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Social Networks, Holy See Points the Right Way to Their Intelligent Use

Social networks: “Every Christian is a micro-influencer”, says the document made public by the Holy See’s Dicastery for Communication

The Holy See points the way for an intelligent use of social networks

The Holy See’s Department of Communication published a reflection on the Christian use of social networks in a document entitled Towards a Full Presence, released on 29 May 2023.

Affirming that “every Christian is a micro-influencer”, the text invites everyone – and bishops in particular – not to write or share content that could cause misunderstandings or exacerbate divisions.

The result of a collective reflection in which experts, teachers, lay people, priests and religious participated, this 20-page document translated into five languages aims to make sense of the presence of Christians on social networks.

“Many Christians ask for inspiration and advice,” explains this text, signed by Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Department of Communication, and Monsignor Lucio Ruiz, secretary of the same department.

The authors return first of all to the disillusions generated around digital, this era that “would have been a ‘promised land’ where people could count on information shared on the basis of transparency, trust and experience.

On the contrary, ideals have given way to the laws of the market and Internet users have become ‘consumers’ and ‘goods’, whose profiles and data end up being sold.

Another stumbling block pointed out by the ministry: on the ‘digital highway’ a large number of people remain marginalised due to the ‘digital divide’.

Moreover, the networks, which were supposed to unite people, instead ‘have deepened various forms of division’.

Christians, agents of change on the Net

Paolo Ruffini and Monsignor Ruiz point to the constitution of “filter bubbles” by algorithms that prevent users from “meeting the ‘other’, the different”, and that only encourage like-minded people to meet.

Finally, ‘social networks become a path that leads many people towards indifference, polarisation and extremism’.

But the document does not claim to be fatalistic. “The social network is not immutable. We can change it,” say the authors.

They predict that Christians can become “engines of change” and “urge the media to reconsider their role and allow the Internet to become a true public space”.

On another scale, the Christian Internet user should also be able to carry out a “test of conscience”, to show “discernment” and “prudence”.

On the networks, it is a matter of ensuring that “we transmit truthful information, not only when we create content, but also when we share it”, insists the document, which invites the faithful to ask themselves the question of “who is my neighbour” on the internet.

“We should all take our ‘influence’ seriously,” the department heads also warn, assuring that “every Christian is a micro-influencer”.

The greater the number of followers, the greater the responsibility .

And they warn against publishing or sharing “content that could cause misunderstanding, exacerbate divisions, incite conflict and deepen prejudice”.

Social networks, responsibility of bishops and leaders

The authors do not hesitate to be saddened that even “bishops, pastors and eminent lay leaders” sometimes fall into “controversial and superficial” communications.

That said, “many times it is better not to react or to react in silence so as not to give weight to this false dynamic,” they stress.

On the subject of silence, the text acknowledges that digital culture, “with this overload of stimuli and data we receive,” challenges educational or work environments, as well as families and communities.

Thus, ‘silence’ can be considered as a ‘digital detoxification’, which is not simply ‘abstinence, but a way to establish a deeper contact with God and with others’.

Other advice given includes not ‘proselytising’ on the internet but listening and witnessing.

Communication must not simply be a “strategy”, the document insists, and seeking an audience cannot be an end in itself.

The text recalls the attitude of Jesus who did not hesitate to withdraw and flee from the crowd to rest and pray.

“His goal […] was not to increase his audience, but to reveal the Father’s love,” the dicastery analyses.

And the digital liturgy?

“We cannot share a meal through a screen.”

Acknowledging that social networks have played an essential and comforting role in the spread of liturgical celebrations during the pandemic, the Department of Communication believes that “there is still much to reflect on […] about how to harness the digital environment in a way that complements sacramental life.

Indeed, “theological and pastoral questions have been raised”, particularly at the level of “commercial exploitation of the retransmission of the Holy Mass”.

The digital era must not obliterate the focus on the ‘domestic Church’, they continue to insist, that ‘Church that meets in homes and around the table’.

In other words: the Internet can complement, but not replace, because “the Eucharist is not something we can only ‘look at’, it is something that truly nourishes”.

Photo on Freepik

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