The Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference (ACBC) acknowledged the presence and impact of the internet in the way people communicate, work, learn and do business, with the release of the 2019-2020 Social Justice Statement titled, ‘Making it Real – Genuine Human Encounter in our Digital World.
By Amanda Murthy
Dedicated to the whole Church community of internet users, including those who are not digital savvy, fall prey to hoax, fake news, privacy breaches and those who log on simply just to scroll through social media feeds – the Bishops carefully explored ways in which the everyone can work together to best represent the Church’s important role in ‘building the city of God’ in reality and online.
As the final chapter explains, “keeping the doors of our Churches opened also means keeping them open in the digital environment, so that people, whatever their situation in life, can enter and so that the Gospel can go out to reach everyone. We are called to show that the Church is the home of all.”
Although the statement was officially launched nationally on 3 September, it was the local launch on Thursday 26 September and attended by clergy, agency and school representatives from across Perth – which featured a panel discussion that provided an opportunity for deeper engagement, reflection and learning among all present.
More than one million people worldwide use the internet for the first time daily, the world’s average internet user spends over six and a half hours online each day, five billion people use mobile phones globally, on average social media users spend over two hours on social media platforms daily.
Topics explored at panel discussion
Catholic Archdiocese of Perth Communications Manager Jamie O’Brien spoke about the concept of community both in a digital and ‘real’ world, when highlighting some of the key messages from the statement.
“The call for ‘genuine human encounter’ as the title displays and the words of Bishop Terence Brady ‘we are called to community’ are two things that caught my attention first,” Mr O’Brien stated.
“It takes a village to raise a human – I definitely say that was the case in my life, as I very much relied on my [Church] community during my formative years,” Mr O’Brien recalled.
“The issue of solidarity and democracy is also one that I reflected on, and this then posed the question, ‘how do we build online communities that are respectful and fair and without social prejudices and without social exploitation?
Mr O’Brien then encouraged those present to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to connect with the wider community.
“The Church community is the best place to connect with people from all walks of life – whether it be people from different cultures, age groups, sports or music groups or whatever it may be – and even with our Archdiocese’s publication The Record, we are able to physically go out to the schools and parishes and actually connect with the community to produce content and stories that everyone can engage with online.
“When our news is published (as for any content published in a public forum), we have to also realise that our audience is no longer limited just to the 500,000 Catholics of the Archdiocese of Perth and its boundaries, but across the 4.3 Billion internet users,” he concluded.
Director and Head of Video at Iceberg Media, Andrea Bernardino used her experience to share with those present some of the things that internet users should be aware of when creating an online presence, especially when it comes to the use of photos and videos.
“Prepare yourselves – know what is real and what has been manipulated, be aware of the sites that are sending out the message of truth.
“Know your exact purpose of being online even before you start posting so that you can send out the right message and representation without confusing the audience, understanding that there can be repercussions to what we post,” she added.
Ms Bernadino shared that the two recommendations from ACBC that she favoured most was ‘make your online presence one of dignity and respect and take care of yourself and others.’
“Why? Because it really encapsulates our first commandment which is to love God and to love our neighbour,” she concluded.
Digital Branding Specialist Jamie Brook shed some light on the issue of immediacy, accountability and how internet users can share information online in a manner with the most positive impact to their audience.
“When people don’t have a lot of experience exploring the online world especially social media platforms, there is naturally an element of fear associated, venturing into that digital realm – It is important to remain true to yourself.
“It is important to be aware that when you are speaking on a subject online, there is a passion in the narrative that tugs on the heart strings of the audience.
“It’s also important to note that when you are on social media, you are taking the necessary steps to eliminate the possibility of being reported, remembering always that you are not alone – at the same time being able to speak your mind in the way you have been brought up to act (with dignity and respect),” he added.
Revealing that ‘very soon’, the social media platform Facebook will have more deceased profiles than living profiles, Mr Brook emphasised the importance of staying together as a community and push to what we believe is the truth.
“And that is the Word of God,” he concluded.
How to be genuinely present In the digital world today
- Make your online presence one of dignity and respect.
- Be present to others in the “real” and virtual world.
- Take care of yourself and of others.
- Every community should promote digital literacy.
- We cannot leave our sisters and brothers behind.
- The local community is a place to make the virtual real.
- We must protect the personal data of citizens.
- Join the call for transparency and accountability.
- Truth and trustworthiness must be guaranteed.
- We are called to be citizens of the digital world.
From pages 24 to 26 of Issue 21: ‘The most Effective Communications is transformative’ of The Record Magazine