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Pope Francis’ call to end trolling on social media leads to more trolling

On the first day of Lent, a 40-day period of observance for many Catholics leading up to Easter, Pope Francis asked his constituents to give up cell phones, TVs, and “empty words” in trade for more time to “connect to the Gospel.”

Essentially, the religious leader, in his annual speech, told us all to do literally anything besides be perpetually online. 

“It is the time to give up useless words, chatter, rumors, gossip, and talk and to speak directly to the Lord,” the pope said Wednesday. “Today, people insult each other as if they were saying, ‘Good day.’”

Instead, he called on his followers to choose silence instead of contributing to a society already “polluted by too much verbal violence.”

The pope’s call to end trolling led to, well, trolling. 

ok boomer

— Stephen Herreid (@StephenHerreid) February 26, 2020

One might argue that this request from the Pope is, itself, trolling.

— Mike Masnick (@mmasnick) February 26, 2020

Users on Twitter speculated whether the pope’s words were in themselves a troll, and others went for the reliable generational insult: “OK, boomer.”

In 2013, when Pope Francis was announced to be the next leader of the Catholic Church, a plethora of headlines were written about his appeal to millennials. He seemed to be a character younger generations could connect with: He rode the bus to work, he called victims of violence on the phone, and was considered to be a vocal advocate for social justice. He even met Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom in Rome in 2016, solidifying his embrace of social media. 

Savvapanf Photo / Shutterstock

But in recent years, the pope’s image has been used in memes mocking his policy, position, and facial expressions on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram — which may be why his mood toward the platforms has since cooled. 

And Wednesday’s message is not the first the pope has made on the topic. In 2018, he released a papal document addressing “the toxicity of social media.” In the document, reported by Vox, he wrote people have the tendency to get “caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet” resulting in “unacceptable” discourse where “people look to compensate for their own discontent by lashing out at others.”

However, the pope may be outnumbered when it comes to pressing the brakes on Twitter takedowns and incessant sharing of disinformation on Facebook. 

Currently, there are more than 2.3 billion users on Facebook alone — more than followers of Christianity, the largest religion. So, when comparing sheer numbers, don’t expect there to be much silence on social media during the next six weeks.

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Meira Gebel
Meira Gebel is a freelance reporter based in Portland. She writes about tech, social media, and internet culture for Digital…
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