Is there a way to practice the virtue of truth and charity when one navigates the world of social media?
The advent of the use of social media has truly democratized the way we receive information and news nowadays. In the past, knowledge and current events have always been dependent on institutions that had the money, machinery, and technology behind them. With the development of the internet and the proliferation of various social media sites — knowledge and news are no longer dependent on institutional sources. In fact, anyone with a handy smart phone and a decent internet connection can immediately become not only a reader of news events but also the one to create them, report them and verify them.
The Rise of Fake News
We all know that such a development has carried with it a good and bad side. Recent history has demonstrated that the use of social media has been useful in mobilizing people to move into acting against totalitarian governments. It has been used to call out the evils of corruption. Even Pope Francis himself has been using it as a powerful tool of evangelizing those at the peripheries.
However, we also acknowledge that social media also has its devastating effects. Young people have known to have committed suicide because they have experienced being bullied online. The reputation and the good name of people have been destroyed because of the bashing that they have received online. And recently, with an alarming increase, social media has been the place where the proliferation of fake news with fake sites abound. What makes these sites dangerous is that their creators make it appear that they are legitimate sources of knowledge and news items.
Hence, with the rise of fake news and fake news sites, we are now witnesses to the rise of new terms such as the use of “alternative facts” versus objective truth; using “creative imagination” to interpret certain statements versus what one has actually heard. And then, of course, we are also seeing the growth of the so-called “army of trolls” in social media. In them, we find how social media has truly become a weapon against others.
Philippine Bishops Respond
Truly, if one is not careful, lies, deceit, anger, hate, and confusion can engulf you once you enter any social media site. Hence, the challenge remains for any Catholic who wishes to be active in social media: can one uphold the truth and practice charity in an internet world that is filled with deceit and online bashing?
In the midst of all the noise in social media, the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines have come up with a Pastoral Exhortation entitled Consecrate Them in the Truth: A Pastoral Exhortation Against Fake News. The exhortation actually is the second one issued by our Bishops conference for this year. Early in January this year, they also issued a more detailed pastoral letter entitled Pastoral Guidelines on the Use of Social Media.
Both documents provide an interesting read and a practical guide on how Catholics can behave themselves in the world of the internet and social media. Readers in Catholic Stand can do well to take a look at both of the documents. What makes the earlier document interesting is that it even lists down several news sites which our own Bishops here in the Philippines consider as sources of fake news. Whenever I use the social media, I simply put the love for truth and for charity as my guiding principle.
Working with Social Media
The love of the Truth is the basic principle that can guide Catholics in navigating the world of media. Truth comes in two ways. Truth in the values, the words, the events that we proclaim, write about and post on social media. It also comes in the sites that we decide to follow and choose to invite others to follow. Do we tend to follow dubious sites that spread ill-will and fake news? Do we immediately share news that shows our bias towards certain ideologies without first verifying the facts that are presented within them?
The love for truth, as the Pastoral exhortation Consecrate Them in the Truth says, is a challenge to do four things in relation to the world of social media. It challenges us to 1) refrain from patronizing and sharing fake news sites, 2) refute falsehood and present whatever are the true facts behind an event, 3) refuse to be purveyors of fake new sites ourselves, and 4) identify the sources of fake news.
The love for Charity is my second guiding principle. Charity here does not mean that we turn a blind eye to things contrary to our faith that is happening in society and just let it pass. The love for Charity in the use of social media dictates that whenever we post something it really comes down in a respectful manner. Bashing and destroying another person’s reputation has no place for a Catholic who wants to be fully active in the world of social media. Even if we take a position contrary to that of the belief or opinion of others, the spirit of charity ought to prevail.
Serving the Purpose of Communication
We know that almost all species of the animal kingdom has a way of communicating with one another. However, I do believe that as humans, our ability to communicate has a two-fold purpose. Communication enables us to share stories with one another. And by sharing our common stories, we start to build communities that have the shared history, cultures and traditions.
Communication enables us to preserve our past and find ways to dream of our future. Communication also enables us to deepen our relationships with one another. It allows us to express our ideas, convey our feelings. It permits us to express divergent views and yet find common ground for dialogue and understanding. Social media, guided by truth and charity, ought to truly serve this two-fold purpose of human communication.