There’s been a Facebook account in the name of Desmond Tutu that has recently been appearing in a lot of people’s “People You May Know” section, including my own.
I have to say, I found it suspicious. Tutu has ostensibly retired from public ministry but he still wants to be on Facebook? I also noted that the current archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, who is genuinely active on Facebook, was not friends with this Tutu, though they certainly are in real life.
But the Tutu account seemed active. It said some things that seemed at least broadly Tutu-esque. So I sent a message to Desmond Tutu, asking, with all respect, if there was anything he could do to prove it was a genuine account. (I was going to be very embarrassed if it actually was him and I had just asked a Nobel Peace Prize winner if he was a fraud.) I came back to Facebook a few hours later and received an error message that the account could not be found.
Presuming this is a fake account, it is not the only one. Several other Anglican bishops have been afflicted by this problem, says the Anglican Communion News Service. It is a niche market for scammers, no doubt. Anglican bishops by and large don’t rise to the level of needing verified accounts on Facebook (or Twitter or anywhere else) but generally have relationships with lots of supportive people who may be inclined to send them money.
I hope accounts like these don’t put people off financial support of the church around the world. But the situation is a helpful reminder for me that even though much of our life is lived online these days, nothing replaces the real-life, inter-personal interactions which sustain our common life as the body of Christ. I don’t know Desmond Tutu in real life but I do know many other African Anglican bishops. I am friends with some of them on Facebook, but only after meeting them and getting to know them in real life. Facebook is a helpful tool but it’s time to be wary when it begins to replace human interaction, rather than supplement it.