In January, over at the National Schismatic Reporter (as Fr. John Zuhlsdorf calls it, AKA Fishwrap), one of its ace reporters was not happy. He was displeased with CatholicVote.org’s efforts to reach out to Catholic voters.
In an opinion piece on Jan. 6, reporter/commentator Michael Sean Winters commented on a colleague’s Jan. 2 report on Catholic Vote’s efforts. He said “Everything about the report is frightening, and it should call forth from our bishops’ conference a condemnation in the strongest terms.”
Here’s the situation. Winters is incensed over how Catholic Vote (CV) is using a new technology called Geofencing. Geofencing uses GPS to capture data from users’ cellphones in a given “geofenced” area. This enables the business or organization to send texts, ads, etc., to those users. In this particular instance, CV is Geofencing the Catholic Churches cell phone users are in while they attend Mass.
According to Brian Burch, President of CatholucVote.org , his organization is trying to get more Catholics registered to vote this year. CV also wants to get more Catholics to actually vote, and to get them to vote in keeping with the tenets of the Catholic Faith. To do this CV has launched what it says is “the largest Catholic voter mobilization program ever.”
But Winters says he thinks CV is “crossing a line that should not be crossed. People whose sole objective of a Sunday morning is to worship their Lord and seek the intercession of his mother are having their personal information invaded and taken, whether they like it or not.”
Winters is certainly no fool. Near the end of his article he says, “This geofencing would be as repulsive if it were being conducted at churches by Democratic-leaning organizations.”
Forgive me if I voice some skepticism here.
A Red Herring Argument
Winters’ condemnation of the practice comes long after he questions the kind of information CV will be disseminating. He asks if they will they be pushing information “resembling the falsehoods and lies peddled regularly on Fox News? Lies that have their origin in the disinformation offices of Russian security services?” Repeating a lie as proof of lies and falsehoods is not a good tactic. He then suggests that CV will also be disseminating lies, falsehoods, and “propaganda” to the geofenced cell phone users.
I tend to think if “Democratic leaning organizations” were using geofencing it would be entirely overlooked by Winters. He would probably not even be writing about it. I could be wrong on this but I doubt it.
Be that as it may, Winters does bring up an interesting question. Should CV’s use of Geofencing within the boundaries of Catholic churches be condemned by Catholic bishops? In this instance I think not.
First and foremost, technology, like all tools, is neither good nor bad. Good or evil only comes about from how one uses technology.
The question then is how the Geofencing technology is being used. And this is what Winters says he is so incensed about. He thinks it is wrong to Geofence Catholics who are going to church to worship God.
A Point Worth Exploring
Here I will admit that Winters has a point. If Neo-Nazis, for instance, were using Geofencing to push messages of hate or racism to church goers, this would certainly be wrong and worth condemning.
But what if the bishop of a diocese was using Geofencing? Say the bishop wanted to push messages about a diocesan wide program to everyone coming to Church on Saturday evening or Sunday. Would it be acceptable in this instance? I have to think even Winters would say ‘Yes.’
So how It is being used is important. Who is using Geofencing, and for what purpose are key questions. Is CV doing something that is bad or evil? Is CV in some way interfering with the Mass or the right of individuals to privacy and worship?
According to CV’s Mission Statement, “CatholicVote.org is a lay-led movement of committed Catholics who are passionate about living out the truths proclaimed by Christ and His Church in the modern world.” They “believe in the dignity of the human person from conception until natural death, marriage between one man and one woman, and in religious freedom for all people.”
There is absolutely nothing in the mission statement that should be offensive to good Catholics or good Christians. In fact, even dissident Catholics would undoubtedly agree with a number of CV’s positions. What’s more, CV’s stated purpose in the use of Geofencing is laudable.
The only question that remains then is question number two: Is CV in some way interfering with the Mass or the right of individuals to privacy and worship?
No Harm no Foul
According to Burch, “We don’t target voters at church. We don’t target voters at Mass. And there is no automated effort triggered after they leave Mass.”
Many cell phone users do not realize that they have pretty much opened the door to allowing any business or organization that wants to target market to them to do so. They do this by clicking on “Agree” when installing various apps on their cell phones and PCs. But CV is not trying to contact Mass-goers during Mass. And CV is certainly not pushing any kind of offensive or immoral material to the users. As such, theirs is a perfectly legitimate use of this kind of technology.
According to Burch, “Geofencing is merely one method we are using to identify and mobilize Mass attending Catholics. Geofencing is used by marketers around the world, and is only being criticized in our case because it might help elect candidates some Catholics don’t like. Their issue is not with Geofencing per se, but with the possibility that mass attending Catholics might turn out in record numbers.”
CV messages Catholic voters in many different ways, Burch says. These ‘ways’ include digital advertising, TV/radio, email, text messages, mail, and canvassing.
“We are already messaging and reaching out to these voters in different ways, and will continue to do so consistently between now and Election Day. Our goal is very simple: every Catholic who attends mass to vote,” Burch said.
Getting more Catholics registered to vote is good. Getting them to actually vote and to vote in keeping with the tenets of our Faith, is even better. Nuff said.