In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph in August 2009, the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols voiced his concerns that social networking websites such as Facebook and Bebo encourage teenagers to build “transient relationships” that can leave them traumatised and even suicidal if they collapse. Nichols said that the sites encouraged young people to put too much emphasis on the number of friends they had rather than on the quality of their relationships. His comments follow an inquest into the death of 15-year-old Megan Gillan, from Macclesfield, England, who took a fatal overdose after being bullied on the social networking site Bebo. Nichols claimed that the Internet and mobile phones were “dehumanising” community life, and relationships had been weakened by the decline in face-to-face meetings.
“I think there's a worry that an excessive use or an almost exclusive use of text and emails means that as a society we're losing some of the ability to build interpersonal communication that's necessary for living together and building a community.”
Does the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales have a point or is his view of social networking sites outdated? A social network focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. The websites normally provide a variety of ways for users to interact, such as email and instant messaging. As a subscriber and regular user of several social networking websites, I have found that using them actually helps me keep in touch with friends both from the past and to keep in touch with new people I meet either through work or socially. At a recent party, my group of friends laughed as we realised we did not have to spend time catching up on what had happened to us since we had last met as we can easily keep tabs on each others lives through out Facebook accounts. Reaching out to a friend now can be done instantly and a short message can brighten up a day and remind someone that you are thinking of them. Naturally this system is open to abuse, especially in the perilous social world of a teenager. Bullying started in the real, not virtual world and just as we have to teach out children the social skills and self confidence to face the taunts that they might face in every day human interactions, we need to do the same with online activity.
At the moment social networking sites that cater to a majority of Catholic users are small in number, but growing daily in their users and the resources that each site offers. There are five clear leaders in this area:
This website MyCatholicVillage is quite small in terms of the amount of registered users it has but it is relatively new and the number grows quite rapidly. The majority of registered users are based in the US but this is slowly expanding. One of the benefits about the site is that it follows the outline of social networking sites such as MySpace which mean that it is very user friendly and efficient.