RE ATAR Unit 3: how social factors impact on how people interact with religion

Social Factor - Media

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are helping religions to reach new audiences as well as reinvigorating those amongst them. Religions are using social media as an extension to the achievement of their mission.

SOCIAL MEDIA & the Church

"Church communities have always used the modern media for fostering communication, engagement with society, and, increasingly, for encouraging dialogue at a wider level. Yet the recent, explosive growth and greater social impact of these media make them all the more important for a fruitful priestly ministry," Pope Benedict XVI 44th World Day of Communications. 16th May 2010


By Elise Harris Vatican City, Jan 9, 2018 / 04:51 am (CNA/EWTN News).

After the recent re-branding and consolidation of the Vatican's various media outlets, their social media platforms have now reached a total of more than 4 million followers, who receive their daily papal news with a fresh logo. According to a Jan. 9 communique from the Secretariat for Communications, Vatican media now has an online community of more than 4 million followers between the Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram platforms. The numbers, the secretariat said, are the result of the continuing reform of Vatican communications launched in 2014 by Pope Francis and his nine cardinal advisors who make up the Council of Cardinals, which meets every few months to discuss the ongoing reform of the Roman Curia. In order to map out what a possible reform of Vatican communications would look like, the Pope in 2014 established an international commission headed by British Lord Chris Patten to study the current process and provide suggestions. Francis then established the Secretariat for Communications in June 2015, naming Italian Msgr. Dario Vigano as its first head, giving him a mandate to reform Vatican communications with a focus on consolidation and increasing their presence in the digital world. The secretariat oversees all of the Vatican’s communications offices, including Vatican Radio, L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican Television Center, the Holy See Press Office, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Vatican Internet Service, the Vatican Typography office, the Vatican's Photography Service, and the Vatican publishing house. During the Council of Cardinals' most recent meeting in December, Vigano unveiled the new logo and design for the Vatican News website, which consolidated the Vatican's former news and radio pages into a new multimedia hub, which features audio, text, video and graphics, available in multiple languages. With the consolidation of its social media pages, the Vatican has seen a sharp increase in followers in recent months. On Facebook, the page “Vatican News” – recognizable by the new insignia, which is a white Vatican logo with a red background – has more than 3 million followers. The page is available in six languages, including English, Italian, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese. On Twitter, the six different language editions for Vatican media have all been unified under the same Twitter handle “@vaticannews”, and a new account, “@radiovaticanaitalia”, has been created to promote and provide information on the activities of Vatican Radio and the multilingual Vatican News channel on Instagram. The Vatican's YouTube channel, which offers viewers live coverage of the Pope's activities, has also been rebranded with the same new logo and given the “Vatican News” title. Social media for Vatican News is managed by the Secretariat for Communications' Editorial and Theological-Pastoral departments. The secretariat also manages the Pope's social media accounts in collaboration with the Secretariat of State. Pope Francis has a high number of followers on his various social media accounts, which include his “@Pontifex” account on Twitter, which has more than 44 million followers in 9 languages, and his “@Franciscus” Instagram account, with more than 5 million followers on its one multilingual channel. According to Msgr. Vigano, the increased presence of Vatican media on social networks “is one of the effects of the great process of reform of the Vatican media currently under completion.” The positive result, he said, is thanks in large part to the “great commitment” of their journalists and technical staff. “As communications professionals, according to the logic of a Church that looks outwards, we are all called to be among the people,” he said, explaining that in today's context, “this means being present on social networks and the internet with conviction and responsibility.” He said the Vatican must “focus on the human person, on relationships, the culture of encounter and, only in the last instance, on technology.”


