There is a dark side to the much-beloved social media and church leaders are sounding the alarm.
Pope Francis has voiced concern about social media on multiple occasions, the most recently on August 27, when he spoke to participants in the meeting of the International Catholic Legislators Network.
The Holy Father called for “careful legislation” to protect human dignity in light of new technology. He particularly warned of the dangers of child pornography, the exploitation of personal data, attacks on critical infrastructures such as hospitals, and falsehoods spread via social networks.
“I therefore warmly encourage you, brothers and sisters, to take up the task of serious and thorough moral reflection on the risks and opportunities inherent in scientific and technological progress, so that the legislation and international norms that regulate them can focus on promoting integral human development and peace, rather than on progress for its own sake,” Francis said.
Pope Francis is not the only one in the faith community voicing concern. Two other well-known faith leaders also spoke to internet dangers on Friday.
“There are too many hate messages on social media”, denounced His Exc. Mgr. Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala Bishop of Tombura-Yambio, South Sudan, in a statement sent to Agenzia Fides, in which he stigmatizes the use of modern means of mass communication to perpetuate the climate of hatred and violence that has plagued the region for years.
“We live in a climate of insecurity that has led to great losses of innocent human life, the destruction of property, displacement, unrest, hunger, and suffering of all kinds”, continued the Bishop. “We can no longer bear this situation, we have to do something to end the violence”.
According to the Bishop of Tombura-Yambio, one of the first steps is to stop the hate speech that is constantly circulating on social media.
“On social platforms, we read a lot of hate messages in which South Sudanese insult each other and the world sees us as a group of enemies. This mentality undermines unity and coexistence. Inadequate security, poverty, and a lack of a culture of peace are factors that encourage violence.”
“One sociologist said: With the invention of the mobile phone, the era of humanity came to an end. And this is a serious matter: we have started to measure our humanity with technological tools, but machines have no human feelings,” according to the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II. He warned of the dangers of dehumanization through the influence of social media, which in his opinion threaten social coexistence. He did this in an address to about 200 Egyptian boys and girls who took part in the first “Logos Forum” of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
As part of the youth meeting, young Coptic Orthodox Christians are staying in the Anba Bishoy monastery in the desert region of Wadi Natrun until August 30th. Pope Tawadros also called on the forum participants to cultivate their family and community roots, to value the upbringing their parents received, to develop a feeling of compassion for those in need, and to follow in the footsteps of those who lived their lives with generosity and gratuitousness, considering others as brothers to be served, and not to exploit others as tools for their own profit.
For some time now, Coptic Orthodox groups and individual representatives of the Coptic Orthodox Church have critically questioned the effects that social networks and social media have on the specific experiences of church communities. With this critical approach, they contradict many ecclesiastical institutions that take the view that the effectiveness of preaching the Christian witness is increased precisely through the use of sophisticated strategies of social communication.
In light of these concerns, what is a parent to do to protect children and vulnerable teens? Awareness and understanding of the technology and new language is a start, according Maria Elena Marsal’s article “Do You Know What Your Children Are Up To on the Networks?,” published in Protect Your Heart, a prime-time program in the education of character and sexuality in Europe and Latin America.
“A key idea to transmit to adolescents is that all that they do will affect their person, regardless of the profile from which they do it,” Marsal wrote. “To criticize, defame, insult or make jokes in bad taste about others is something they must avoid because it doesn’t help them to grow and be better persons, regardless of whether someone knows that it was they who did it or not. Moreover, that harms other people and in some countries, they are already considered crimes punishable by law.
“To share all sorts of images, contents, memes, and likes on the networks can have consequences; therefore, it’s important to help them to reflect on their actions so that they are able to analyze things before acting.”