Confession: until about two weeks ago, the only meaning “catfish” held for me was an option on a Cracker Barrel Country Sampler (before I was a blogging youth minister, I was a two-star waitress at Ye old Fashioned Country Store). It wasn’t until it was tossed around as a verb on twitter, ESPN and the morning show reporting on Manti Te’o that I realized perhaps it had evolved beyond a farm-raised fish served fried with tartar sauce.
Who? What? Why?
So I did what any adult does when they have no idea what you kids these days are talking about. I googled. I learned that “a catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.” The term was coined in the 2010 documentary “Catfish” and is also the title of a new MTV reality series.
Curious, I tuned in for a few episodes and saw a guy discover that the facebook friend he thought was a former Miss Teen USA was actually not a pageant queen and a guy who posted a fake photo on a dating site where he met a person he thought was a guy dressed as a girl turn out to actually be a girl. (Don’t re-read that. It was just as confusing to watch.)
The internet’s social media outlets now hold “over-shares” – “I’m eating a sandwich! I like the color green! Here’s pictures from my vacation! Here’s my social security number!” – as well as complex profiles of people who apparently don’t even exist. In a landscape that can seem uncertain, unclear and just plain bizarre guess who has given us advice on how to be good Catholics?
Pope Benedict XVI, of course.
Facebook According to the Pope
Lest you think he’s preoccupied with figuring out what the Papal Household is giving up for Lent, the Holy Father recently addressed Social Networks, decribing them as an entirely new forum “in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being.”
With this new way of building community comes many advantages, according to Pope Benedict XVI. Ideas can be shared, questions can be answered and the Gospel can be proclaimed. However, he also reminds us that in using these tools we must “make an effort to be authentic since, in these spaces, it is not only ideas and information that are shared, but ultimately our very selves.”
Authenticity doesn’t mean sharing every detail of our lives on-line.
Scripture advises us, “let your acquaintances be many, but one in a thousand your confidant” (Sirach 6:6). This could be re-written for social media as, “go ahead and share that funny meme about the cat with your many acquaintances, but when you’re having a fight with your mom confide in your friend on the phone– not the whole world with a status update.”
When we post, we should always ask what our motivation is. Is it encouraging? Does it share the best about me and others? Would I stand up in front of my entire school and announce what I’m about to write on the world wide web?
Authenticity also compels us to remember that behind every avatar and profile is a person– a fellow brother or sister in Christ– who deserves our charity and respect. Pope Benedict XVI challenges us to face this new forum of communication fearlessly– to see it not as an opportunity deceive others or hide behind a mysterious profile, but to share the source of our “hope and joy” which is “faith in the merciful and loving God revealed in Jesus Christ.”
While “catfish” stories are extreme, we can all be tempted to pretend to be someone we’re not, or to type things we would never say because of the anonymity of the internet. Instead, let’s accept the Holy Father’s challenge to see these tools as “new spaces for evangelization.”
Our actions can bring Christ to our homes, schools and communities. Our statuses, likes, tweets and shares can make Christ present on-line. Christ has no keyboard but yours.