Avoid Web Clickbait, Pope Francis Declares — For The Good Of Humanity

Pope Francis may have nine Twitter accounts, but even he knows that dangers of spending too much falling down Internet clickholes. While meeting with German altar servers at the Vatican this week, Pope Francis encouraged teenagers to get off the Internet, including smartphones, because it's a futile time-suck that distracts us from, well, everything. It's not just the Internet Francis warned against, but also television, particularly soap operas, which means the pontiff is probably not too interested in those popular Argentine telenovelas.

Addressing a crowd of more than 50,000 teenage altar servers, who made the pilgrimage to the Vatican from Germany, Francis said:

Maybe many young people waste too many hours on futile things. Our life is made up of time, and time is a gift from God, so it is important that it be used in good and fruitful actions. ... [Young people should avoid] chatting on the Internet or with smartphones, watching TV soap operas and [using] the products of technological progress, which should simplify and improve the quality of life, but distract attention away from what is really important.

The theme of this year's pilgrimage was "freedom," and for many young people, that's what the Internet affords them: self-expression, a wider audience and a chance to connect with like-minded individuals on opposite ends of the Earth. But for Francis, there may be a danger with having free range of these technological advancements, though it depends on both how you use them and your intent. Francis added:

[If freedom is misused] it can lead us away from God, can make us lose the dignity with which He has clothed us. ... Dear boys and girls, do not misuse your freedom! Do not lose the great dignity of children of God that has been given to you!
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images News/Getty Images

It's an unexpected message from Francis, who has cemented himself as The Internet Pope. Although Francis took over the @Pontifex Twitter account from his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, let's be honest — Francis is way better at it. Currently, his English-language account has 4.3 million followers, and he also runs accounts in Italian, Spanish, French, Arabic and Polish, among other languages. Tweet-wise, Francis injects a burst of moral optimism into everyone's Twitter feeds:

While delivering a message for the 2014 World Communications Day, Francis reaffirmed his faith in the Internet, calling it "a gift from God." The media and good communication can help us "grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity," the holy father said. However, he also warned then of the potential damaging ramifications of Internet-and-smartphone culture:

The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression. The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests.

The latter point is particularly interesting, given that the Internet has fostered a strong Catholic community from messaging forums to Tumblr (yes, there is such a thing as "Catholic Tumblr"). But does staying in your lively yet insular Internet space to simply reaffirm, rather than discuss, your beliefs do you, or the greater community, any good?

For Francis, it seems the answer is no, but he doesn't reject social media altogether. "It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply 'connected;' connections need to grow into true encounters," Francis said. "We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves."

And we also can't live with our noses grazing our iPhone screens. So, the next time your about to send out a tweet, ask yourself: What Would Francis Do?

Images: Getty Images (2)