loving God to reflect his image—allow social media to inform our perceptions of ourselves and our worth (or lack thereof). These platforms are not “wrong” or “bad” when used properly and kept in proper perspective. But when our lives become focused on what we see or perceive through these filters, something gets twisted and our thoughts become subtly and increasingly distorted.
There is nothing new or groundbreaking in what I am writing. Much has been written about this, to the point that I am stating the obvious. And yet, social media continues to dominate the thinking and outlook of multiple millions of individuals. We continue to take social and intellectual cues from our daily Twitter feeds or Instagram posts or Facebook alerts. Dependence on such facile sounding boards will cause us to grovel at the feet of public opinion and harsh pronouncements; we will not be delivered from evil, but instead led into temptation to adjust our lives to become beautiful and appealing in everyone else’s eyes.
Facebook, and platforms like it, can be wonderful tools. But they are only tools. You can use a hammer to drive nails and build beautiful homes. You can use the same hammer to murder your neighbor.