By Fr. Gerald M. Musa
Social media is turning out to be one of the most important channels of communication in the world today. According to BBC report 86 million Nigerians especially the young and educated were online in 2016. The report states that most Nigerians access the Internet through their mobile phones and in 2015 Facebook was the largest social media platform with about 7.1 million people in Nigeria. Nigeria’s Minister of Communication, Abdur-raheem Adebayo Shittu confirmed that 75% of Nigeria’s online population use social media (Amaefule, 2017). Moreover, 2018 World Internet Users Statistics has the following report about Nigeria:
Internet Users Statistics for Nigeria
(Nigeria Internet Usage, 2018 Population Stats and Facebook Subscribers)
This report shows that in 17 years there was an exponential increase of over 98 million Internet users and that there are about 17 million Facebook users in Nigeria. The BBC report of 2016 and the World Internet Users statistics of 2017 indicate an increase of 12 million in the number of Internet subscribers in just one year. As a matter of fact, all these statistics demonstrate the penetration of new media in Nigeria.
This paper uses two terms interchangeably – social and new media and so it is germane to clarify these terms. Social media could be aptly described as applications that are designed for social interaction and these comprise Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and a host of others. Social media are considered as part of new media because new media are mostly computer-based digital gadgets or devices with online access. Broadly speaking, new media are non-traditional media, which by their digital nature are different from conventional (non-digital) radio, newspaper, television and magazine. New media include podcasts, blogs, e-books, CD-ROMs, DVDs, USB drives, social media and other current digital interactive media. The term new media is constantly evolving and opened to possibilities because of rapid development in media technologies. Those media that are considered ‘new media’ today will eventually be ‘old media’ tomorrow as ‘newer media’ continue to emerge. Notably, all social media are new media, but not all new media are social media. Social media are characterized by speed (instant communication), interactivity (giving users the opportunity to interact) and media convergence (a combination of texts, images, audio and video). Among social media platforms, Facebook is the most widely used. According to White, Tella and Ampofo (2016, p.4), “Social media ministry and for that matter Facebook ministry have brought about what could be called ‘church without walls.’”
Long before ‘new social media’ there were traditional social media such as village squares and town halls (common gathering place for all); there were social clubs where people with common interests or activities converged. These clubs consist of book clubs, sports clubs or just city clubs where people gathered to relax and socialize. Even within the church, organisations such as youth organisations combine both spiritual and social activities to keep the organisations lively. Pen pal relationships existed long before digital social media. Pen pal clubs encouraged members to communicate or exchange mails or post cards with known or unknown long distant or short distant friends. What social media have done differently is to digitalise the methods of this communication.
This paper focuses on the use of social media in the Catholic Church, with special emphasis on Priests in Nigeria. Again, the paper dwells on how priests could apply social media to priestly ministry, particularly to evangelization and pastoral care. The paper is divided into the following segments: Church and media; why social media are relevant for priests; exploring ways of using social media; areas of concern (challenges); recommendations and conclusion.
- CHURCH AND MEDIA
Generally, there is a long-standing relationship between religion and media of communication. Religious traditions, even before the coming of Jesus Christ communicated with different media ranging from oral communication to the usage of scrolls to record the message of prophets and sages. Jesus is called the perfect communicator because he used different media of communication, interpersonal, group communication, public speaking and in fact all communication strategies including local language, proverbs and stories to convey his message to the world. In the era of St. Augustine, the Church applied the art of rhetoric and this had a great impact on the literary works of St. Augustine.
Despite the heavy impact of various media of communication on religion, some religious leaders are suspicious of innovations in media technologies. In the days of St. Maximillian (1894-1941), some priests were speaking about the evil of film industry and how it destroyed piety. St. Maximillian responded wisely by saying, “Why, then we should make Catholic movies that move people to practice piety!” (Gedney, 2014). The Church cannot afford to cling exclusively to analogue media technologies and ignore the on-going digital revolution. St. Maximilian is renowned for his openness to print and electronic media, which were the modern media of his time.
Modern media have played significant roles in missionary activities in Nigeria. In the 19th century, as the missionaries introduced modern healthcare and established modern schools, they thought it was necessary to begin spreading the Gospel message with modern media. “The first newspaper in Nigeria was Iwe Irohin established in 1859 at Abeokuta by Henry Townsend and the Church Missionary Society of Nigeria” (Uwom and Alao, 2013, p. 63). Several years after, the Catholic Herald Newspaper was founded in 1925 (Danaan, 2016, p. 67) and more church-based newspapers continued to emerge. The church concentrated more on print media in the work of evangelization because the federal government prevented religious organisations from establishing electronic media stations. More recently, the Catholic Church is beginning to venture into cable television with the establishment of Catholic Television in Abuja. The Catholic Television started by collaborating with the African Independent Television (AIT) in 2010 and Lumen Christi television network in Lagos was established in 2014.
