The spiritual leader of the four million Roman Catholics in England and Wales has damned social networking sites, accusing them of undermining community life and leading teenagers to suicide.
Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, apparently condemned the social websites MySpace and Facebook for leading young people to seek "transient" friendships, with quantity more important than quality. He said a key factor in suicide among young people was the trauma caused when such electronic relationships collapse. "Friendship is not a commodity," said the prelate. "Friendship is something that is hard work and enduring when it's right".
Archbishop Nichols said that social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace encouraged a form of communication that was not "rounded", and would not therefore build communities. “Facebook and MySpace might contribute towards communities, but I'm wary about it," he said.
The Catholic religious leader said young people were being encouraged to build up collections of friends as commodities, that these friendships could easily collapse, and teenagers were therefore left desolate.
Arguing that society was losing some of its ability to build communities through inter-personal communication because of the result of excessive use of texting and e-mails rather than face-to-face or telephone conversations, the prelate said too much emphasis was placed on the number of "friends" a person has rather than the quality of those friendships. The archbishop added, “Among young people often a key factor in their committing suicide is the trauma of transient relationships. They throw themselves into a friendship or network of friendships, then it collapses and they're desolate.
"It's an all-or-nothing syndrome that you have to have in an attempt to shore up an identity; a collection of friends about whom you can talk and even boast," said the archbishop, as quoted by London's Daily Telegraph.
His concerns over the "dehumanizing" of community life came after the death of 15-year-old Megan Gillan, who took a fatal overdose of painkillers after being subjected to taunts on Bebo, another networking site. A survey conducted by the Pew Charitable Trust in 2008 found that 33 percent of teenagers polled had been subjected to similar cyberbullying.
The archbishop appears to use Facebook himself, as can be noted on a Facebook entry bearing his name and likeness. Other Catholic bishops and clerics make use of social networking sites as part of their efforts to reach their flocks through the various media, including YouTube in the case of Pope Benedict XVI. Archbishop Nichols has been in office since May 2009.