US Catholic Faith in Real Life

USCCB's guidelines for using social media

By Meghan Murphy-Gill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

While I can't help but cringe everytime I read the word "social media" in this Catholic News Service article (it's a lot like hearing your parents talk about texting), I commend the USCCB for addressing it before, well, ten years from now. Granted, most everything said in the guidelines are points those of us who were using social media before social media came to almost exclusively mean Facebook and blogs (and sometimes Twitter) have been making for years: social media is not a substitute for actual face-to-face socializing; be charitable and respectful while using social media; social media is an excellent tool for dialogue.

There's one guideline, however, I find irksome and it's a point that I believe reveals a fear of loss of authority on the part everyone who feel the need to distinguish between so-called "real" media (oddly dubbed "mass" media in the CNS article) and social media, whether Catholic or secular:

"It is important that creators and site administrators of social media understand how much social media are different from mass media and the expectations of their consumers," the guidelines said. "Social media's emphasis is on the word 'social,' with a general blurring of the distinction between creators of content and consumers of content." 

Hmmm...In other words, don't forget whose in charge here. Don't forget who the real media are. Don't let the democratization that's happening in terms of who get's a mouthpiece for what they have to say fool you: if you're a blogger, a Twitterer, a Facebook user, you're just a media consumer deep down. We don't care that your Wordpress blog gets 100 comments every time you write about the liturgy.

The USCCB's statement here reveals the preference for the paradigm of ecclesia docens vs. ecclesia discens. There is the teaching church and the learning church. It's a linear model that maintains clear boundaries between those in charge and their charges.

The irony here is that the Catholic web, made up largely of social media users, has a conservative bent (as this article from U.S. Catholic's anniversary issue points out) that tends to favor this paradigm--or at least pays lip service to it. The most active Catholic social media users are fairly conservative, but they relish the use of comment features on Catholic media outlets. Conservative blogs link to articles and blog posts on established media sites as well as other newer blogs, most often to the ones with which they take the most umbridge, encouraging their readers to have their say in matters of liturgy, the bishops' response to sex abuse in the church, or women religious. They embrace wholeheartedly the teachings and the language and the liturgical symbols that smack of monarchical governance and proclaim proudly, "The church is not a democracy." But I think this is a clear case of actions speaking louder than words.

You can read the USCCB's social media guidelines here.