Social networks are spaces or structures formed on the Internet to facilitate connections based on common interests or values. Through them, relationships are quickly created between individuals or enterprises, regardless of hierarchy or physical/temporal boundaries. Social networks have helped people to be continuously connected, to create relationships beyond time and space, and to afford companies and organizations the opportunity for online advertising and meetings. Few people imagined that social networks would have such an impact as they do today. But the desire to connect with other people from anywhere in the world has caused the public as well as organizations to increasingly immerse themselves in social networks.
While it has made the world interconnected at an unprecedented speed, it has also brought the challenge of possessing in our hands a tool that we must tame and learn to use properly. The Church and the Order are open to the use of social networks, realizing that it brings enormous challenges to our lives, while understanding that it is essential to immerse ourselves in this new world (new continent) without losing sight of our mission and identity. Our Constitutions give us important guidelines regarding the use of these new technologies and consequently of today's social media:
“The media contribute to personal growth and to the spread of the Kingdom of God. Let the brothers select and employ them with mature discernment and moderation, avoiding anything that is against faith, morality, and the consecrated life.”
The Church and the Order repeatedly invite us to enter this new world in a responsible way and with specific criteria, which are none other than bringing forth the Word of God and approaching in a pastoral way these new venues for evangelization. They invite us to enter, get to know and reflect on these new digital spaces – making good evangelistic use of them.
But we cannot forget the challenges that come with entering this world. I would like to talk about two concrete and ever-present challenges that are of great importance to me.
The Challenges of Social Media
The challenge of identity - freedom: we know that social networks give us ample room to do many things, allowing for freedom of expression at greater levels than in real life. As a result, you can express or present yourself as you wish without worrying about the criteria or opinions of those on the other side of the screen. There are virtually no limits in social networks, except for the privacy policies of the company (social network) with whom you are engaged. The criteria for these guidelines are often simply relegated to the (usually weak) communication laws of the regions or simple commercial advisories. To this day, the concept of freedom in social networks is still an issue and is still being questioned. For example, the news of a young man in Buffalo who in May 2022 was allowed to broadcast live when he entered a supermarket to kill 10 people.
In short, within social networks it is possible to circumvent the social contracts that we are accustomed to using in everyday social life.
As a result of the abused concept of freedom, a common problem has appeared in social networks called "dual identity." That is, being able to present oneself differently from how one is in reality, which often has serious consequences for the person and those who come into contact with them.
The most important risks of social network abuse are, aside from addiction, access to inappropriate content, harassment and loss of privacy. Thus, on the networks it is possible to access pornographic or violent content, to transmit messages that are racist, or that tend toward specific problems (e.g., anorexia), to incite suicide or commit crimes (e.g., banned car races). “There is also the risk of creating a fictitious identity, enhanced by a factor of deception, self-deception, or fantasy …However, confusion between the intimate, the private and the public is facilitated.” (Becoña, E. (2006). Dependence on new technologies. Vigo: Nova Galicia, Editions.)
In recent years an anthropological theory has developed as a result of the saturation of information we are exposed to every day in this highly digitized culture. It's "Infobesity" or information overload. This is a phenomenon that usually occurs when the amount or intensity of information exceeds our limited human ability to reflect or process that information. Today, this type of situation normally occurs within social networks where there is an abundance of visual, written and auditory information or news that is often thousands of miles away, negative comments (haters/trolls) or simply information that is distorted or not certain (fake news).
This informational intoxication in which the abundance of information (often useless, incorrect or incomplete) and our inherent limit for processing it produces in us a series of reactions such as anxiety, misinformation, isolation, etc., causing us to believe that it is a prerequisite of modern communication, and eventually making us feel it is our duty to share everything we think, say and do; in effect, prompting us to violate our own freedom, intimacy and even our very identity.
As Capuchins, how should we reckon with these new digital spaces?
Privacy: First of all, it is important to delve into one aspect that is constant in social networks and that is "personalism." We know that "profiles" on social networks are personal and we can do whatever we want with them. With this aspect we must be clear that although these spaces are personal, we belong to an institution and have a worldwide mission of witness to a way of life, a charism. Therefore, the way we present ourselves in this world must be as lesser brothers, because our goal in these digital spaces is evangelization and witness to our way of life. In this way we will, in many cases, avoid turning social networks into places of escape, rather than places for encounter.
How we identify ourselves: Our way of life is based on living the Holy Gospel in every moment, even in these new digital spaces, which today more than ever need our presence. The way we present ourselves in these spaces has no other objective than to demonstrate our way of life through witness and our identity as friars.
Therefore, we must maintain our presence accordingly in social networks, always trying to create transparent relationships that make evangelical fraternity present and showing the world our way of living as lesser brothers and as men of peace through our publications, words and actions.
Fraternity: Our brotherhood is at the center of our way of life, this is why our fraternities play a very important role in the way we carry out our social networks, which is why it is also important to listen, if necessary, to advice and opinions on the way we manage these spaces for our brothers.
One final proposal: a virtual cloister
We know that our life has an inward and contemplative dimension, for this reason we must often guard what we publish and the way we occupy virtual space in social networks, because although we have the opportunity to publish whatever we wish, it is always ideal to reserve some place for the intimacy of fraternal relationships. Let us remember that our goal is to bring witness, care and concern for the “little ones” in the Kingdom of God. In our daily lives, there should always be these virtual cloisters of disconnection and fraternal intimacy.
Br. Francisco Javier Castillo Ramirez