Monday, September 7, 2009


A conversation in the comments of another blog brought up some remarks that the Archbishop of Westminster made about social networking sites (Facebook and so forth), as reported in the Telegraph. Reading it is hilarious.

I should perhaps say that I wrote my doctorate about newspapers, so when I'm reading a newspaper report my foremost thought is not "What happened?" (or "What was said?"), but "What does the journalist think happened?" (or "Did he even understand what was said?").

It's unavoidable that some simplification should be found in a newspaper report (that is pretty much what journalists exist to do: pot things), but even so it's remarkable here how the Archbishop's own words are an awful lot more nuanced than those that the journalist "fills in" without using quotation marks. It begins with the headline.

Headline: "Facebook and MySpace can lead children to commit suicide"
Actual quotation near bottom of article: "Among young people often a key factor in them committing suicide is the trauma of transient relationships."

Journalist: "The archbishop blamed social network sites for leaving children with impoverished friendships."
Actual words of Archbishop: "Facebook and MySpace might contribute towards communities, but I'm wary about it. It's not rounded communication so it won't build a rounded community," he said. "If we mean by community a genuine growing together and a mutual sharing in an interest that is of some significance then it needs more than Facebook."

It is worth reminding young people (and not-so-young people, and - need I add? - ourselves) that a Facebook "friend" and an online "community" are not at all the same thing as a friend or a community. That handy tools for keeping in touch with people at a distance shouldn't distract us from getting in touch with people in the same street as us, or the same house. Strange that it's a point that a Telegraph journalist can't grasp without sensationalising.

1 comment:

Benedictus Arbaster said...

You're right about this being hilarious as well as disappointing.