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Pope Francis has over 16.6m followers on Twitter

Pope breaks record on Instagram The launch of the “Franciscus” account March 19, the feast of St. Joseph and the third anniversary of the formal inauguration of his papacy, was preceded by huge media coverage. But still, he hit the million-follower mark in just 12 hours, making his “our fastest growing account on Instagram to date,” said Stephanie Noon, an Instagram spokeswoman. The pope broke the record held for almost a year by former soccer star David Beckham, who took twice as long to gather 1 million followers. Joining Instagram, Pope Francis jumped into a community that tends to be younger and more complimentary than people on Twitter, although with similarly impressive “engagement rates.” “Twiplomacy,” an annual study conducted by the communications firm Burson Marsteller, found Pope Francis - through his @Pontifex accounts in nine languages - to be the most influential world leader on Twitter three years running. U.S. President Barack Obama has more followers, but Pope Francis’ average “retweet” and “favorite” rate is more than eight times higher than Obama’s. Pope Francis’ Instagram account is showing a similar pattern. The 17 photographs and two video clips posted by early morning March 31 had an overall average of 212,200 “likes” and 6,299 comments each.

Extract from an article available online at

Pope Francis on Twitter

Pope Francis' Instagram success: a model for Catholic social media? By Andrea Gagliarducci Vatican City, Apr 12, 2016 / 06:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).

Social media can be a place for evangelization. The proof? The giant audience for Pope Francis’ new Instagram profile. More than 1 million people followed his “Franciscus” account in the first 12 hours after its March 19 launch. As of April 11, he has over 2.2 million followers on the photo-centered network. Reflecting on this success, and on what it means for the Church in the social media age, Monsignor Dario Edoardo Vigano, prefect of the Secretariat for Communication, offered his thoughts. “The astonishing success of Pope Francis’ Instagram profile was a real surprise to all of us, and also to Instagram itself, which made it a case study,” Msgr. Vigano told CNA. He credited the success to “the fact that people want to see the Pope and want to have the Pope on their side.” “This is one of the characteristics of the entire pontificate, which social media helps to emphasize,” he said. Papal involvement in social media began with Pope Benedict XVI. “Benedict XVI said that life on the internet is an apostolic activity,” Msgr. Vigano said. “We must live in these spaces with responsibility, as the internet spaces are neither good nor bad… they are simply different than the usual spaces for traditional communication.” He criticized the claim that social media is not important, saying that people who make this argument are unusually older and have “lived in an era without social media.” “But we should overcome this thought,” he emphasized. The monsignor noted areas of social media where evangelization can take place.

There are often groups of young people who attend catechesis and then continue their dialogue on the social networks. And there are people who find in social networks the motivation to have a personal meeting in catechesis.” He stressed that social networks offer the opportunity to “enlarge our communities, expanding the possibility to reach out to people.” Msgr. Vigano noted that social media audiences can skew young. “Especially Instagram. Ninety percent of Instagram users are under 30,” he observed. This provides a very useful channel for the message of the Pope, the Gospel and the Church, he continued. For Instagram, the message is in an image that “speaks emotionally.” For Twitter, which provides a 140-character limit on text messages, the message is “very short.” “But this does not make the message less valuable,” Msgr. Vigano stressed. He compared the brevity of a Tweet to the recommendations of the Catholic tradition that praise “even very short moments of prayer.” Saying a “Glory Be” prayer takes the same time as typing 140 characters, he said. The monsignor compared the rapidity of social media to “a continual firing of spiritual arrows into the heart of God.” “I believe that social media really can help to welcome the grace of God.” Beyond Instagram, the Pope’s Twitter profile “Pontifex” is an important success. The tweets are written by the Secretariat for Communication and then personally approved by the Pope. Msgr. Vigano said that a series of tweets are drafted for the Pope from paraphrased excerpts of papal documents or homilies or from quotes from the Gospel. “The Pope personally approves each of the tweets by signing them with an ‘F.’ When there is an ‘F,’ we know that we can tweet that.”

