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28.03.2022 10:34:07 1120x read.
INSPIRATION
Social Media and the values of Religious Life Bro. Raphael Besigrinee.

Social Media and the values of Religious Life

Bro. Raphael Besigrinee

The term "Social media" refers to forms of electronic communication through which people create online platforms or communities to share content such as information, personal messages, and videos. "Social media are web-based communication tools that enable people to interact with each other by sharing and consuming information" (Nations, 2021).There are many types of social media used by children and adolescents such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Youtube, etc. Social media is all about communication, and the instrument of communication the internet.

Benefits of social media

Social media has emerged as a powerful tool for communication, and for the past decade, has changed the dynamics of communication. Social media has had a continuing impact on the way people communicate and has actually become a central part of their lives. For instance, WhatsApp has brought about the culture of instant messaging and has put communication on a whole new level. Today, you can text anyone across the globe as long as you have an internet connection. This experience has not only been with WhatsApp but also Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. So the importance of social media in communication cannot be overvalued. The influence of social media has led to a different level of communication, where conversations take place between people as if they were in one location and  information is easily relayed to others as if they were sitting in the same auditorium. The importance of social Media can be seen in several fields such as business/marketing, entertainment, evangelization, education, academic writing, lifestyle, healthcare and a host of others. 

Dalomba (LICSW, February, 2020) offers to the following as advantages of social media and internet use: "staying connected with family and friends worldwide via email, text, FaceTime, etc., quick access to information and research, banking and bill payment at our fingertips, online learning, job skills, content discovery (YouTube), involvement in civic engagement (fundraising, social awareness), great marketing tools, opportunities for remote employment".

Social networks therefore provide the opportunity to connect with friends, family, and colleagues who share the same interests, and share pictures, ideas, and stories with each other. This means that FIC as a congregation can share information among its members within minutes. The General Superior can send any information to all FIC brothers with just a click of the mouse. The FIC brothers have a website: [http://www.brothers-fic.org]. Through this medium, we share information about our life and work in our five provinces, so that brothers in Timor Leste get to know what is happening in Ghana, for instance. This means we have an opportunity to learn new educational opportunities, develop new apostolic skills and exchange ideas on respect, tolerance, and constructive dialogue. Apart from this, we can develop individual and collective creativity through exchanging technical ideas that will benefit our provinces. 

Potential dangers of social media use

However, with all of its benefits, the use of social media networks present some potential risks for children and adolescents.  Social media and Internet are not the problem, but the way they are used, can pose a great danger to the lives of young people. Experts believe that young people who spend a long period of time on social media run the risk of developing dysfunctional behaviours. The more time spent on social media can lead to cyber-bullying, social anxiety, depression, and exposure to content that is not age appropriate, says Dalomba, (2020). She explained other dangers including media addiction, fear of missing out, distorted self image, anxiety, isolation, and suicide. (Layton, 2018) also believes that adolescents everywhere are being affected by sharing sexual images (sexting) and pornography, at increasingly younger ages. The sharing of sexually explicit photos, videos, or messages, and viewing pornography has a damaging effect on the development a young person.

Adolescents are often excellent observers but poor in judgment, so they easily model their behaviour on what they see online, and indeed, they often merge what they see on social media and the Internet with how they should behave in real life. This is the danger especially where they are exposed to violence.  It is believed that the average social media  user spends about two hours a day on social media (Layton, 2018). Those two hours could be spent on something more productive such as doing a hobby, reading, studying, working, sleep, praying, Bible reading, eating, or even finding an extra source of income.

Evil is usually attractive to humans. Social media acts like the devil by luring people into wasting their time on social media and thus destroying their plans and sometimes the plan of God. One danger is that posts on social media can pollute the minds of young people. With all kinds of attractive things being posted, shared and spread through  social media, the mind can easily get excited and this can lure people to do the inappropriate. "There is a lot of "rubbish" spreading on social media, and we need to have the courage to close the tabs on the browser and exit the page if the content is disturbing, not to mention stimulating towards sin" (Layton 2018).

How should we use social media?

The dangers connected with the use of social media do not suggest that people should avoid using these tools like whatsApp, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter. What I am saying is that these social media sites can be very helpful if used appropriately; but we should be aware that they can also pose a threat to our lives, especially for Christians who wish to follow the example of Jesus Christ. We should never use social media with the intention of doing wrong. It is an avenue we can easily hide behind or where nobody can identify us easily, so the temptation to engage in any sinful activity becomes greater. We must take note of this!

