VATICAN CITY — Social media are anti-social, anti-human and anti-Christian when they are used to increase differences, fuel suspicion, spread lies and vent prejudice, Pope Francis wrote in his message for World Communications Day.
The Catholic Church and all people of goodwill see great potential in social media when the “net” and “networks” bring people together, help them share useful information and educate one another, he stated.
But, the pope wrote, people’s “social web identity is too often based on opposition to the other, the person outside the group: We define ourselves starting with what divides us rather than with what unites us, giving rise to suspicion and to the venting of every kind of prejudice — ethnic, sexual, religious and other.”
Pope Francis’ message for World Communications Day, which most dioceses will celebrate June 2, cites a passage from Ephesians, “We are members one of another,” and focuses on moving “from social network communities to the human community.”
Although the pope was in Panama for World Youth Day, the Vatican kept its tradition of releasing the pope’s message Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists.
Using social networks to form and promote “community,” the pope stated, implies encouraging interaction, support and solidarity.
Pope Francis’ latest foray into social media aims to promote that. During his Angelus address Jan. 20, he launched a new mobile app and online platform where he shares his prayer intentions, and people around the world share theirs. Then everyone can “click to pray” with one another.
Jesuit Father Federic Fornos, international director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, said that in the first three days, 167,000 people downloaded the Click to Pray app, and the “click to pray” button on individual prayer intentions was clicked more than 1 million times Jan. 20-22.
The online and on-phones prayer community joins the much larger papal social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram.
Begun under Pope Benedict XVI, the @Pontifex Twitter account operates in English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, Polish, Latin, German and Arabic. As of Jan. 23, the accounts had a combined total of almost 48 million followers.
The Instagram account, Franciscus, opened in March 2016 and has more than 5.8 million followers.
On both platforms, the pope has a higher than average “engagement rate,” which goes beyond how many people see the posts to how many take the time to comment, “like,” “retweet” or share.
According to Twipu, a site that tracks Twitter statistics, each of Pope Francis’ tweets generates an average of 935 replies, 7,998 retweets and 36,750 likes.
In an early December article, the Twiplomacy website listed Pope Francis as No. 4 on the list of the “most followed world leaders on Instagram.” He came behind Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and U.S. President Donald Trump.
More importantly from the point of view of his Communications Day focus on community, Pope Francis is also in fourth place on world leaders’ Instagram interactions. Each photo or video posted by the Vatican, the site said, garners an average of 198,432 interactions.