Pope warns of alienation risk in social networks

Mon Jan 24, 2011 7:25am EST

Related Topics

* Pope gives qualified blessing to social networking

* Says virtual friends can't replace real ones

* Warns of parallel existence, depersonalisation, alienation

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict gave a qualified blessing to social networking on Monday, praising its potential but warning that online friendships are no substitute for real human contact.

The 83-year-old pontiff, who does not have his own Facebook account, set out his views in a message with a weighty title that would easily fit into a tweet: "Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the digital age".

He said the possibilities of new media and social networks offered "a great opportunity", but warned of the risks of depersonalisation, alienation, self-indulgence, and the dangers of having more virtual friends than real ones.

"It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives," Benedict said in the message for the Catholic Church's World Day of Communications.

He urged users of social networks to ask themselves "Who is my 'neighbour' in this new world?" and avoid the danger of always being available online but being "less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life".

The vast horizons of new media "urgently demand a serious reflection on the significance of communication in the digital age," he said.

The pope did not mention any specific social networking site or application by name, but sprinkled his message with terms such as "sharing," "friends," and "profiles".

He said social networking can help "dialogue, exchange, solidarity and the creation of positive relations" but he also offered a list of warnings.

"Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world," he said.

"In the search for sharing, for 'friends', there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself."

The pope is known to write most of his speeches by hand while his aides manage his forays into cyberspace. In 2009, a new Vatican website, www.pope2you.net, went live, offering an application called "The pope meets you on Facebook", and another allowing the faithful to see the Pope's speeches and messages on their iPhones or iPods.

The Vatican famously got egg on its face in 2009 when it was forced to admit that, if it had surfed the web more, it might have known that a traditionalist bishop whose excommunication was lifted had for years been a Holocaust denier.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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Comments (8)
creativemf wrote:
This is sage advice from the Xtian pontiff. The alienation narrative is exactly the context many youngsters need to catch up on . This is sobering insight.

Jan 24, 2011 7:58am EST  --  Report as abuse
schemeroo wrote:
I find this whole argument bizarre. These folks that keep spewing this crap that Facebook use is making our society more “alienated” seem like they haven’t actually even used the service themselves, and have not done even an ounce of real research into it. We’re communicating with many, many people we would never, never have any contact with. people are staying in contact with folks they normally would never stay in contact with. Kids today are able to literally make lifelong contacts – I mean they may NEVER lose contact with close grammar school friends. People that formerly would be homebound, alienated folks, not have a method of communicating with others and becoming plugged into a support network – where formerly they sat alone. Lots of reasons to dislike Facebook – “alienation” just isn’t one of them.

Jan 24, 2011 8:08am EST  --  Report as abuse
BobStrebs wrote:
When world governments have their secrets revealed and shouted from the laptops- thank you Wikileaks- and then intensify their attack on internet freedom, an international religious stamp of approval is usually required in order to give an air of righteousness to suppression of the truth. How medieval. Now that torture is legal in America, will the Pope approve of an inquisition upon those who do not worship government? Considering the Vatican’s role in pre-WW2 German politics, history gives that possibility a resounding thumbs up.

Jan 24, 2011 8:39am EST  --  Report as abuse
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