Pope Francis recently remarked that “The Internet is a gift of God, but it is also a great responsibility.” Francis says that ”Communication technology, its places, its instruments have brought with it a lengthening of horizons, a widening, for so many people”.
He adds “It can offer immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity,” but explains it must be used in a way that respects the dignity of other people.
“May the digital network not be a place of alienation” he says.
The internet can help us to be better citizens, according to the Pope. “May it be a concrete place, a place rich in humanity”, he proposes.
Concluding his message the Holy Father says “Let us pray together that social networks may work towards that inclusiveness which respects others for their differences,” calling to mind his monthly prayer intention for June.
Fr Frédéric Fornos SJ, international director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, noted that, we live with social networks “almost without realising it”.
Currently, there are 3,196 billion active users on social networks worldwide, which constitutes 42% of the world’s population.
Among the regions with the highest penetration, the most notable are North America, where 70% of the population are active users; northern Europe, with 66%; eastern Asia, with 64%; and South America, with 63%.
Fr Fornos outlined that rather than acting as an instrument for true communication and communion, social networks “become a medium for discord and misinformation”.
He proposes that we make social networks places “of openness to others and to their culture, their religious and spiritual tradition, and their differences; places of dialogue at the service of responsible citizenship”.
In his message for World Communications Day 2018, Pope Francis remarked that “Cyberspace is a reality and it’s not virtual”. For many people, particularly for younger people, “it’s thoroughly real”, the Pope said.
Francis stated that the onus on users of the Internet to have respect for their fellow users and to use social networks in a responsible way. “With freedom always comes responsibility”, he said, outlining how “hateful posting, online bullying and ‘fake news’ diminishes us and taints that freedom.
Fake news “often goes viral, spreading so fast that it is hard to stop, not because of the sense of sharing that inspires the social media, but because it appeals to the insatiable greed so easily aroused in human beings” according to the Pope.
Such selfish desires rooted are rooted in a thirst for power, possession and enjoyment he said. This ultimately makes us victims of “the deceptive power of evil”. To counteract this we need to teach people “how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations”, explained Francis.
“Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.
“Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups. The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks.
“I pray that this Jubilee Year, lived in mercy, ‘may open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; and that it may eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination’.
“The internet can help us to be better citizens. Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbour whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected. The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing.
“Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as “closeness”.
“The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.”
The Pope would like to invite everyone to promote a journalism of peace which promote deeper understanding and contribute to the resolution of conflicts by setting in place “virtuous processes”. He articulated that a heavy weight of responsibility rests on journalists, whom he described as “the protectors of news”.
Explaining that their job is “a mission”, he outlined how amid “the mad rush for a scoop, they must remember that the heart of information is not the speed with which it is reported or its audience impact, but persons”.
Informing others means forming others, the Pope said, explaining that when journalists guarantee the accuracy of their sources and protect communication, it is a tangible way “of promoting goodness, generating trust, and opening the way to communion and peace”.
Put plainly it’s a reminder that social networks are neither working towards inclusiveness nor respecting others for their differences.
Since the Internet became generally available along with the more recent spread of social media dismay has grown about the possibility of its misuse, better communication that leads to more dialogue would be a wonderful ideal, but, sadly, we have come to see the opposite happen all too often.
Many of us have used the easy connectivity of the internet and the widespread availability of a variety of social media platforms, to do harm to others, attacking those who think differently from us or who simply are different.
Online, a person can be anonymous, they can create an entirely fake persona, spending all their time online in their own “silo” possibly never hearing different viewpoints or having their opinions challenged, he articulates.
When this happens our opinions may solidify and turn into prejudices; we will have become prejudiced. A prejudiced person is someone who refuses to respect others for their differences – exactly the opposite of what we pray for, with the Pope, this month.
When we pray for the Pope’s intention this month it will lead us to reflect on our personal use of social networks, Do we use them to build up others, for dialogue, for the greater common good? Our God-given human freedom is delicate and tender, we can prayerfully commit ourselves to its protection, especially online, this month.