Entitled “Stop threats on the internet,” the conference was organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Bureau International Catholique de L’Enfance, a France-based international Catholic network of organisations engaged in the promotion and protection of children’s rights. The network is promoting the online petition, “Stop threats on the Internet” which has collected more than ten thousand signatures.
President of the Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson, described cyberbullying and abuse of the internet as a “very worrying” trend. In an interview with Vatican Radio, the Council’s Undersecretary, Flaminia Giovanelli describes cyberbullying as acts of “intimidation” – sometimes “for fun” which can include “sexual provocation” and cause “moral injury.”
In our chat, Matt and I agreed that we’ve both seen far too many instances of cyberbullying. But these are not limited to teen-on-teen meanness. Sadly, many of the problems I witness occur in Catholic circles with “Catholic-on-Catholic” meanness and bullying. The topics may related to the papacy, Mass, liturgical music, or sadly even family size. Catholic trolls often hide behind pseudonyms in the comboxes, feeling comfortable to spew venom in the name of holiness.
Yes, our Church needs to step up and begin actively addressing the ever more pervasive problem of childhood cyberbullying. Yes, our parishes and dioceses need to provide training and support for parents and students to combat this issue. But you and I also need to recognize that when we “troll” online, we are guilty of a sin.
The eighth commandment says:
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Cyberbullying, trolling, combox wars… whatever you want to call the general meanness that we witness between people of faith needs to end. The tools of social communications can be used for great good in the New Evangelization. But they also have the ability to lead us into sin. So we need to approach our use of them cautiously, prayerfully and mindful of the messages we send with each word we transmit.
I’m also challenging myself to better recognize and address the issue of Catholic cyberbullying when I experience it. Just as in dealing with teen cyberbullying, silence implies tacit agreement that this type of behavior is acceptable. I’ve long had a “don’t feed the trolls” policy in Catholic social circles. My new tactic is going to be “unfriend, unfollow, block and actively pray for the trolls”.
St. Isidore of Seville, Proposed Patron Saint of Internet Users, pray for us!