The Vatican on Monday urged the Catholic faithful, and especially bishops, to be “reflective, not reactive” on social media, issuing guidelines to try to tame the toxicity on Catholic Twitter and other social media platforms and encourage users to instead be “loving neighbours.”
The Vatican’s communications office issued a “pastoral reflection” to respond to questions it has fielded for years about a more responsible, Christian use of social media and the risks online that accompany the rise of fake news and artificial intelligence.
For decades the Holy See has offered such thoughts on different aspects of communications technologies, welcoming the chances for encounter they offer but warning of the pitfalls. Pope Francis of late has warned repeatedly about the risk of young people being so attached to their cellphones that they stop face-to-face friendships.
The new document highlights the divisions that can be sown on social media, and the risk of users remaining in their “silos” of like-minded thinkers and rejecting those who hold different opinions. Such tendencies can result in exchanges that “can cause misunderstanding, exacerbate division, incite conflict, and deepen prejudices,” the document said.
It warned that such problematic exchanges are particularly worrisome “when it comes from church leadership: bishops, pastors, and prominent lay leaders. These not only cause division in the community but also give permission and legitimacy for others likewise to promote similar type of communication,” the message said.
The message could be directed at the English-speaking Catholic Twittersphere, where some prominent Catholic figures, including bishops, frequently engage in heated debates or polemical arguments that criticize Francis and his teachings.
The prefect of the communications office, Paolo Ruffini, said it wasn’t for him to rein in divisive bishops and it was up to their own discernment. But he said the general message is one of not feeding the trolls or taking on “behaviour that divides rather than unites.”