As FIC brothers , just as with every Christian, it behoves on us to use the internet and social media "as means of witnessing God’s love" (Gen. Chap. reso. 32B). We have a choice in using these media channels, and we must make a conscious effort to opt for the benefits and advantages of this technology, or from a religious perspective.  "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live"( Deut. 30:19). So what values do we aim at promoting through social media channels? The religious values FIC brothers have been promoting are summed up in the three pillars of religious life, namely community life, apostolate and prayer, and those values that are in accordance with the spirit of our founders.  

Can social media promote community life in our congregation? Yes! "Social media can support communities in a myriad of ways: connecting people with similar interests, sharing information about persons or events, providing ways for people to engage in dialogue, etc" (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, 2014). Using social networks to form and promote “community,” Pope Francis said, implies encouraging interaction, support and solidarity. The Pope believes that virtual communities are worthy of the name community and of Christian participation only if they strengthen a personal encounter. But he warns that "social media interaction should not be viewed as a substitute for face-to-face gatherings". It will be a great value if social media are used to enrich community life rather than distract it. Using mobile phones during community recreation isolates the user and disrupts community life. Social media must not be used as means of avoiding fraternal community life or causing harm to a fellow brother's vocation. It should be used for human development, promoting justice and peace, building personal relationships and improving communication in the community. 

The FIC Constitution spells out our principal apostolic tradition as "education, formation and teaching. It is more than easier now to use the internet or social media to communicate effectively the Christian values and those of the Congregation to millions of people around the world than before. It is for this reason that in 2014, the General Council developed the FIC website and began publishing the FIC magazine. In this way, we intend to use the internet and social media as means to show our identity and mission to the world as religious brothers in the Church. As long as it is used positively, properly and wisely, it will achieve the desired results, namely spreading Christian values among young people.  Social media are anti-social, anti-human and anti-Christian when they are used to increase differences, fuel suspicion, spread lies and vent prejudice" (Pope Francis, World Communications Day, 2019). The Pope has urged us (religious) to use social media to enhance our efforts to further our congregational mission: to make Jesus better known and loved, especially among the young, through education and instruction. We should see social media as a great potential in bringing young people together, helping them to share useful information, and an opportunity to educate and form them. 

Social media have offered us many possibilities of praying online and employing media gadgets in our prayers and spiritual development through private messaging, and multimedia sharing of voice, video, images, and files. As mentioned earlier, the FIC website and FIC magazine are already serving the purpose of spreading Christian values around the world, especially our mission areas. But there are numerous other possibilities of employing social media for our spiritual development. Pope Benedict XVI invited Christians to join online social networks in order to spread the Gospel through digital media and discover “an entirely new world of potential friendships” (Vatican, 2012). He said proclaiming the Gospel through new media was not simply a matter of inserting religious content into online platforms, but also of witnessing the Gospel consistently when communicating choices, preferences and judgments. 

Pope Francis has created a media platform called Click To Pray which invites men and women all over the world, to accompany the Pope in praying for God's compassion for the world. It has a website [www.clicktopray.org] and a mobile app. This is the official website of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network in the service of humanity's challenges and mission of the Church. We are all invited to join this prayer network. It is a useful prayer movement which helps us pray for the challenges facing humanity. By this example, we are encouraged to form similar prayer movements or network communities on social media to pray for our needs without physical gatherings. However, Pope Benedict advises us to adhere to the “Christian way” of being online, namely through communication that is “honest and open, responsible and respectful of others,”. Even when the Word is proclaimed in the virtual space of the Web, the Gospel demands to be incarnated in the real world and linked to the real faces of our brothers and sisters,” he said. 

Conclusion

The church does not forbid the use of social media; rather we should use them with moderation and an unpolluted intention. As religious, FIC brothers are expected to communicate more with God and spend less time on social media. Too much time spent on Internet and social media intrudes on a life of prayer and contemplation if we have to uphold the values distinctive to our life. "These means must therefore be used with sobriety and discretion, not only with regard to the contents but also to the quantity of information and the type of communication, so that they are at the service of contemplative life and necessary communications, and not an occasion for dissipation"(Zwierchowski, 2017). Clearly, Internet and social media can prove useful to religious congregations in terms of communication, education, formation, teaching and all forms of evangelization. To the extent that they do not prove harmful to our vocation or become an obstacle to our life, their use can be very valuable for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed.   

"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."( Philippians 4:8)








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