Social media

Pope Francis explains why the Internet is a 'gift from God'

Jan. 23, 2014 at 11:35 AM ET

Pope's Twitter account
Twitter
Not as many followers as Justin Bieber, but not bad.

This pope has wasted no time in embracing the Internet.  

A week after Jorge Mario Bergoglio was declared pope in a puff of white smoke in March, he sent out his first tweet as Pope Francis, which was retweeted 36,457 times. His account, @Pontifex, now has more than 3.5 million followers.

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI , also embraced social media, calling it "a great opportunity" for users to establish a "Christian-style presence" online. He started the papal Twitter account, launched a Vatican YouTube channel and even released a Facebook application called Pope2You

Francis, despite not having a Twitter account as a cardinal, has praised the Internet as well, calling it a "gift from God" in a statement on Thursday. Still, the pope, like most people, has some reservations about our new digital age. 

  • This pretty much sums up Twitter: "The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression." 
  • On the Internet "filter bubble": "The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests."  
  • Beware, World of Warcraft players: "The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbours, from those closest to us."  

Overall, however, the pope seemed bullish on the Internet. He certainly hasn't been shy in utilizing it, occasionally angering both conservatives and liberals with his 140-character messages. He angered the free-market crowd with tweets like this. 


Some liberals, on the other hand, took offense on Wednesday when he tweeted this in support of an anti-abortion rally.


Despite the Internet's flaws, His Holiness isn't likely to cancel the Vatican's broadband plan anytime soon. The pontiff's advice: The Internet is cool, as long as it leads to good deeds IRL.

"While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement," he wrote. "It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply 'connected'; connections need to grow into true encounters."

Keith Wagstaff writes about technology for NBC News. He previously covered the tech beat for TIME's Techland and wrote about politics as a staff writer at TheWeek.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kwagstaff and reach him by email at: Keith.Wagstaff@nbcuni.com

TOP