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Catholic primate concerned at trends in social media

Brussels, Dublin, November 26th, 2015 (IrishTimes/SIGNIS). Social media is being turned into a harsh and dehumanising place for some, Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin has said. It was particularly reprehensible when those responsible purported to be Catholic or Christian, he added. “Sadly more and more journalists, members of the Church and other people with a public profile, have had to stop using social media as they have become victims of vitriol and abuse,” said Archbishop Martin.

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Archbishop Eamon Martin

“Regardless of the age of the victim, it is a shame that aggressive behaviour and offensive language have contributed towards social media becoming a harsh and dehumanising environment for some.” He added that the sins of bearing false witness, defamation, detraction and calumny are no less grave just because they are committed behind the anonymity of a computer screen. “They still destroy the dignity of another human person. When such negative communications emanate from sources purporting to be Catholic or Christian they are particularly reprehensible.”

Speaking at the same conference, Fr Thomas Casey, lecturer in philosophy at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, said that “we all know that technology has given bullies a much wider platform through online name-calling and we know this can emotionally destroy children and teenagers”. Words could “cause irreparable damage.” He had rewritten the nursery rhyme to now read “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will really hurt me.” People needed “to give less air time to words that trivialise our lives that shrink our very selves.”

Tribute

Msgr Paul Tighe, secretary to the Vatican’s Council for Social Communications, described social media as “postmodernism on speed”. It was also a world where “turning the other cheek probably never found another context where it was more relevant”.
He began his keynote address with a tribute to the late Fr Martin Clarke, spokesman for the Catholic bishops from 1997 to 2003.

The church, said Msgr Tighe, was “trying to find its way in this new digital world”, remembering that communication is its core activity. The church, he said, “is not Rome”. The central reality for most people was that church was their local community or “series of communities linked to one another”. It was “a multilayered reality”. His own social media focus group was his 15 nieces and nephews, whose way of gathering information was so radically different to his at their age.
Similarly their friendships. When he finished secondary school it meant the end of friendships. Not so with them. They maintain theirs digitally. “Digital is real,” he said, advising people to “avoid the dualism” of “a real world and a digital world”.

He recalled how Pope Benedict said people “should ‘try and give the internet a soul’, not that we are the soul of the internet.”

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