In view of the power of media, the Guidelines for Priestly Life and Ministry in Nigeria encourage Catholic priests to deploy the various media of communication “In the best possible ways for evangelization” (No. 11, p.7, n.d). The guidelines refer to both mainstream media (radio, television and print) and New Media, which comprise of Internet and other digital technologies. The guideline is silent about how to use media for evangelization, thus allowing priests to use these media at their own discretion. Today, there are priests who think social media are only distractions and not relevant or useful for pastoral ministry.
- WHY SOCIAL MEDIA ARE RELEVANT FOR PRIESTS
- Social media as response to great commission:The great commission is the instruction of Jesus to his disciples asking them to spread the message of the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19). One of the creative ways of complying with this commission is by sharing the Gospel message via social media. As a matter of fact, social media enable millions of people across the globe to have access to messages posted online.
- Social Media as Potent Media: Social Media are potent media of communication today and they are to be seen as opportunity, rather than a threat to the church. The Church could effectively use these new media to offer spiritual food and drink to a world that is hungry and thirsty for good news. More so, there is an urgent need to have a pastoral presence in the digital continent and a strong presence in the digital culture. Many websites and social media platforms readily offer all kinds of food and people have multiple choices to make on the quality of media content they wish to consume. Justin Wise, author of a book on theology of digital communication, says, “Online, we can read anything. Consume anything. Pick which voices we listen to and which we unfollow.” Therefore, inspiring posts on social media are a form of special invitation to the hungry and thirsty to come without money to listen and eat well that they may have life (Isaiah 55:1-3).
- Connecting with young people: If the Church must reach out to young people with the gospel of salvation, she has to go to the digital continent where they are. One of the common places to find them is online, where they are often with their smartphones and portable devices and this is where they spend their time.
- Consolidating sense of community: Social media provide the privilege of interaction between members of a parish community, albeit virtual. Communication builds and strengthens the bond between members of a group. Through social media communication a parish community could respond to the call of Paul the Apostle who enjoins the Ephesians to strive and preserve their unity by recognizing what they share in common, one Lord, one faith and one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). Social media are not meant to replace community gathering and physical interaction between members, but they serve the purpose of consolidating relationship within an already existing community, by creating an additional platform for communication between members.
- Share your story:Social media are useful platforms where a parish community could share their stories, photos, videos and messages, homilies, events, and information. Dankasa (2017, pp.77-92) recommends some content types that could make a Church Facebook page lively. These content include: Basic information and update about events, parish ministries, and upcoming events. In addition, other lively content are educating content related to important issues on the faith (catechism and faith formation), entertaining content, spiritual content for spiritual growth, inspirational messages and scriptural reflections. Other lively activities on social media are prayers for the needs of the community, relational or social content that encourage connection, interaction that enable people to ask questions and make suggestions.
- Becoming digital missionaries:There is an Hausa proverb that says, Idan kidi ya canza, rawa ma sai ya canza (When the rhythm of the drum changes, the dance steps have to change). As communication landscape changes with digital technologies, the methods of evangelization are also changing. It goes without saying it that a digital content would need digital missionaries who are able to share the good news. The Archbishop of Brisbane thinks, “We have to find ways of speaking to those outside our community of agreement- not just through new media but in new ways. At times, we pour old wine into new wineskins, but we need new wine in new wineskins” (Coleridge, 2017, p.54).
- EXPLORING WAYS OF USING SOCIAL MEDIA
- Using social media for evangelisation:Using social media for “evangelization” may sound like a puzzle or like a task reserved only for those who are specialized in social media techniques. The word evangelisation comes from the Greek euanggelizo, which means to proclaim, spread or to convey good news. It was Pope Paul VI who initiated the concept of New Evangelisation in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiantiadi in 1975. Pope John Paul II who popularized the notion of new evangelization says, “No demand on our ministry is more urgent than the ‘new evangelization’ needed to satisfy the spiritual hunger of our times” (Cahall, 2016, p.330). Pope Paul VI emphasized on various techniques of evangelization: first by being witnesses of an authentic Christian life; second, by verbal proclamation or preaching of the word, third, through homily, fourth technique is catechetical instruction, the fifth technique is through the media and the sixth is through interpersonal communication or person-to-person outreach (EN 41-46). Furthermore, the Pope points out the fact that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization who prompts and directs us towards new ways and methods of evangelization, which include the usage new media technologies. Evangelization through social media may begin in little ways such as sharing or posting great quotes, proverbs, humorous stories and ideas, scriptural verses and uplifting messages.
