The L’Osservatore Romano has published some excerpts from an article that will soon appear in La Civilta Cattolica written by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, who warns of the risks of using social networking sites such as Facebook or Myspace, which can submerge users in loneliness and fragile friendships and are inadequate substitutes for the natural desire to be loved.
Father Spadaro says that on Facebook, “the need to know others and to make oneself known, and the need to experience friendships are ‘serious’ needs that run the risk of confusing superficial and sporadic relationships with friendship; or communication with exhibitionism; or the fact of wanting to know others with voyeurism. While the difference between the one and the other is radical, an appropriate education in relationships and one’s self-perception is needed in order to see it.”
The Gregorian University professor also explained that Facebook “is in this sense a challenge because as with all social networking platforms, it is both a potential aid for relationships as well as a threat” because relations between human beings are not “a game and require time and direct knowledge.”
Father Spadaro later pointed out that “relationships on the internet are necessarily always shaky if they are not anchored in reality. In some cases the desire to have many contacts in Facebook and thus ‘collect’ friends … becomes a challenge to loneliness and to the desire to feel and appear popular. In effect, the desire to appear extroverted, sought out, and in other words, loved, cannot be underestimated. Having many friends means showing others you are socially attractive,” he said.
Likewise, he continued, “sometimes one’s own profile aids in ‘fishing for’ potential ‘friends,’ and the motives for this can be varied: from the most legitimate to the least plausible and acceptable. It is obvious, on the other hand, that the more the number of ‘friends’ grows, the more Facebook risks losing its meaning and becomes a simple directory that is merely more technologically advanced.”
“The ideal use for Facebook, in my opinion,” the priest wrote, “is one based on real relationships. It is an important medium for rediscovering classmates, childhood friends, those we have lost contact with, for rediscovering old friends.”
Properly used, he continued, Facebook can become an opportunity to “strengthen relationships which because of distance or other motives are at risk of fading” or it can be used to “recover relationships that have grown distant through life.”
Father Spadaro noted that the phenomenon of social networks has brought the internet into the realm of human relationships when it was originally focused on information. In this sense, he warned that what is most at risk on platforms like Facebook is the protection of personal privacy.
He went on to stress that social networking sites offer a type of utopia: a place where one is forever close to people that one knows in one way or another. But the utopia should be confronted with an awareness of “the same risk that cell phones and computers carry with them, which is the isolation of the person, relations based solely on appearance…”
On the other hand, he continued, “From the invention of smoke signals or instruments such as the telegraph or the telephone, technology has always been an important aid for personal relationships.”
“In this long process that is the history of human communications, Facebook is playing a specific role: that of making the internet primarily a network of persons and accelerating the process which made significant strides in 2005 with the onslaught of blogs.”