Pope Francis’ love-hate relationship with social media was on display this month.
On Jan. 20, appearing before pilgrims at his weekly blessing, he tapped a tablet to launch a “Click to Pray” app that allows people to share prayer intentions and (virtually) pray with each other. The pope called social networks “a resource of our time” that gives people a way to “share values and projects.”
But a few days later, the 82-year-old pope sounded a different tune in his annual message for World Communications Day. He said social media too often tend to divide people and encourage a worrisome trend toward narcissism:
Moreover, in the social web identity is too often based on opposition to the other, the person outside the group: we define ourselves starting with what divides us rather than with what unites us, giving rise to suspicion and to the venting of every kind of prejudice (ethnic, sexual, religious and other). This tendency encourages groups that exclude diversity, that even in the digital environment nourish unbridled individualism which sometimes ends up fomenting spirals of hatred. In this way, what ought to be a window on the world becomes a showcase for exhibiting personal narcissism.
It's the Catch-22 that many people, the famous and not-so-famous, experience when using social media: they see the negative effects of social networking, but in this day and age they feel obliged to have a presence on digital platforms.
To understand why the pope can’t even consider withdrawing from social media, read this story by Catholic News Service. It outlines the incredible digital reach enjoyed by Pope Francis:
According to Twipu, a site that tracks Twitter statistics, each of Pope Francis' tweets generates an average of 935 replies, 7,998 retweets and 36,750 likes.
In an early December article, the Twiplomacy website listed Pope Francis as No. 4 on the list of the "most followed world leaders on Instagram." He came behind Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and U.S. President Donald Trump.
More importantly from the point of view of his Communications Day focus on community, Pope Francis is also in fourth place on world leaders' Instagram interactions. Each photo or video posted by the Vatican, the site said, garners an average of 198,432 interactions.
Pope Francis is on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/franciscus/?hl=en
You'll find him on Twitter @Pontifex.