It's not the technology that's the problem with online communication. It's the human heart.
Can social media be a truly human way of communication? I have seen from personal experience the many downfalls of online communication and am often tempted to throw my computer out of the window. Yet, the Church does not ask that we “abandon ship” and divorce ourselves entirely from the digital world.
Instead, as Pope Francis says in his most recent message on the 50th World Communications Day: “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.”
Pope Francis reminds us that digital communications is not the problem; the problem lies with our own sinfulness and that affects all the ways that we communicate. He agrees that:
“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.”
That is why instead of distancing ourselves from the online world, we must approach our use of Facebook, Twitter and E-Mail in the context of a merciful heart. Only then can, “Emails, text messages, social networks and chats…be fully human forms of communication.”
Pope Francis has chosen to lead by example, even granting private audiences to those deeply influential in the digital world. Recently he has met with leadership from Google, and last Friday, Tim Cook from Apple. The Church needs to encounter the online world and do so from the vantage point of mercy.
The Church has gradually been entering into the digital conversation, taking its time to discern how to use this new media. Thankfully, in this Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis is building off of the numerous strides of his predecessors to help us know what it means to be a digital Christian in the 21st century. He has taken the next step, challenging us to reconsider how we use social communications.
But how can be merciful online? Pope Francis has some helpful tips in his recent message:
“The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.”
Our Christian faith should be visible in our digital communication and that means being a source of “communion.” But, that does not mean we should sacrifice truth and turn a blind-eye. There will be times to “condemn evil,” but never doing, from spite or in a spirit of division. God’s mercy should always be in our minds when we sit down to type a reply to a friend on Facebook.
Pope Francis reiterates that:
“We can and we must judge situations of sin – such as violence, corruption and exploitation – but we may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts. It is our task to admonish those who err and to denounce the evil and injustice of certain ways of acting.”
Justice and mercy go together and we should not forget that when we communicate. But we must also never forget that charity is a key component in our conversations. It is amazing how many Christians use the comment box to demean, and ridicule someone. It is unfortunate that many use the Internet as a cowardly way to attack or bully others.
This should not be the practice for Christians. We need to take our faith online and not leave it at the keyboard.
Pope Francis exhorts us to see each other as a “family:”
“I would like to encourage everyone to see society not as a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top, but above all as a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome.”
The Internet and digital communication certainly has its challenges, but that does not mean we should run away from it. Rather, we need to transform the Internet into a place where we gather to communicate in a positive way that recognizes God’s mercy.
In that way, social media become a human, and humane, mode of communication.
Philip Kosloskiis a writer and blogger. His blog can be found at philipkosloski.com.