Sunday June 2 is the world communications day for 2019. In his usual manner, the Pontiff Pope Francis, has issued a thought provoking message that captures the hope and challenges of our time as regards media and life. He titles it “’WE ARE MEMBERS ONE OF ANOTHER’ (EPH 4:25). FROM SOCIAL NETWORK COMMUNITIES TO THE HUMAN COMMUNITY”
The Pope once again praises the advent and the advancement of the internet, and reaffirms the Church’s commitment to promote its use in the service of the encounter between persons, and of solidarity among all. He observes that the Net has become the resource of our age, generating and harnessing relationships that were once unthinkable.
However, the Pope is quick to note that today’s media environment has become so pervasive, most exposed to misinformation, targeted distortion of facts and interpersonal relationships, manipulation of data aimed at obtaining political or economic advantage, and most painfully, drawing an alarming number of youths into cyber bulling. These, the Pope rightly observes have created a big gap between the cyber world and relational human community, stressing the need to use the Net to better connect, rediscover and assist one another.
In drawing the metaphors of the net and community, the Pope posits the undeniable fact that in the present scenario, social network communities are not automatically synonymous with community. In the social web, identity is based more on divisive tendencies, suspicion, prejudice (be they ethnic, sexual, religious), unbridled individualism and other negative tendencies that breed hatred. This dangerous situation has given rise to young people becoming ‘social hermits’ who risk alienating themselves completely from society. This is in contradistinction from a community that is desirable. This is because the community as a network of solidarity requires mutual listening and dialogue, based on the responsible use of language.
But there is a way out. The solution can be found as the Pope says ,in the metaphor of body and the members which he draws from St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (4:25), that preaches reciprocal relationships among people; “Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each to his neighbor, for we are members of one another”. For the Pope, this relationship is based on communion of love. And when this communion draws from the communion of the Holy Trinity, there is real dialogue that leads to growth, peace, love and is desirous. That is the communion that engenders healthy relationships that should nourish people within the cyber space.
The closing sentences of the Pope’s message drive the message home. “The social web is complimentary to an encounter in the flesh that comes alive through the body, heart, eyes, gaze, and breath of the other. If the Net is used as an extension or expectation of such an encounter, then the network is not betrayed and remains a source for communion. If a family uses the Net to be more connected, to the meet at table and look into each other’s eyes, then it is a resource. If a Church community coordinates its activity through the network, and then celebrates the Eucharist together, then it is a resource. If the Net becomes an opportunity to share stories and experiences of beauty or suffering that are physically distance from us, in other to pray together and together seek out the good to rediscover what unites us, then it is a resource”.
The Pope then gives his final admonition. “We can, in this way, move from diagnosis to treatment: opening the way to for dialogue, for encounter, for ‘smiles’ and expressions of tenderness. This is the network we want, a network created not to entrap, but to liberate, to protect a communion of people who are free”.
The choice of the 2019 Pope’s World Communication Day Message could not have come at a better time, now that the world is being battered by manmade ills. From incessant terrorist attacks to abuses in extraordinary proportions; from Religious extremism to suicide trend; from human degradation to deviant sexual attitudes; all have significant links to the net, thereby justifying the Pope’s insight that the gap between social network communities and human communities need to be bridged in communal love not divisiveness.
It is on record that brains behind terrorist attacks across the world have impeccable presence on the cyber space, weaving up a community of hate messengers and enjoying the attention of a wide number of people, many who later become direct or indirect victims of their schemes. Same applies to Religious extremists and other social vice harbingers.
In Nigeria presently, the worrisome trend is suicide. The victims have left messages on their social media walls long before their actions. Yet the gap between the cyber space and human communities like the Pope observed, made those who came across their pains, either ignoring them or help push them to the extreme.
As we mark the world communication day 2019, let us all, be they individuals, groups, the Church, government, the Media, hearken to Pope Francis call to make the network environment a community of love, peace, compassion, problem solving, hope and most importantly, human.
Happy Communications Day!
Rev Fr Obinna Dike
Deputy Director, Fides Communications.