The term “generation gap” is a pretty common one: It refers to the perceived differences between generations. In the past, I have emphasized the word “perceived” when talking about age segregation in society and the church. But lately an important real, not perceived, difference has taken on a great deal of importance in society. This is a difference based on one’s understanding and grasp of social media, how it works, and how to engage with it properly when it comes to fake news.
With the current global pandemic and social unrest, more and more people are turning to social media as a platform for debate, protests, reform, and politics. And there are some inherent dangers in that, especially when misinformation (or fake news) is viral.
Research has been been done that indicates, despite society’s natural bent to believe that younger generations are more emotionally-driven and less discerning, it is actually the older generations that are most likely to spread fake news such as hoaxes, disinformation, and incomplete news stories over social media.
Studies have shown that “On average, users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as the youngest age group.” That’s a huge number!
To break that down by percentages, this study from Princeton and New York University found that eleven percent of users older than 65 shared an article consistent with the study’s definition of fake news. Just 3% of users ages 18 to 29 did the same.
This is in spite of the fact that over 90% of young adults ages 18-29 are active on social media as compared to only 35% of older Americans, 65 years of age and older.
The above is just one example of why age segregation is a concern. We could blame this situation on politics or lack of understanding of social media or any number of factors. But for our purposes, let’s look at phenomena through the lens of age segregation.
A vast difference exists in the types of media that each generation uses. For instance, it is reported that 72% of 13-17 year olds and 64% of 18-29 year olds use Instagram while only 21% of 50-64 year olds and 10% of 65+ year olds use Instagram.
Another 2015 study estimates that of 271,000,000 Twitter users who are active every month the number of users between 51 and 60 years was roughly 2,981,000 or about 1% of the users.
The gap between generations is being exacerbated by social media platforms. This is a pattern that the Church needs to be aware of. Why? Because it impacts how the generations interact with each other in our faith community.
The older generation, who grew up with print media and a trust of written communication, photographs, and testimony, is more susceptible to publishing and defending misinformation as truth.
These two things immediately put these generations at odds with one another: The younger losing respect for the older generation and the older generation believing the younger generation is not listening.
When we add to that the curation of different social media platforms between generations, the gap widens even further. In a very real sense, these generations are now speaking different languages; they talk past each other and cannot hear one another. The same true story now has two different narratives and disagreement plays out politically, socially, and relationally.
Church, we must be the bridge-builders. Through the truth of God’s Word, we can open the door for real relationships to be forged upon shared foundations. So how can we invite this conversation in a place of such division?
Create Space for Mutual Learning – If our generations never have the opportunity to both learn from and teach each other, how can we expect them to hear one another? Church is a perfect place to create space for generations to come together around common mission and vision and listen to one another as they learn together.
Create Space for Generational Teaching – What can your church do to help one generation teach another generation? Discipleship and mentorship programs are more common in churches but get creative! I’ve seen churches that have made videos with stories from the older generation about tough times and how God got them through that have been a huge encouragement to the younger generation. I’ve heard of other churches let the youth and young adults host a technology party where they help the older people experience new tech. Let’s use our imagination to find these spaces.
Create Space for Healthy Discussion – There are difficult topics facing our world today. All generations need a safe place to ask hard questions. The church should be that space, but too often, we discourage questions, doubts and inquiries and force especially our young people to find answers elsewhere. Churches that encourage healthy discussion and the reading of Scripture in community create a culture that unites rather than divides. As one of my pastoral heroes has said, “We talk more about the things that divide us, not less.” Have the hard conversations because that indicates deepening relationships.
Sometimes I’ve noticed that churches likes to take a back seat on these types of issues and say, “That’s not really a spiritual or religious thing. We’ll reserve our voice and influence for other concerns.” But I would beg to differ. All of life, as a believer, is spiritual. We declare that we have been raised to new life in Christ which means everything we do, including posting on social media, should be done in that light.
Churches have a unique opportunity to enter this space around the common belief Jesus Christ and offer a space for mutual edification and humble growth to happen. Rather than shy away, we should “talk more, not less” as my friend said. Equip parents for conversations around dinner table. Encourage connection across generations. Create the spaces. It is all part of our calling to “make disciples.”
This article about fake news originally appeared here.