In the 40 days and nights before Easter, it’s traditional for Catholics to forfeit something they enjoy like chocolate, crisps or meat. This time around, Reuters reports, Pope Francis has another suggestion: social media rudeness.
“We live in an atmosphere polluted by too much verbal violence, too many offensive and harmful words, which are amplified by the internet,” he told the thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Ash Wednesday audience.
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“Today, people insult each other as if they were saying ‘Good Day,’” he continued, adding that Lent “is a time to give up useless words, gossip, rumors, tittle-tattle and speak to God on a first name basis.”
It’s hard to argue with the sentiment that people are increasingly rude to complete strangers on social media in a way that they likely wouldn’t be in real life.
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After all, the Pope’s intervention comes in a week when the Yorkshire Tea Twitter account highlighted the unpleasantness its been dealing with after Chancellor Rishi Sunak posed with a bag of the company’s product.
“But for anyone about to vent their rage online, even to a company – please remember there’s a human on the other end of it, and try to be kind,” the company concluded.
Given that insults, threats and general unpleasantness have become part of the grammar of internet discourse in the last decade, it’s unlikely that the Pope’s intervention will make a great deal of difference. As Jon Ronson documented in his excellent book on internet pile-ons, people are very reluctant to believe that their internet righteousness may have disproportionate negative real-world consequences for others.
Ultimately, online trolling may be harder to ditch for 40 days than the addictiveness of sugar or crisps – depressing as that is.