- Planning and organizing social media for evangelisation
Priests who want to use social media creatively are likely to ask one question “Where do I start?” A good way to start is to develop interest in social media. Some social media commentators such as Ana Roca Castro (2010) and Fr. John Hollowell (2013) provide some helpful practical steps for using social media for evangelization. These steps are distilled as follows:
- First, define your objective by articulating what you seek to achieve in using social media. This implies developing a plan and a purpose.
- Second, on the parish level, you may look out for volunteers who are good with social media to select and sign up a social media platform for the parish. In doing this, it is important to know the social media platform, which the parishioners use most (for example, instagram, Facebook or Twitter). If possible, the youth should be given the opportunity to evangelise their fellow youth in the spirit of what Vatican II Council calls “Apostolate of like towards like” (Flannery, 1975, par. 13).
- Thirdly, select relevant parish events and homilies to post. According to Fr. Hollowell, written words are good, videos are better and images are best.
- Fourthly, priests should be willing to invest time, energy and money in their efforts to evangelise through social media. They may have to spend money if there is need to upgrade their blog, buy data to be online or install Wi-Fi for the house or office. In addition to these, it is necessary to know the target audience (youth, women, men, professionals, etc) and to develop policies and guidelines for parish social media platform.
- Using social media strategically:Through social media we are able to know more about what is going on among the youth and have an idea about topics of conversations that are of interest to them. Topics that may interest youth are those that concern body image, self-confidence, human sexuality, bullying and relationships. Priests who are involved in youth evangelization could learn to listen to their conversations and know their areas of concern in order to grow their faith and grow their lives.
More still, priests could engage and relate with people through social media. They could write on ecclesiastical matters as well as complex moral issues that arise in the news and on which Christians must comment or take a stand. It is also necessary for priests to make effort to know what is trending and address that in the light of the Gospel. A famous quote of Karl Barth is, ‘Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.’
A priest could develop a social media identity, personality, or voice (humourist, preacher, educator, singer, political analyst, social critique, economic pundit) in social media by the kind of content that he shares. As priests,
We have a message that can assuage spiritual hungers: how do we convey it to people who are looking for answers in so many places of information? Today there are many conflicting messages and panaceas on offer. If we are to communicate our message, our experience, then we must do it in ways relevant to the experiences of contemporary culture (Arthur 2013, p.14).
- Challenging falsehood:Evangelisation can take the form of rebuking all that is false. This means refuting misinformation and fake news and putting things in right perspective. We live in a world that is full of falsehood, false religions and so we need priests who will proclaim the truth to the world because God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). According to Bishop Emmanuel Badejo: “We need to invent new means of forming people’s consciences. We need to form new means of confronting the agents of non-values that are among us. We need to form new means of colonizing the media so that people can hear the voice of the Church” (Catholic News Agency, 2017).
- Using social media to share liturgical Events:Social media could facilitate the transmission of liturgy through streaming to people who are homebound, sick, or those who are unable to participate in the liturgy. Social media are additional media through which liturgical events can be shared on audio and video.
- AREAS OF CONCERN (CHALLENGES)
- Sustainablity:Sustainability is an important factor to consider when setting up a social media account. It is easier to create a presence on social media than to sustain a lively presence. A very busy priest could possibly get an assistant to keep updating his social media account, blog or website. One of the ways to sustain a lively presence is to plan a scheme of content ahead of time. Sometimes, it is advisable to make a timetable about particular days or time to post messages and to decide the relevant content for the season, week or circumstance. Sustenance and consistence should go hand in hand in maintaining a active presence on social media.
- Using the social media in times of crisis:One of the pitfalls of social media is that everyone wants to be a reporter. During crises there are often conflicting reports. When the authority concerned does not provide timely and credible information, rumour takes its toll and the real news can be twisted out of context. Lack of information gives room for speculations in periods of crises. A good example of a timely report is the report swiftly provided by the Rector of the Minor Seminary in Jalingo soon after the attack of the Seminary. The authoritative information issued by the Rector on social media, crippled the efforts of producers of fake news.
