Last week, I got the chance to chat with Salt Lake Tribune religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack about Latter-day Saint missionaries use of social media videos, and I was pleased to see the article published on Sunday. I hadn’t been paying attention to online missionary videos, but the subject fit nicely with the reading I’ve been doing on platform and platform values recently:
Both kinds of accounts “are drawing from the internet/influencer cultures of these platforms,” [Greenhalgh] says. “On one hand, that’s a smart move, and it makes a lot of sense, but online platforms have their own embedded values, and they may not always be compatible. The church has long been nervous about assimilating too much into the cultures it goes into, and I wonder how much concern there is here.”
I’m not particularly concerned about conflicts between institutional and platform values here (personally, I think the flattening of authority on social media platforms is an overall benefit for Mormon communities), but I have a paper out for review on how sociotechnical systems can stand in tension with Latter-day Saint authority systems, and I’d be shocked if this subject weren’t on the mind of Latter-day Saint leaders. Note this passage from the article, for example:
“During the pandemic, social media was the primary source for missionaries to find people to teach,” says church spokesperson Sam Penrod. “Facebook and Instagram (Instagram was piloted and offered to some missionaries on a limited basis — less than 10% of all missionaries) are the only approved social media channels at this time for missionaries.”
This, then, is related to another interesting question: A lot of the channels that Peggy pointed me to when chatting are (as I quoted), “Mormon-facing accounts that are using the same videos not so much for proselytizing but as sort of a collective bonding around the idea and experience of missionary work.” There’s something really interesting here about using missionaries not as an outward-facing tool but as an inward-facing one, and I want to dig more into that. It’s not surprising that the Latter-day Saint missionary is a symbol of the faith and culture that insiders lift up and cling to, but the whole point of being a missionary is to be outward-facing, so the seeming paradox is pretty interesting. I wonder if there’s been offline work done on this—Peggy encouraged me during our chat to collect some data and research this, and I’m seriously thinking about it.
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