Both the first week and the third week of the exercises focus us on the reality of disorder in the world – in our own lives (in the first week) and the disorder and violence that leads to Christ Passion and death in the third week. The horrific flood of headlines at the moment about so much violence in the world, fuelled by land and religion. The suffering of the most vulnerable, the poor, women and children, remind us that to be in denial about sin in the world is irresponsible. What has changed though is the advent of social media – that as more and more of us live our lives on-line, we are leaving a record of our actions and experiences for good or ill. Andrew Keen , in his excellent book ‘Digital Vertigo’, claims that we are now living in an age of exhibitionism – and it seems that what we are exhibiting is not always good and noble.
The last couple of years I have been giving talks to students and teachers about the importance of cleaning up their ‘digital footprint’. A chaplain I worked with once, was very good at being a benign presence on social media. He would often log on – on a Sat morning and gently suggest that drunken photos might want to be deleted. I often remind students that when they apply for a job, their CV’s are less important to their employers than their facebook profile. I have heard countless stories of how prospective employers have binned piles of CV’s without even looking at them after exploring the candidates Digital Footprint.
Recently what has been shocking has been the use of ISIS of social media as a way of spreading fear. Videos and pictures posted on the internet – of grisly beheadings, summary executions are shockingly mainstream. It maybe one of the reasons that the Iraqi army crumbled so quickly whilst the ISIS forces advanced so rapidly. When these shocking videos started appearing on the internet during the Chechen War, it was pretty difficult to stumble upon them, now they appear on twitter feeds and facebook updates without warning. They should be taken down as soon as they can. And when these ‘tourist’ jihadists return home the evidence they have indicted themselves with should be used to convict them of war crimes. Interestingly this article argues that images on a Russian Soldiers Instagram account seem to offer evidence that could point towards Russian involvement of the Malayasian Airline tragedy.
The amount of anger and hatred on Social Media is a growing concern. Its seems that under cover of internet pseudonyms and often with a couple of glasses down their neck – normal mild mannered reasonable people can be turned into ranting nutters. There is a law called ‘Godwins Law‘ named after an American Lawyer called Mike Godwin which goes something like this “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” this is otherwise known as Reductio ad Hitlerum. It seems that at times the relative anonymity of the internet is not conducive to rational debate. A big news story in the UK is how the first paid ‘Youth Police and Crime Commissioner’ career has ended before it began because of the hate filled comments she posted on Twitter.
As Pope Emeritus Benedict said ‘ Believers who bear witness to their most profound convictions greatly help prevent the web from becoming an instrument which depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others‘ (World CommunicationsDay 2011). It is sad therefore to see how the Catholic presence on the internet seems to be dominated by shrill, inward looking and judgmental voices. Many students have come to see me slightly bewildered by the attack made on Jesuits since Pope Francis’s election – sadly many of the most vicious attacks come from supposedly ‘orthodox’ voices. Pope Emeritus Benedict was aware of this when he warned of a ‘parallel’ magisterium being set up on the internet There also seems to be a correlation between the amount of posts per day some of these bloggers put up and how ‘detached’ from the real world they are. Simply put – if they could only spend more time meeting real people, then maybe they would become more compassionate, instead of being fixated on an distorted view of orthodoxy that they often use to hit their own bishops and the Pope with.
We need more moderate voices on the internet – otherwise those who shout the loudest – often from a cowardly or paranoid anonymity are over influencing the debate.
As today’s Gospel says
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.