Twitter and Facebook may be a godsend, helping us connect and deepen friendships that have been fractured by technology in the first place. Or they could be a tool of the devil turning us all into narcissistic self-promoters shouting at each other on multimedia platforms several times a day that we are the center of the universe.
The Pope says Catholics are supposed to encourage Twitter and Facebook to become the former.
At least that’s how I read Pope Benedict’s tweet. (The Pope didn’t really tweet, as I tried to point out at Crisis magazine … but he did clearly tell Catholics to tweet.)
So Catholics need to make sure we avoid Twitter’s pitfalls. Here are a few of them:
- More Jerks. A University of Southern California study found that our moral sensibilities are attuned to real life, not virtual life. Twitter doesn’t give us time to process and respond naturally to others. Add to that the unnatural rudeness encouraged by online anonymity, and you have an efficient electronic jerk-making factory.
- Market Cogs. Don’t forget that Facebook and Twitter, like everything else that eagerly seeks your attention nowadays, isn’t simply an altruistic effort on behalf of entertainment companies to serve the human person. In fact, these are vast marketing-information-gathering tools designed to continue the manipulation and mining of your personality that started when you sat glassy eyed in front of Care Bears and suddenly decided you wanted a cooler lunchbox. Or, as Business Week succinctly put it, Facebook Sells Your Friends.
- All Trivia, All the Time. Speaking of Business Week, in 2007 they wondered if Twitter would last out the year because it was All Trivia, All the Time. They needn’t wonder. It did. Need it be trivial? Pope Benedict XVI is trying to be an example in this regard. His account keeps tweeting the coolest things he has said that weigh in at 140 characters or fewer.
- A Black Hole for Time. And let’s not forget that Twitter and Facebook can also suck your time away like a voracious diabolic parasite who wants to leave your soul brittle and wispy, like a snake husk on a rock in the World Wide Wasteland.
This is the virtual world in which we are called to live as disciples of the Word who became flesh. And all things are possible with grace, so let’s get at it.
Pope Benedict XVI gave a good template for giving this a shot, in his 2009 World Communications Day message. I will give some key quotes from the Pope on what to do with social media. I’ll cut them without elipses in order to keep them at 140 characters. (I don’t want Tom Crowe’s mind to wander. )
Pope Benedict’s Twitter Plan
1. Tweet With Care.
“I would encourage all people of good will who are active in digital communication to commit themselves to promoting a culture of respect, dialogue and friendship.”
2. Don’t be mean or vulgar.
“Avoid sharing words and images that are degrading, promote hatred and intolerance, debase the goodness and intimacy of human sexuality or exploit the vulnerable.”
3. Don’t be trivial or stupid.
“Life is not just a succession of events or experiences: it is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful.”
4. Don’t be a market cog.
Beware “those who see us merely as consumers in a market where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.”
5. Don’t cheapen friendship.
“True friendship has always been seen as one of the greatest goods any human person can experience. We should be careful, therefore, never to trivialize” it.
6. Don’t become a virtual you.
“If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may isolate individuals from real social interaction and inhibit healthy human development.”
7. Aim online friends toward a good.
Friendship isn’t “an end in itself. It is gratifying to note the emergence of digital networks promoting solidarity, peace and justice, rights and respect for human life.”
8. Don’t let this just be a toy for people with money.
“It would be a tragedy for the future of humanity if the new instruments of communication were not made accessible to the economically and socially marginalized.”
9. Freedom needs truth, identity needs communion.
“Human hearts are yearning for a world where … freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion.”
I emphasize that last quote in my Christianity in Mass Media class, because it hits major themes we have been harping on.
So there you have it. Pope Benedict’s Guide to Tweeting. Now go build rich, authentic human community. Online.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications department and edits the college’s Catholic identity speech digest, The Gregorian.