Cardinal John Dew has expressed concern about the negative way in which some people behave towards others on social media.
In an October 1 Facebook post, Cardinal Dew stated: “It is very concerning to see how people on social media attack and denigrate others, pass on unverified information, and make comments they wouldn’t dream of saying to someone’s face.”
He cited Pope Francis’ 2018 apostolic exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, which stated that Christians, too, can get caught up in “networks of verbal violence”.
“There is another person, perhaps a vulnerable person, on the receiving end of the post. Have you ever seen tears in your teenager’s eyes while they are looking at their phone? Do we feel uplifted by the comments columns in media, Catholic included?” the cardinal asked.
Again citing Gaudete et exsultate, the cardinal referred to the Pope’s criticism of looking “down on others like heartless judges, lording it over them and always trying to teach them lessons. That is itself a subtle form of violence”.
“Perhaps we have never thought about angry and nasty comment as violence,” Cardinal Dew continued. “Again, would we say them to someone’s face?”
Pope Francis addressed the topic broadly in his recent encyclical letter Fratelli tutti, starting under the sub-heading of “the illusion of communication”.
“Digital relationships, which do not demand the slow and gradual cultivation of friendships, stable interaction, or the building of a consensus that matures over time, have the appearance of sociability. Yet they do not really build community; instead, they tend to disguise and expand the very individualism that finds expression in xenophobia and in contempt for the vulnerable. Digital connectivity is not enough to build bridges. It is not capable of uniting humanity. Social aggression has found unparalleled room for expansion through computers and mobile devices.” (FT 43,44)
Under the sub-heading “Information without wisdom”, the Pope stated: “A new lifestyle is emerging, where we create only what we want and exclude all that we cannot control or know instantly and superficially. This process, by its intrinsic logic, blocks the kind of serene reflection that could lead us to a shared wisdom.” (FT49)
Pope Francis suggested a better way of interacting.
“Together, we can seek the truth in dialogue, in relaxed conversation or in passionate debate. To do so calls for perseverance; it entails moments of silence and suffering, yet it can patiently embrace the broader experience of individuals and peoples. The flood of information at our fingertips does not make for greater wisdom. Wisdom is not born of quick searches on the Internet, nor is it a mass of unverified data. That is not the way to mature in the encounter with truth. Conversations revolve only around the latest data; they become merely horizontal and cumulative. We fail to keep our attention focused, to penetrate to the heart of matters, and to recognise what is essential to give meaning to our lives. Freedom thus becomes an illusion that we are peddled, easily confused with the ability to navigate the Internet. The process of building fraternity, be it local or universal, can only be undertaken by spirits that are free and open to authentic encounters.” (FT50)
Citing his message for World Communications Day in 2014, Pope Francis stated that the Internet itself is something truly good, a gift from God, which offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity.
“We need constantly to ensure that present-day forms of communication are, in fact, guiding us to generous encounter(s) with others, to honest pursuit of the whole truth, to service, to closeness to the underprivileged and to the promotion of the common good.” (FT205)
Reproduced with permission from NZ Catholic, the national Catholic newspaper of New Zealand, published by the Catholic Bishop of Auckland.