Am I my brother’s keeper online?

In his first message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Francis signals the anthropological foundation to what the world desires and desperately needs:  “Fraternity is an essential human quality, for we are relational beings.  A lively awareness of our relatedness helps us to look upon and to treat each person as a true sister or brother; without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace” (no. 1.)

The message roots this call to fraternity in the family as “the first pathway to peace” and in faith “since a fraternity devoid of reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation is unable to endure.”  It then addresses the search for peace amid troubling realities such as the economy, war, corruption, and nature.

But how does the papal plea play out in today’s world of digital communications?  Social media has already demonstrated a power to galvanize people in search of socio-political change (as in the Arab Spring).  But in terms of everyday connections, am I really my brother’s keeper online?

For the Holy Father, one of today’s sad realities is “a profound poverty of relationships,” one that “can be overcome only through the rediscovery and valuing of fraternal relationships … through the sharing of joys and sorrows, of the hardships and triumphs that are a part of human life” (no. 5).

Sharing life’s moments – that’s the stuff of social media!  From status updates to check-ins to pictures of all kinds, people today capture life’s moments on their personal timelines and Twitter feeds.  They then make the news available to anyone who befriends or follows them.  It’s how we connect to others near and far.

These connections are no less real than the in-person ones.  To claim that physical presence is more “true” than the digital one sets up a false dichotomy behind which too many people hide.  As Fr. Antonio Spadaro points out:  “This dimension of falsity, which we conveniently attribute to the web, in reality resides already in the falsity that is lived ordinarily in life and that, if anything, is amplified on the web thanks to the lack of physical contact.  There is not a time for digital relations and a time for physical relations:  there is life, which is one and is expressed in diverse modes.”

Though not the most interpersonal, the primary mode of communicating about life today is online.  As result, the world of social media also calls for a fraternal approach as a new pathway to peace.  Walking this path begins with ourselves and extends to the others we encounter online.

Regarding ourselves, authenticity is key.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes this as “witness(ing) consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically” (Message for World Communications Day 2011).  The posts and pins and pokes all say something about ourselves!

CD-1 cropRegarding what we say about others, fraternal charity should always be our norm.  How often do we see (or make) comments that devolve into denigration?  We may not be interested in someone’s post.  We may think their photos are silly.  We may even disagree with their point of view.

But if we remember that even online those users are our brothers and sisters, then peace may prevail.

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