CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 March 2019

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Beware of spirals of hatred on social media

It has always been talked about and now it is becoming a reality. Social media has turned into the big stage for the targeting and cyber bullying of opponents. The immature and ferocious judgment of the online community effectively threatens and even destroys the lives of the targeted. 
 
Recognising the threat that looms over social media, Pope Francis penned his message for this year’s World Day of Social Communications and observed that our online discussions are “too often based on opposition to the other.” His message was published on January 24, on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists. This year, the 53rd World Day of Social Communications will take place on the feast of the Ascension of the Lord on June 2.
 
The pope’s message came as a fitting response to a video that went viral over social media. The video in question presented a supposedly racist confrontation in front of the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington DC, between a Kentucky high school student and a Native American elder, chanting and beating a drum. Thanks to the power of social media, the story is known to the whole world and in effect, destroyed the life of a youngster with its stinging cruelty. Weeks later the media reported that the truth was far from what was initially concocted. 
 
“We define ourselves starting with what divides us rather than with what unites us, giving rise to suspicion and to the venting of every kind of prejudice (ethnic, sexual, religious and other),” Pope Francis wrote in his message. He was accurate in pinpointing that todays’ online discussions are “too often based on opposition to the other.”
 
One negative post on the net can alienate and malign the good name of people and effectively annihilate them. The Internet allows anyone to remain faceless and anonymous while casting aspersions on their opponents. This anonymity rapidly attracts a crowd, which in short order becomes a mob. 
 
A mob on the Internet can be as destructive as a mob on the street, for in either case, they unleash violence and yet remain anonymous. This creates a digital environment that nourishes “unbridled individualism which sometimes ends up fomenting spirals of hatred.” The Internet can be a marvellous tool and it can be a weapon used for Satanic purposes.
 
Social media also creates the illusion of being connected with world, but in effect increases self-isolation. Hence, Pope Francis called on Catholics to “invest in relationships” and cultivate community, utilising online social networks as “a resource for communion.”
 
The pope clarifies that the Catholic Church sees the Internet as a tool that can be used for the betterment of humanity. “Ever since the Internet first became available, the Church has always sought to promote its use in the service of the encounter between persons, and of solidarity among all,” he said.
 
Bishop Robert Barron provides a practical guideline for all who are on social media: When you’re about to make a comment, ask yourself a very simple question: “Am I doing this out of love, out of a sincere wish for the good of the person or persons I’m addressing?” If not, shut up. jose