Social Media is very volatile. It has been continuously morphing as frequently as the changes in technology. During the last ten years, the progress in technology that carries social media has been as aggressive as the venture capitalists that fund them. Human behavior or natural human impulses upon which social media have greatly impacted has been unpredictable and recently, alarming.
The pastoral guidelines made by Church instrumentalities especially in the U.S., in the early 2000s may not be applicable to today’s situation anymore because of the fast changing online landscape. Facebook and Twitter, for instance, keep changing their algorithms several times a year to keep abreast with changing user demands. The popular social media platforms some fifteen years ago (the likes of Friendster, MySpace, Multiply and SixDegrees, among others) have become obsolete in no time and eventually discarded.
With a big majority of Filipinos using social media every day (57 Million on Facebook in 2016) there is no mistaking that the internet needs evangelizing. Thus, these pastoral guidelines which are intended primarily for bishops, priests and religious.
II. The changing Social Media landscape
When recent wave of social media started, it was mostly harnessed for social networking. Then it became a very potent tool for advertizing, so that traditional media became threatened with the migration of multimedia ads to online platforms. Soon it became a political tool that guaranteed the winability of a political candidate as in the case of the two runs of Barack Obama or more recently, Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte who, arguably, have been tagged as social media presidents.
It became very powerful in organizing mass political revolutions and activism as in the case of Oscar Morales of Colombia who in 2008 rallied a million people around the world using Facebook for the release of 700 hundred hostages being held by FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). Or the case of Wael Ghonim who helped sparked the Arab Spring in 2011 with one Facebook Page that toppled dictators—but, on the other hand, ended up tearing several countries apart.
Today, the dark side of social media has become a very powerful tool for destroying people. It has become a quick arena for cyber bullying, black ops, propaganda, and the derailment of objectivity and truth. It is heavily populated by bots, trolls, manufacturers of lies and rumors, news fakers and bullies.
The recent stories on social media are very telling:
- How Trolls are ruining the internet (Time, Aug 18, 2016)
- Propaganda War: Weaponizing the Internet (Rappler, Oct 3, 2016)
- Unmasking the trolls: Spin masters behind fake accounts, news sits (ABS-CBN, Jan 20, 2017)
- Rodrigo Duterte’s army of online trolls (New Republic, Jan 4, 2017)
One social media expert said of late, “Five years ago, I said if you want to liberate society all you need is the internet. Today I believe if we want to liberate society we first have to liberate the internet.”
III. Guiding principles
- “Communication is a means of expressing the missionary vocation of the entire Church; today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ. In the area of communications too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts”(WCD, 2014).
- “Social media is fundamentally changing how people communicate. Our Church cannot ignore it; in fact, it is our responsibility as Catholics to bring the Church’s teachings into what Pope Benedict XVI called the ‘digital continent.’”(WCD, 2014)
- “The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.”(WCD, 2014)
Pope Benedict XVI
- “Social networks, as well as being a means of evangelization, can also be a factor in human development. As an example, in some geographical and cultural contexts where Christians feel isolated, social networks can reinforce their sense of real unity with the worldwide community of believers.” (WCD, 2013)
- “It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this “digital continent”. Be sure to announce the Gospel to your contemporaries with enthusiasm.” (WCD, 2009)