July 31-August 13, 2011
What some see as a tidal wave of TMI, text for “toomuch information,” others see as a huge blessing. In fact, Archbishop FultonSheen would be pleased by the social media tools at our disposal to spread theGospel and present the beauty and truth of Catholicism to the popular culture,observes Rozann Carter, who manages social-media communications for Word onFire Ministries, a Catholic media ministry founded by Father Robert Barron, apriest of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
“We’ve got to be there. It is the primary means bywhich people get their news these days, whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter,blogs — they check it as much as their email,” says Carter.
Since employing social-media tools, Word on FireMinistries is reaching a wider audience of the 18- to 25-year-old demographic,of which Carter belongs. Father Barron’s postings on YouTube generate a lot ofresponse from the college-age group who are looking for the truth and want tobe fed something of value that resonates with them, says Carter.
“We established our Facebook page a year ago and canno longer accept friend requests because we reached our limit. So we set up aFacebook fan page, and that number has increased exponentially,” she says. “Iwould give social media sole responsibility for that type of increase — andthat’s really exciting for the ministry.”
With more than 640 million active Facebook users whoshare more than seven billion pieces of content weekly, 175 million registeredTwitter users, 100 million-plus LinkedIn users, and millions more bloggers,social media is definitely the modern-day public square. The sheer rate atwhich these social media are growing — 100% to 250% or more annually — wouldmake St. Paul relish the thought of evangelizing today’s culture.
“Right now, we have more capacity and ability tocommunicate and connect with people than ever before in the history of mankind.That’s gotta be something Catholics get excited about,” asserts Matt Warner,author of FallibleBlogma.com, creator of Tweet Catholic and founder offlockNote.com, a new networking site that allows parishes, dioceses ororganizations to better communicate with their members. Warner also blogs atNCRegister.com. “While the Church might be a little slower to jump on boardwith the latest trends, that’s a mark of her wisdom,” he adds. “But it shouldalso be a mark of her passion and dedication to the Gospel that sheenthusiastically embraces any good and moral way to communicate and relate topeople more effectively. As Catholics, it’s our job to promote the good. Tofind God there. To be the light there.”
The CatholicMom.com blog, created by Lisa Hendey inFresno, Calif., has created a vast community of Catholics who share ideas,discuss faith and cultural topics, and support each other in prayer. Unlike themoms of the past who met in kitchens and parks, social networking provides ameans for moms today — many of whom are working, to meet on their time andconnect with other women who they may never meet in person — who share the joysand challenges of everyday life.
“My preference with all of these things is that we usethem to facilitate personal relationships and to more deeply connect with oneanother,” says Hendey. “I really think that the relationships that I’ve builtup in these venues are true friendships that bring me spiritual support. Whenthey ask me to pray for them, they’re very much a part of my prayer life. WhenI have a chance to meet these people in person, it’s a natural feeling, likeI’ve known them for years.”
As a webmaster for her parish, St. Anthony of Padua inFresno, Hendey uses Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to distribute parishinformation in various ways that help the 5,000-family church connect with oneanother and get established in the community.
“It’s beneficial to our parishioners because it’s sobig and you’ll never meet everyone, so they can connect on Facebook,” saysHendey.
“I believe the Church has connected with theseemerging technologies and recognizes both the vast potential but also the needto help Catholics grasp these tools with discipline, authenticity and virtue.”
Social-media advocates acknowledge the fact that therecan be too much to “follow,” that we can be gluttons for information, thatonline relationships can replace deeper, more meaningful relationships, or leadone into sinful lifestyles. But that’s just the adults.
Mary Kay Hoal, founder of Yoursphere, a safesocial-networking site for kids, is concerned with how the younger generationis using social media.
According to Forrester Research, Millennials, theteenage and 20-something demographic, represent the largest percentage of userscurrently participating in social media, she notes, and the fastest-growingsubsegment of online users is children 11 and younger.
“Social media provides all of us, particularly tweensand teens, with what I call the ‘me’ media (MEdia): Look at me. See me.Acknowledge me,” says Hoal. “When ‘me’ becomes the focus, there is thesubsequent natural focus on oneself and not on others. The traditionalunderstanding of friendship and what it means changes in the social MEdia world.They aren’t typically authentic.”
Social media and its very public, viral nature, makeit easier for everyone to showcase poor decisions.
Parents need to be educated and involved in theirchildren’s online choices, says Hoal, and kids need to learn the importance ofresponsible digital citizenship by understanding online privacy and byparticipating in age-appropriate social networks and activities.
“Many times,parents will give them unlimited access on their phones, BlackBerries, iPads —there are second-graders who have iPads. That means they have unlimited accessto the Internet.”
Hoal says Catholics are wise to heed the advice ofPope Benedict XVI, who said in advance of World Communications Day that theInternet and social media are gifts that we should all endeavor to utilize aslong as we use them to support the dignity and respect of the human person.
He cautions us to be mindful of the dangers for adultsand children if new media is not used properly: “I would encourage all peopleof good will who are active in the emerging environment of digitalcommunication to commit themselves to promoting a culture of respect, dialogueand friendship.”
BarbErnster writes from Fridley, Minnesota.
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