The Vatican urged bishops and high-profile lay Catholic leaders on Monday to tone down their comments on social media, saying some were causing division and stoking polemics that harmed the entire Church.
The appeal was part of a 20-page document by the Vatican’s communications department titled “Towards Full Presence. A Pastoral Reflection on Engagement with Social Media.”
The document, addressed to all Catholics, warned of the dangers of fake news on social media and other forms of abuse that had turned people into commodities whose data is sold, often without their knowledge or consent.
It condemned polarisation and extremism that had led to “digital tribalism” on social media, saying individuals were often locking themselves in silos of opinion that hindered dialogue and often led to violence, abuse and misinformation.
“The Christian style should be reflective, not reactive, on social media. Therefore, we should all be careful not to fall into the digital traps hidden in content that is intentionally designed to sow conflict among users by causing outrage or emotional reactions,” the document said.
“The problem of polemical and superficial, and thus divisive, communication is particularly worrying when it comes from Church leadership: bishops, pastors, and prominent lay leaders,” it said.
A number of conservative Catholic bishops and high-profile commentators, particularly in the United States, have criticised Pope Francis on Twitter, with some having endorsed fierce, far-right video attacks on the pontiff.
“Unfortunately, broken relationships, conflicts, and divisions are not foreign to the Church. For example, when groups that present themselves as ‘Catholic’ use their social media presence to foster division, they are not behaving like a Christian community should,” the document said.
It said particular attention would have to be paid to advances in artificial intelligence (AI) in coming years, urging Catholics to beware machines “that make our decisions for us”.
In 2020, the Vatican joined forces with tech giants Microsoft and IBM to promote the ethical development of AI and call for regulation of intrusive technologies such as facial recognition.