The Pope on Social media

How should a Catholic bishop tweet? By Adelaide Mena Orlando, Fla., Jul 12, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News) The Catholic Church may be thousands of years old, but its bishops are rapidly adjusting to the demands of 21st-century communication. If the Church is to effectively evangelize in the modern world, a group of bishops argue, its leaders must be engaged online – but in the right way. What's most important is for Catholics engaging online, particularly priests and bishops, is to be sure to bring Christ with them online, said Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas. “If we aren't talking about the Gospel and what Jesus said today, then all the other stuff is going to be simply polemical, and our young people are tired of polemics,” he said during a panel discussion. Young people, he added, want to know what Jesus has to say about the various issues and discussions happening online. “I think, actually, we have kind of an obligation to sanctify social media,” the bishop said. Bishop Flores spoke on social media use at a press conference during the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” event on July 2 in Orlando, Florida. Joining him in the press conference were Dr. Hosffman Ospino, associate professor of theology and religious education at Boston College; Archbishop Wilton Daniel Gregory of Atlanta; and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. Consultant and member of the Vatican's Secretariat for Communication Kim Daniels also brought up the opportunity presented by social media in a July 3 speech at the convocation. In many ways, she commented, social media is a modern “periphery” where many whose needs are overlooked gather together. “It's clear that we need to engage people where they are, and the place where people are is social media on their own devices,” she said. “We know this is a great advantage for us to have this opportunity to reach out.” Daniels also said that the Church has millennia of experience in communicating and bringing people together that it can give toonline spaces. “We know what it is to be a global interconnective network. We know that these kinds of communities need stability, and they need fidelity, and they need mercy, and relation and we can bring those gifts there.” For an example of these kinds of gifts being used in the Church today, Daniels said to look at Pope Francis as an “extraordinary communicator.” His enthusiasm, honesty, frank discussion, and resistance to jargon makes him effective at bringing the Gospel to the peripheries, even online, she said. “He brings something very substantive.” Bishop Flores agreed with the need to bring substance and Christ to online spaces. “There's one thing I do every day, and that's that I will tweet out the Gospel of the day,” he said of his own personal Twitter use. “If there's anything I want people to know about the bishop it's that the first thing he does in the morning is tell you about something Jesus said in the Gospel, because that's the context from which we have to speak.” “Maybe you're not going to get a lot of followers if you comment on the Gospel every day, but it has an effect.” However, bishops and Catholics can use social media in other worthwhile ways, Bishop Flores stressed. “I have a Twitter and I probably have more fun with it than I should,” he joked. He said that he often takes group pictures of his confirmation classes, and the confirmande will share his photos online and discuss their confirmation. “It gives them a chance to say that they're happy to be Catholic.” Their diocese also helps high school students utilize social media to develop skills in journalism through the diocese's Mobile Journalism Project. “We help get some mobile equipment for high school students who want to learn about journalism, because they're out there everywhere,” Bishop Flores said. After the students take pictures or write stories, the diocesan communications office will share them and give feedback. “It helps them get the idea that they can do this,” he said of the program's impact on students. Cardinal Wuerl also pointed to the need for bishops to play a more active role on social media, acknowledging the challenges it brings for those who didn't grow up online.

“We need to be able to be a part of the conversation,” he urged. “If the Church is not part of their conversations, we're not speaking to them.” Dr.Ospino pointed out, however, that in many places in the country, this collaboration between generations is not the norm for social media use in the Church. He noted that there is a large “discrepancy” between people in leadership positions in the Church and those who are using the media constantly, with most lay leaders, priests and religious being in their mid-50s, 60s, and 70s, respectively. “It is more than likely that these people are not tweeting day and night,” he said. Instead, he encouraged Catholic leaders to learn how young people are interacting with social media and the kinds of conversations they are having. Archbishop Gregory had a different warning. While he agreed that bishops and Catholics should use social media more effectively, he also worried that it has its limitations. “There is a great challenge though with social media and I think it's that it emphasizes one-on-one relationships. It doesn't provide the opportunity of a sense of belonging to a group larger than yourself,” he said. He noted that in his diocese, many young people will say that they don't need to attend Mass because they can watch Mass on their smartphones, which runs counter to the Church's understanding of Mass and the Church. “The Church is this community that is comprised of all of us together, and without that capacity to highlight that and to give expression to that, the best social media in the world will be missing a unique dimension of what it means to be the Church,” Bishop Gregory said. “It doesn't mean that we don't use it, but we also have to recognize its limitations in delivering the Gospel message.”

