This week, Bishop Dennis Sullivan has promulgated the revised version of the Social Media Policy of the Diocese of Camden. Originally released on Sept. 25, 2013, the revised version now includes an appendix. This appendix is policy on how adults should interact with minors via social media.
To say that social media is complex is an understatement. Social media includes electronic mail (e-mail), cell phones (both smart phones and dumb phones—the ones that don’t connect to the internet), texting, instant messaging and, of course, the internet itself. The internet includes many ways in which adults and minors communicate.
There are social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr and many more. With over 900,000,000 members, if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world. China, then India, then Facebook!
Social media is a valuable tool in that it brings a world of information right to your computer, laptop, tablet or phone. But it brings danger, too. Over 90 percent of all adolescents in the United States use the internet and 25 percent of them have received sexual or pornographic material. It is estimated that fewer than 25 percent of these solicitations are being reported to their parents or other adults. Children are afraid that if they tell their parents that they have received sexual material from friends or by accident, their parents will react by taking the computer or cell phone away from them.
Pope Francis has called the internet “a gift from God.” It can foster dialogue among disparate groups, he says, but he cautions that it can make self-reflection difficult. In Laudato Si’ he writes, “True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution.”
He warns that internet communication should not replace real relationships with each other.
However, evangelization must still take place and using the internet as a tool, the Good News can still be proclaimed. Adults will need to learn how to communicate with minors via social media. The release of the revised Social Media Policy is timely as the school and catechetical years have just begun.
As a former Jesuit, I am delighted the promulgation date is the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine. One of 10 children, St. Robert Bellarmine entered the newly formed Society of Jesus in 1560. After his ordination he taught at Louvain and was made a cardinal in 1598. He is known for being a scholar and defended Rome against prevailing heretics of his day. He was a spiritual father to St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a good friend to St. Francis de Sales, and advocated against severe action in the case of Galileo. I have no doubt in my mind that St. Robert Bellarmine would have taken immediately to social media and would have used it as a tool to teach and to bring Jesus to all.
Along with the revised Social Media Policy, the Diocese of Camden also has the Standards of Ministerial Behavior which is a code of conduct for adults in regular contact with minors. These documents can be found on the Diocese of Camden website http://www.camdendiocese.org/cyp/standards-for-protection/.
Rod J. Herrera, LCSW is director, Office of Child & Youth Protection, Diocese of Camden.