A leader of the Roman Catholic Church has weighed in with his opinions on social networking, and none of them are good. Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols claimed that some of the most popular sites around are leaving teenagers traumatised due to the transitory nature of the relationships formed on them. He also suggested that when these relationships collapse, these teenagers could even be left feeling suicidal.
It may seem a little dramatic, after how many people these days don’t have a Facebook, MySpace or Bebo account?, but as much as I hate to admit it I do think he has something of a point. The relationships we form online are very different to those in the real world, and as an adult it’s easy (or easier) to see the distinction. But when you’re young and your friends are a massive part of your identity, finding that the network of friend you’ve cultivated doesn’t really care about you, or is quick to turn on you, is potentially crushing.
The problem is: what are we really meant to do about it? I mean, I work online, I socialise online, I spend leisure time online and I don’t want to cut down my time spent there or avoid social networking and surely few people younger than me are going to be keen on giving up their surfing rights. As real life communities continue stutter and struggle into the 21st century it’s little surprise that online communities continue to draw crowds. I suppose the only thing we can do to protect people’s feelings is to remind them that people are people, even when they are represented only by an avatar and that harsh words online can hurt people as deeply as those spoken out loud.