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Religion interacts With Social Media

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have produced guidelines outlining best practices for the use of social media

Guiding Principles

"Communication is a means of expressing the missionary vocation of the entire Church; today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ. In the area of communications too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts" (Pope Francis' Message for the 48th World Communications Day [WCD], 2014.). Social media is fundamentally changing how people communicate. Our Church cannot ignore it; in fact, it is our responsibility as Catholics to bring the Church's teachings into what Pope Benedict XVI called the "digital continent." As Pope Francis wrote in the 48th World Communications Day message, "The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God." The Church can use social media to encourage respect, dialogue, and honest relationships—in other words, "true friendship" (Pope Benedict XVI's Message for the 43rd World Communications Day, 2009). To do so requires us to approach social media as a powerful means of evangelization and to consider the Church's role in providing a Christian perspective on digital literacy. The Church and Social Media: An Overview Social media offer both opportunities and challenges to Catholic organizations. These can be grouped into three primary categories:

▪ Visibility

▪ Community

▪ Accountability

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How social media is changing the church. May 5, 2016

Over the Easter weekend, the Church of England encouraged its congregation to share photos of their services and celebrations on social media using the hashtag #EasterJoy. It’s not strange for a large organisation to interact with its members and promote its message in this way. But the democratic nature of social media is allowing the church to play a much more unusual role in such a traditionally hierarchical body. In contrast to the conventional top-down model of preaching Christianity via trained priests, social media is enabling many ordinary Christians to have one-to-one conversations about their faith with nonbelievers. As one minister, Rev Pam Smith, author of Online Mission and Ministry, put it to me: This provides a much more realistic picture of the church as a collection of followers of Jesus rather than a monolithic organisation which occasionally pronounces unfavourably on contemporary society and is, in turn, judged by its organisational failures. Jesus often encountered people individually. Social media gives us the same personal access to people. This is an every-member ministry, and it’s exciting and inspiring. Many established churches, such as the Anglican and Catholic churches, have moved from relying heavily on audience participation in their services over the last few hundred years, to a passive model where the congregation receives a presentation. The design of churches changed after the Reformation to reflect a wider cultural shift from a networked, social form of religion to one where spirituality was broadcast to more passive consumers. TV and radio have helped reinforce the idea that they would quietly receive information rather than joining in the service. Similarly, while many churches are finally starting to understand that engaging their followers online is important, they still need convincing that the way to do this involves more than just setting up a website. Many of those in the church have bought into the idea that what happens online is virtual, rather than an embedded part of our everyday lives. 


Social media offers much more space for congregations to actively engage with sermons by tweeting along, asking questions, sharing photos of church activities, or continuing discussions throughout the week, not just on Sundays. For example, between 2010 and 2015, the Big Bible Project hosted online conversations about the bible for local reading groups and encouraged people to share digital case studies of personal experiences. More experimental parts of the church have held online services and used streaming to reach people who can’t be there in person. As well as becoming part of church practice, social media is taking church activities back out into the online world. Faith is a fulltime activity and social media is part of our everyday lives, so it is not surprising that the two can overlap. For example, church members can use Twitter to share insights from the bible or stories of their lives within the organisation, but they can also bring their Christian viewpoint to discussions on local, national and international politics. Social media is also helping to open up and humanise the church. The distance and anonymity created between people when they communicate online can help shed inhibitions in a way that is often blamed for abusive behaviour. But it can also encourage people to become comfortable enough to ask questions about faith, especially via private messaging. The humorous nature of many social media posts can also act as a starting point for more serious discussions about religion.


Although much of this activity is happening outside the established hierarchy, some church leaders are noticing the opportunity social media creates to change their relationship with their members. We have watched the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, cathedrals, churches and both lay and ordained leaders join Twitter and other social media. These media offer opportunities for 24/7 engagement, whether experimental, or more profound, as in the recent revelations about Archbishop Justin Welby’s parentage. There are many opportunities to experiment with simple, inexpensive ideas. Facebook groups can give clear social and connection value, especially for those in their 20s and 30s and parent/toddler groups. Churches have used photo and video sites such as Instagram and Vine to see what is going on inside their buildings. They’ve even also created geocaches – markers on online maps as part of an international orienteering movement – in their grounds to encourage people to visit. As Smith says: “There is no limit other than our imaginations in how we might use these new communication opportunities to reach people.”

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