- Narcissism:Gedney (2014) observes that Narcissism is an exaggerated obsession about self that makes one feel that to be is to “thrive on being the center of attention.” There is a risk to be superficial rather than be authentic in social media. Narcissism makes us become so self-referential that we think that the world revolves around us or that we are at the centre of the world. There are some inherent dangers in social media when “Users are not properly grounded in the Christian philosophy of personalism” (Tawney, 2014, p.31). Social media are not just for self-projection, but also for promoting values and beliefs. When social media is used for evangelization, God becomes the focus and sharing the good news remains the main objective.
- Digital divide:Digital divide is the gap between those who have access to information and communication network and those who do not have such access. Digital divide is visible among priests. Digital divide occurs between priests who are within areas with strong network and those who live where there is poor or no network.
This divide is not only between priests who have access to information and technology, but also between those who are tech-savvy and those who are not. Ordinarily, younger priests who grew up in digital age are likely to be digitally literate than priests who grew up within an analogue culture. Surprisingly, this is not always the case because there are older priests who are more digitally literate than some younger priest. Besides, there is digital divide between those who are willing to learn more about new media and those who have closed up their minds against any new technology. After Seminary training it appears that outgoing seminarians listen to two discordant voices, one voice saying “Go in peace, learning is ended” and the other saying, “Go in peace, and keep learning.” Eventually, there will be a gap between those who stopped learning and those who keep learning.
- Managing sensitive news: A lot of those who follow priests on social media take whatever priests post as very serious. This is because priests are considered to be credible sources of information and therefore whatever they post is considered to be true and authentic. Since, this is the case, the onus lies on priests to verify news before sharing to the public.
- Knowing what to post:As social media users, there is a general rule that says, ‘Think before you post and not post before you think.’ Friends on social media connect and leave at will and so users could likely ‘unfriend’ or ‘unfollow’ others when the posts are irrelevant or not compatible with their overall vision and values. Scripture calls for the exercise of discipline in every way (1 Corinthians 9:25). This discipline can be applied in social media when users do not inundate others with too many posts and messages. This discipline can be interpreted as an exercise in moderation or as striking a balance between being hyperactive users or dormant, boring users of social media.
- Include communication studies in the Seminary curriculum: Some Seminaries are yet to introduce communication courses in their curriculum. Some essential communication courses for seminarians are: interpersonal communication, public speaking and homiletics, media literacy, pastoral communication, theology of communication, interreligious dialogue, intercultural communication, public relations and communication ethics. In addition, seminarians should have a working knowledge of new media. Some relevant topics to be covered in a social media course are: introduction to new media, understanding the advantages and limits of various social media platforms, creating content, curating content, social media audience analysis, social media ethics and fundamental techniques of multimedia.
- Establish manageable Media Centres:In order to boost media literacy, parishes and secondary schools and seminaries could establish mini media centres where young people could obtain basic knowledge in media literacy. A mini-studio may offer space and facilities for digital literacy, music and video recording as well as editing. The studio can serve as a place where parishes or dioceses record audio and video programmes that could be presented to mass media broadcasting stations; the media centres may take care of the public address systems of the diocese or any parish; a media centre could also serve as a resource centre for the teaching of catechism with multimedia. In addition, a media centre that could record liturgical ceremonies, especially on special occasions; the centre can also serve as a place for basic communication courses that can be offered to school children who are on vacation and adults who have special interest in communication; more still, a media centre could offer computer training to those who indicate interest.
The church has much to gain if she trains people in the use of media and on ways to produce media content on print, electronic and social media. The person who has the tools in his hands determines media content. Bishop Emmanuel Badejo says, “It depends on the man who is behind the camera, nor can the pen decide what to write, it depends on the one who is holding the pen.” A well-trained media literate youth could transform the face of social media.
- Guidelines for the use of social media: Parish, diocesan, provincial guidelines for the use of social media would be helpful to priests and members of the church. These guidelines could serve as vade mecum for both priests and members of the church who use social media. The guidelines could educate users on both the ethics of social media and creative ways to use social media.
- Parish Communication Committees:Parishes can establish communication committees that are capable of managing the church’s communication needs including social media. Churches that have an existing communication committee may include social media management as part of the terms of reference of the committee.
New media technologies offer the church an opportunity to reach out to the world more easily and to the youth, who are the dominant users of social media. The church should continually take advantage of the on-going digital revolution to advance her goals of propagating the good news and salvation of souls (salus animarum). Priests have a responsibility to explore the potentials of social media in realizing the objectives of new evangelization. Using new media strategically involves planning, learning, listening, contributing to public discourse, challenging falsehood and maintaining ethical standards.
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