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Pope highlights pros and cons of internet and social media use

In his message for the World Day of Social Communications 2019, Pope Francis urges responsible use of the internet, saying it should be used to liberate not to entrap.

By Lydia O’Kane

In his message entitled “We are members one of another» (Eph 4:25) From social network communities to the human community, released on the feast day of St Francis de Sales, Patron Saint of Journalists, the Pope underlines that the Internet and social media are an important resource. But he also emphasizes that the Internet has been “proven to be one of the areas most exposed to disinformation and to the conscious and targeted distortion of facts and interpersonal relationships, which are often used to discredit.”

Social Networks advantages and disadvantages

Social networks on the one hand, he says “help us to better connect, rediscover, and assist one another, but on the other hand, “lend themselves to the manipulation of personal data, aimed at obtaining political or economic advantages, without due respect for the person and his or her rights.”

The Pope also notes that, “statistics show that among young people one in four is involved in episodes of cyberbullying.” “To curb this phenomenon," he adds, "an international observatory on cyberbullying will be set up in the Vatican.”

The importance of Community

Pope Francis points out in his message that from an anthropological perspective “the metaphor of the net recalls another meaningful image: the community.”

In the positive sense, the Pope says, community is one that thrives on mutual listening and dialogue. Unfortunately, the Pontiff observes, at present “social network communities are not automatically synonymous with community.”

Young people at risk of becoming “social hermits”

The Net, observes the Pope, “ is an opportunity to promote encounter with others, but it can also increase our self-isolation, like a web that can entrap us.” He notes in particular that “young people are the ones most exposed to the illusion that the social web can completely satisfy them on a relational level. There is the dangerous phenomenon of young people becoming “social hermits” who risk alienating themselves completely from society. This dramatic situation reveals a serious rupture in the relational fabric of society, one we cannot ignore.”

He goes on to say that, “while governments seek legal ways to regulate the web and to protect the original vision of a free, open and secure network, we all have the possibility and the responsibility to promote its positive use.”

“So how can we find our true communitarian identity, aware of the responsibility we have towards one another in the online network as well, the Pope asks?

A possible answer, Pope Francis responds, comes from Saint Paul and the metaphor “body and the members, which this Saint uses to “describe the reciprocal relationship among people, based on the organism that unites them.”

“Being members one of another, he says, “is the profound motivation with which the Apostle invites us to put away falsehood and speak the truth: the duty to guard the truth springs from the need not to belie the mutual relationship of communion. Truth is revealed in communion.”

As Christians, the Pope comments, “we all recognize ourselves as members of the one body whose head is Christ. This helps us not to see people as potential competitors, but to consider even our enemies as persons.”

“In order to communicate with us and to communicate himself to us, God adapts himself to our language, establishing a real dialogue with humanity throughout history.”

Investing in relationships

In today’s world, Pope Francis underlines, all of us are called “to invest in relationships, and to affirm the interpersonal nature of our humanity, including in and through the network.”

A network created to liberate not to entrap

The Church herself, remarks the Pope, “is a network woven together by Eucharistic communion, where unity is based not on “likes”, but on the truth, on the “Amen”, by which each one clings to the Body of Christ, and welcomes others.”

If a family, he says, “uses the Net to be more connected, to then meet at table and look into each other’s eyes, then it is a resource. If a Church community coordinates its activity through the network, and then celebrates the Eucharist together, then it is a resource…”

The Pope concludes his message by saying, that by acting responsibly to promote the positive use of the Net, we can “move from diagnosis to treatment: opening the way for dialogue, for encounter, for “smiles” and expressions of tenderness... This is the network we want, a network created not to entrap, but to liberate, to protect a communion of people who are free.”

 


 

24 January 2019, 13:51