Vatican chastises bishops who stoke division on social media

On Monday, the Vatican called on bishops and prominent lay Catholic leaders to temper their social media comments. They said some of them were creating divisions and fueling polemics which harmed the whole Church.

The Vatican’s communication department issued a 20-page report titled “Towards full presence.” A Pastoral Reflexion on Social Media Engagement.”

The document addressed to all Catholics warned against the dangers of fake stories on social media, and other forms abuse, which had made people commodities, whose data was sold, sometimes without their consent.

The report condemned the polarisation of social media and extremism, which it said had led to a “digital tribealism”. It claimed that people were often locked in their own silos, which hampered dialogue and led to violence, abuse, and misinformation.

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“Christian style on social media should be reflective and not reactive.” The document warned that we must be cautious not to fall for the digital traps in content designed to cause outrage and emotional reactions among users.

It said that the problem of divisive and polemical communication, especially when it is coming from Church leaders, such as bishops, priests and prominent lay leaders, was particularly concerning.

Some conservative Catholic bishops, especially in the United States and other high-profile commentators have criticized Pope Francis on social media. They’ve even endorsed violent, extreme-right videos attacking the pontiff.

“Unfortunately, broken relations, conflicts and divisions do not come from the Church. “For example, groups who present themselves as Catholics use their social media presence in order to create division, they do not behave like a Christian group should”, the document stated.

The report warned that in the coming years, artificial intelligence (AI), which is a form of machine learning, would be a major concern. It also warned Catholics not to trust machines “that take our decisions for them”.

The Vatican and Microsoft and IBM joined forces in 2020 to promote ethical AI development and call for regulation.