laptopWe make two mistakes when it comes to using social media for pro-life outreach: The first is not relying on it at all, and the second is relying on it too much.

Social media can be a crucial tool for amassing support for pro-life candidates, recruiting activists, promoting events, and educating peers on life issues. I am quite sympathetic to those who avoid social media for personal or principled reasons and I won’t deny that there is merit to many of their concerns, especially given Facebook and Twitter’s left-wing bias and tendency towards censorship. However, it is also undeniable that these platforms can be very effective tools for the pro-life movement.

In just one hour, for instance, I can ask one hundred of my Facebook friends to take out a party membership to vote in a leadership contest. Thanks to their profiles, I often know their political leanings, what issues they care about, and what regions they live in.

Note, though, that I have not mentioned anything about converting pro-choicers, because that’s a rare occurrence online. Most of our social media accounts are already pro-life echo chambers, and only a small percentage of the pro-choice friends and followers that we do have will ever be open-minded and rational enough to rethink the serious issue of abortion after coming across the right combination of keyboard strokes from someone online.

This brings me to the second mistake of overreliance on social media, e.g. conducting one’s pro-life outreach largely through liking, sharing, and commenting on online articles or memes. Though somewhat useful, this activity cannot be the cornerstone of our outreach. When it is treated as such, it warrants the label “slacktivism”—low-effort online activism that makes its practitioner feel good but has much less of a direct impact on the culture, whose transformation should be our ultimate goal.

A couple of weeks ago, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada shared an article titled, “Reframing Abortion to Breathe Life into a ‘Culture of Death.’” In it, writer Abby Minor asks, “what if we simply owned that abortion is beneficial, essential, and sacred—even if life does begin at conception?” She actually references Pope John Paul II’s contrast between a culture of life and a culture of death, but concludes that “it’s time… to acknowledge just how graceful, compassionate, and courageous ‘a culture of death’ would really be.” Using language so intimate to the pro-life movement, she throws open her arms in embrace of death and darkness.

Abortion defenders like Minor are obviously missing something so fundamental and no number of online petitions or tweets we fire off will restore in them an appreciation for the beauty and sanctity of human life. The internet is too abstracted from joy and pain and life itself—living things. Death, too, is foreign and muted. Death isn’t real online. The necessary process of restoration (or salvation), then, must happen in the flesh.

So much has been written about the power of the human face and touch. I’m no Mother Teresa, but I’ve hugged people I’ve talked to while showing abortion victim photography on the street. I’ve looked into the eyes of people who are post-abortive, people who wished terrible things upon me, and people who have told me incredible life stories—of war, of drug abuse, of poverty—and each and every one of these encounters has been invaluable to me even if much of the time, the best I can offer is a listening ear and a kind word. Forget the abortion debate; through street activism, I have felt genuine human connection so deeply that the sense of meaning of it all has resounded again and again within me, and I can only pray that the people I talk to feel it too.

Half the battle is just showing up. Be present—for both your own sake and others’. Sit through your local right-to-life organization’s annual general meeting, stand out in the bitter cold holding a sign, march in Ottawa to the disapproval of legislators and counter-protesters. If possible, support your pro-life community in person. Be a visible public witness in your city or town or hamlet. And no, it’s not supposed to be comfortable.

I’m 22 years old. I know very well that the internet is an indispensable tool, but the cliché warning that it ought not replace human interaction applies equally or, rather, especially to our pro-life work. The Kingdom of God, a culture of life—whatever you want to call it—is, in a way, tangible, and requires physical building.