A smarter way to social networking

By J. Randal Matheny

The options for interaction on the Internet grow by the hour, it seems. Servants of God want to be good stewards of their time and energies. They ought to be, as Jesus said, “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16 NET). These two qualities invite the disciple of Christ to evaluate his actions, make the best choices within his situation, and, within the context of Matthew 10, use all at his disposal for the mission given to the church.

This principle applies to such supposedly mundane things as one’s choice of social media.

One social networking option flying under the radar until recently deserves consideration as an already stable platform with a wide range of options, applications, plug-ins, and possibilities for opening up the Internet.

Friendica provides secure communications protocols for sharing with friends and contacts across the Internet. As the main website says, “Friendica is decentralised, open source, secure, private, modular, extensible, unincorporated, and federated.”

Three of these are mentioned for clarification, then four major advantages for users in general and for those interested in social networking for the gospel.

  • Open source: Any user can install his own instance, as its called, on one’s own server, either for oneself or just for friends or for the general public. It’s not a commercial product, so no one is trying to make money from users, which means it’s free of advertising. The level of complexity for installation is about the same as the WordPress software.
  • Federated: There is not a single website for Friendica, but a group of sites wherever people decide to install it. They can connect across the Internet among themselves and with other services. The user is not limited to a specific site on the web. This is an amazing advantage.
  • Extensible: A large group of volunteers constantly contributes new applications and plug-ins. Already nearly a dozen interface languages are supported and more are in the works.

What do these characteristics mean for users?

#1. Time-saver

Christians seek to use their time wisely and take every advantage of opportunities. This wisdom is practiced, in part, Paul says, by “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16 ESV). Therefore, tools that contribute to the best use of time may certainly be welcomed by God’s people.

As one of those tools, Friendica can post to and interact with services like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Posterous, LiveJournal, and WordPress. It is a federated network, meaning it can communicate across the Internet with services called “walled gardens,” that is, normally closed to interaction with other services.

As well, Friendica interfaces well with other open-source efforts such as Diaspora and StatusNet (like identi.ca).

With such possibilities of communicating, one can concentrate most of one’s Internet activity in a single place. That is a major time-saver.

With Friendica one can even send posts to people who use only email, through connection with one’s email server. A development is near completion to allow people to subscribe to public posts by email as well. No one, then, is beyond reach.

A user can insert RSS feeds into his stream as well. RSS allows one to follow websites, forums, and discussion groups that provide the feed.

Most of what one needs from the Internet is brought together in a single place and can be distributed from a single source. Such convenience means saving lots of time.

#2. Security

Important records are guarded under lock and key. Counselors know the importance of respecting client confidentiality. While Christians are to be examples to the world in their conduct (the open-book analogy), some information and data should be protected as a measure of responsibility to others as well. Integrity means sharing with others what should be shared and withholding what will not edify.

Facebook talks about security, but it has been demonstrated that images which the user marks as private actually have a publicly accessible URI. Services like Facebook and Google evaluate the user’s activity in order to refine their advertising targets and sell user data to advertisers. Facebook has had serious security leaks of user information as well.

Friendica uses military-grade security features both to protect posts within an installation and to insure security when data is transmitted outside to other sites and services.

#3. Freedom

Freedom is an important concept in the Way (cf. John 8:32; Gal. 5:1). It keeps one from being bound by others’ demands, while allowing the Christian to limit himself in ways that will further the kingdom of God. Social media that preserves that freedom would seem to contribute to a better social experience and serve spiritual purposes.

Friendica is free in several ways that commercial services are not. First, there is no cost, neither in monetary terms nor in privacy. Facebook, for example, is not free, for the price one pays is to be the subject of scrutiny in one’s habits and content and the target of advertising.

Second, there are no restrictions on one’s data. Content belongs to the user, who can manipulate it at will. It can be downloaded from the instance where it is hosted, deleted, edited, shared publicly, privately, or not at all. User content is not a commodity, but under the user’s full control.

#4. Privacy

While privacy as such is not a biblical topic, respect for one’s own faith before God, exercised between oneself and the Lord, and for another’s faith overlaps with this concept. In the question of matters of opinion, Paul taught that one’s faith is held between oneself and the Lord. “Before his own master he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4 NET).

There are moments when corrections are to be made in public (1 Tim. 5:20), but we also see Aquila and Priscilla taking Apollo aside privately to teach him further (Acts 18:26).

Friendica allows the user to fine-tune who can access and read content, as well as protect the transmission of data to other services. In a litigious society today, one must take care with what information about others is shared. Prayer requests, for example, may not be publicly appropriate, depending on what is revealed about a person.

For that, Friendica has a full range of options, for groups, community pages, and forums, through which a message’s level of privacy can be defined with precision. Further, one can be sure that those privacy options, once determined, will not be changed, as has happened on sites like Facebook.

A satisfied user

My comments are made as a recent, satisfied user of Friendica. I’m not a contributor to the software nor do I benefit in any way from this article, other than the satisfaction of sharing what has quickly become for me a highly useful tool in my ministry.

I’ve tried most of the social networking services available, have used many of them rather intensely, and migrated recently to Friendica. From what I’ve seen so far, I will not soon leave it.

Randal can be found on Friendica here or as randal@myfriendica.net. See his blog post on “How to get started with Friendica in 7 small easy steps.

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