Christians, Catholics in particular have been asked to be purposeful, as well as seek valuable things, such as the Word of God and improvement on neighbourly love, when they go on social media. The charge was given in recommendations published by the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, signed by Paolo Ruffini, the Lay Prefect and Msgr. Lucio A. Ruiz Secretary, who cited many of Pope Francis’ speeches from past World Communications’ Day. According to the dicastery, the 20-page text, tagged, “Towards full presence: A pastoral reflection on engagement with social media,” addresses the challenges Christians face, and seeks to promote a common reflection on how people can foster meaningful and caring relationships in using social media. “One significant cognitive challenge of digital culture is the loss of our ability to think deeply and purposefully. We scan the surface and remain in the shallows, instead of deeply pondering realities”, it warns. The Vatican’s pastoral reflection posits that social media’s constant demand for people’s attention is similar to the process through which any temptation enters into the human heart and draws their attention away from the only word that is really meaningful and life-giving, the Word of God. The text read in parts: “Different websites, applications, and platforms are programmed to prey on our human desire for acknowledgment, and they are constantly fighting for people’s attention. Attention itself has become the most valuable asset and commodity.
“Instead of focusing on one issue at a time, our continuous partial attention rapidly passes from one topic to the other. In our ‘always on’ condition, we face the temptation to post instantly since we are physiologically hooked on digital stimulation, always wanting more content in endless scrolling, and frustrated by any lack of updates.” The text emphasised the need for silence, and for schools, families and communities to carve out time for people to detach from digital devices It warned that space for deliberate listening, attentiveness, and discernment of the truth is becoming rare, adding that without silence and the space to think slowly, deeply, and purposefully, people risk the loss of cognitive capacities, as well as depth of their interactions, both human and divine.” The document pointed out aggressive and negative speech shared under the “cloak of pseudonymity as pitfalls to avoid” with social media, It read in parts: “Along the ‘digital highways’, many people are hurt by division and hatred. We cannot ignore it. We cannot be just silent passersby. In order to humanise digital environments, we must not forget those who are ‘left behind.’ We can only see what is going on if we look from the perspective of the wounded man in the parable of the Good Samaritan.”
The text notes how algorithms’ content personalisation can reinforce people’s own opinions without exposure to other ideas, which at times can lead to encouraging extreme behaviours. Among other things, the text raised concerns about how social media companies treat people as commodities whose profiles and data are sold, underlying that social media is not free, as people pay with minutes of their attention and bytes of their data.