Paolo Ruffini: Social media has the power to build a better world

Social media is a way for the Church to be among the people, and work toward the common good, not about compromising the truth to gain followers or 'likes,' says Dr Paolo Ruffini. The Prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Communication was speaking with Vatican News after presenting the Dicastery’s new theological and pastoral document reflection on social media, titled “Towards Full Presence. A Pastoral Reflection on Engagement with Social Media." (#FullyPresent).

May 31, 2023

Conference at Holy See Press Office to present new Dicastery Document on social media

By Deborah Castellano Lubov
The Vatican's Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, Paolo Ruffini, says that social media is valuable for being present in today's rapidly evolving world. However, he said in an interview with Vatican News, it’s not about gaining followers or 'likes,' but working toward a better world.

The Prefect was speaking after the presentation of the Document "Towards Full Presence. A Pastoral Reflection on Engagement with Social Media" (#FullyPresent), which was published by the Dicastery on Monday at the Holy See Press Office.

'Towards Full Presence'
The Document's aim is to promote a common reflection on the involvement of Christians in social media, which have increasingly become part of people's lives. Inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan, the document offers an opportunity to begin a shared reflection on how to promote a culture of being "loving neighbours" in the digital world as well.

Asked about the need for such a document and its significance, Ruffini recalled that, from the very beginning of the Dicastery, they perceived the need of making a reflection and then a document on this topic, especially as technology was rapidly changing.

What was sought, he said, was a reflection "starting from the Gospel," from "a theological and pastoral perspective on how to deal with technology that is changing."

No to compromising truth
The social media in which we should be present, he noted, should not "nourish hate speech, fake news, deepfakes," but "nourish the truth, the love and compassion."

"The most important thing," he said, "is to be aware of this and to be aware that we can also say that in the history of humanity, always there is evil. And for us believers, there is the devil that is working always in the way that the history develops."

He noted that technology is not something that "should invent us”; instead, we must "negotiate the rules and the algorithms" to "share and work toward the common good," which he lamented, "we too often forget."

"We know that maybe a fake news [will] have more followers than the truth, but is this the way we will develop the better world? I don't think so. In any sense, I don't think so."

Ongoing Discernment
Vatican News also spoke with interviewed Sr Nathalie Becquart who discussed the proper approach to social platforms.

"It's an ongoing discernment, and that's why I really want to highlight that this document is coming from a synodal approach involving many people because nobody alone has the magic solution to have a good presence on social media and then the context is different. And so that's why it's very important that this document helps people to do their own discernment, especially with others as Christians in their own community, to find and to discern the way and ongoing discernment."

She also acknowledged the risks inherent in social media. "In the digital culture, you have the best and you have the worst. So that's why it's very, very important to educate people, to train them to do this. Discernment and to be conscious about the pitfalls."

Many in the Church, she reiterated, have asked for guidance on this theme. She recalled that the during the Synod on Young People in 2019, the youth asked for advice on how to move properly in the digital realm, in a fruitful, and faithful way. How to be present on social media, despite its difficulties, she expressed, is a widely-desired reflection.

"This is the reality of the Church today, and the People of God," she said.

Sr. Becquart highlighted how, in this atmosphere, sensibility, awareness and good judgment are required. That view, unfortunately, is not shared by everyone, and therefore, we need to continue exercising a healthy scepticism.

Embracing the 'language' of the times

Msgr. Lucio Ruiz, the Secretary of the Dicastery for Communication, offered a reflection on the work, and highlighted how we can learn from missionaries, who, before their tremendous work, learned 'the language' to communicate and contribute to the new evangelization.

Pope Francis, he said, makes ever greater contributions to the reflections of his predecessors, to adjust to the current moment, in a way that is most appropriate and impactful for the times, embracing the instruments, accordingly, in their proper measure.

This task, he noted, belongs to us, as a 'Church that goes out,' to reach everyone, to the existential peripheries. "We need to go, we need to go out," he insisted.

Msgr. Ruiz suggested that social platforms are important, and are about "enriching" what "is real."

"The Church needs to go down to the ‘field,’ something which Jesus told us to do, noting it is impossible to not be present. It is the culture, nowadays, and where there is man, there, the Church needs to be present."

A comfort to the disabled
Sr. Veronica Donatello, S.F.A., head of the National Service for the Pastoral Care of Persons with Disabilities of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) and a consultor of the Holy See Dicastery for Communication, who is often recognized for providing the sign-language service during the papal events, as she did during the pandemic. During the press conference, she highlighted how social media can be an important tool for disabled people.

She said it often enables them to feel a greater sense of "existing" and of "being present."

However, Sister Donatello warned that despite the great value of these technological resources, they will never be able to replace what is real, such as being present or offering an embrace.--Vatican News

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