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The Gospel in the time of Facebook

Facebook, the most popular social network in the world, has several tools to keep up and enrich friendships: this is well-known. However, in general, no one asks themselves why the dynamics of these relationships are based exclusively on positive feedback (‘liking’ something, ‘sharing’) and there are no instant options for disapproval. Is it not possible that the creators of the network allowed themselves to be inspired by the more traditional, but for all intents and purposes, very modern principle of not treating others in a way that one would not like to be treated.

Is it possible that our “friendships” are deemed so fragile that they would succumb just by getting negative feedback? Why, for example, is one “notified” only when a friend is added, but not when one is unexpectedly canceled?

The system, conceived in this way, has good cause: reasons, which are inspired precisely by mutual consent, in order to spread optimism through the use of the instrument and thereby exercise an even greater and more positive influence on us all, essentially to increase one’s own economic power. What would happen to the crowded social network if all of its users suddenly began to be publicly notified when they lost friends? A loss which is clearly one-sided.

It takes two people to start a friendship, while the will of a single party is sufficient to cancel one. It is probable that, considering the compulsive use of these platforms, otherwise it would cause a collective commotion, fed by mutual jealousy, unresolved conflicts, small dormant rivalries ready to explode with a chain of retaliations: hateful posts, requests from common friends for clarification, hostile revenge on those who have deleted a friend in common and so on.

Fortunately, this violence is only symbolic. But seeing how everyone, sooner or later, exits the virtual world and reenters the real, these effects could soon become tangible. Yet, perhaps in this uncontrollable vicious vortex of mutual disrepute — summed up in tiny (but potentially lethal) “thumbs down” — a mass desertion from these small virtual altars could take place. This would not happen as a form of protest to the above-mentioned, merely imagined options of mutual disatisfaction, but precisely, maybe, because of the unexpected psychological unsustainability of the medium.

In fact, this could essentially become the collective place to let off the steam of hatred and resentment which all lasting friendships, maybe even more so for these lasting friendships, inevitably have. The programmers of Facebook — a system connecting hundreds of millions of people all over the world — well-instructed by the administrators and thinkers who created this system and “educated”, think well of inspiring the heart of their “friending” machine to the oldest recipe for a healthy economy: spreading as much optimism as possible.

Maybe it is a coincidence, but it all corresponds to the oldest principle which humanity knows: love your neighbour. “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and prophets” (Mt 7:12). And to render the Gospel teaching more effective, those behind Facebook thought well not to include instruments of temptation. In other words: long live friendship for everyone!




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 20, 2020