Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube in the Vatican

Preachers of Truth Meet Sellers of «My Own Truth»

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By Jesús Colina

ROME, NOV. 13, 2009 (Zenit.org).- There are not a few voices in the Church calling for the message of the Gospel to make better use of the Internet — Benedict XVI’s is among them.

And yet, when representatives of some of the most successful Internet initiatives met in Rome today with the European bishops’ Commission for the Media, a great difference in mentality became obvious, even if there was also evidence of a genuine desire for mutual understanding.

The chamber of the former hall of the synod of bishops — which the producers of «Angels and Demons» rented for millions of euros — witnessed two views of reality: On one hand, an institution, the Church, founded for 2,000 years on the proclamation of Truth; and on the other, exponents of successful business initiatives, which arose a few years ago, based on giving everyone the chance to express «his own truth.»

The meeting occurred in the context of a four-day conference that began Thursday in the Vatican, promoted by the Commission for the Media of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE).

Networking prelates

The meeting began with a survey among the bishops and representatives of the episcopal commission.

Moderator Jim McDonnell of the Signis World Catholic Association of Communication asked the bishops, priests and some lay experts in communication — just under 100 in total — how many had a profile on Facebook. More than one fourth raised their hand.

Nearly everyone in the group was familiar with Wikipedia and about 10% had collaborated in editing one of its entries.

Almost everyone had also viewed videos on YouTube and about 15% had used the site to post one of their own. 

Approximately 10% had used or followed Twitter.

The networkers

Then came the presentations from the Internet representatives. Christophe Muller, director of YouTube alliances in Southern and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, illustrated the philosophy that gave origin and life to Google.

In particular, he praised the Holy See’s decision to make a place for itself on YouTube. And he presented a promotional video showing how the great of the world — from Barack Obama to the Queen of England — use this platform. Among them is Benedict XVI.

Delphine Ménard, treasurer of Wikipedia, France, explained how the collaborative encyclopedia does not seek to give a view of truth, but rather aims for all points of view to be represented.

For his part, Christian Hernandez, in charge of the commercial development of Facebook, showed how Christian initiatives have arisen in the Facebook world that range from a Shrine of Lourdes profile, to «Jesus Daily,» a profile that offers phrases from the Gospel, and has more than one million followers.

Among these initiatives, he also presented Benedict XVI’s profile. What he did not say is that this profile was created by an unknown individual who has fraudulently taken the Pope’s identity.

In a subsequent conversation with ZENIT, Hernandez said that today, this issue was brought to his attention at the Vatican.

He said that Facebook has blocked a Vatican profile page, but for the fraudulent Benedict XVI profile, he was unable to offer a solution.

Apples and oranges

As the meeting moved to the questions-and-answers stage, it was evident that there was clear difficulty in understanding.

On one hand, the prelates acknowledged the limits of the Catholic Church, which seeks to dialogue on the Internet, but by and large uses basic pages: About 70% of Catholic institutional sites have not introduced interactive elements of Web 2.0.

Then as well — contrary to what they expected — the bishops did not find themselves in a meeting with communication experts, but rather with representatives of enterprises with a very specific business model. This model is their primary interest and leaves aside humanistic considerations.

«Can one still speak of truth on social networks based on the idea that each user has his truth?» one of the prelates’ working groups asked the Internet representatives.

The representatives of the three enterprises agreed that «power» has now gone to the users; users «control» the media — but they will be able to seek truth more effectively knowing how to use the media.

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