By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Only days before the Vatican officially unveils its own YouTube channel, a Gregorian University professor is extolling the many benefits of social networking sites while also warning of the potential for misuse.
On Jan. 24, Catholics will be able to view online video and audio sermons by Pope Benedict XVI when the Vatican launches its own YouTube channel. The site will use content supplied by Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Center. The move to YouTube is said to be one of the Church’s biggest online developments since it launched its website in 1995.
While the site will cater to everyone from the curious to the devoted, an article appearing in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, features excerpts from a Jesuit professor who says using social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace can submerge users in lonliness and fragile friendships.
“ . . .(A)s with all social networking platforms, it is both a potential aid for relationships as well as a threat because relations between human beings are not a game and require time and direct knowledge,” said Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ.
He pointed out that “relationships on the internet are necessarily always shaky if they are not anchored in reality. In some cases the desire to have many contacts in Facebook and thus ‘collect’ friends … becomes a challenge to loneliness and to the desire to feel and appear popular. In effect, the desire to appear extroverted, sought out, and in other words, loved, cannot be underestimated. Having many friends means showing others you are socially attractive.”
But not everyone who signs up on a Facebook page is a true friend, he warns. Fr. Spadaro offered the example of Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples who started a Facebook page and quickly reached the maximum number of 5,000 friends. Yet when Cardinal Sepe invited his Facebook friends to a special, in-person meeting just before Christmas, only 100 showed up.
Everyone has different reasons for joining these sites, including some whose motives are dangerous. Another potential problem is the risk these sites pose for personal privacy.
However, there are good uses for these sites.
Fr. Spadaro wrote: “The ideal use for Facebook, in my opinion, is one based on real relationships. It is an important medium for rediscovering classmates, childhood friends, those we have lost contact with, for rediscovering old friends.”
Properly used, sites such as Facebook can become an opportunity to “strengthen relationships which because of distance or other motives are at risk of fading” or it can be used to “recover relationships that have grown distant through life.”
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