Justice & Peace Matters: Humanising the Digital Revolution for the sake of the common good

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Home > Media > News > Justice & Peace Matters: Humanising the Digital Revolution for the sake of the common good
Justice & Peace Matters: Humanising the Digital Revolution for the sake of the common good

By Ben Smith, Director of the Office of Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Hobart

Do tech giants like Facebook and Google help or hinder the development of a just and fair society? Is it possible to humanise the digital world that is becoming the primary means of communication for most people under the age of 30? These questions and many more are pondered in the 2019-20 Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Social Justice Statement entitled: Making it Real – Genuine Human Encounter in our Digital World.

Every revolution has its winners and losers and the digital transformation occurring in our age is no exception.

Government has an important role in establishing sound laws and regulations to ensure that the benefits of digital technology are maximised and the impact on the vulnerable is minimised. Unfortunately they are playing catch up but some action is happening. This year alone, Facebook was fined USD $5 billion for misusing the personal data of 87 million users and Google is being taken to court in Australia for an alleged breach of consumer law in relation to the unauthorised collection of personal location data.

One of the key challenges for the development of new laws is the nature of the business models of tech giants. The Statement highlights that “the core business of social media platforms is to sell advertising and maximise profits. With massive amounts of our [personal] data in the hands of advertisers or political campaigners… we can be directly targeted and influenced in ways previously unthinkable.”

This vast knowledge of our likes and dislikes can influence what images and ads we receive online to convince us to buy particular products but the data can also be used to influence and potentially manipulate public opinion and the political process. This is a very concerning development.

On a positive note, digital technology can enable people to communicate over large distances, however the tone of communication on digital platforms can degenerate at times. The Statement encourages people of good will to foster a culture of encounter in the digital world that respects the human dignity of those we communicate with.

A culture of encounter can be enabled by ensuring that we maintain a balance between the real and virtual world in our lives by fostering periods of abstinence from social media to experience a ‘digital detox’.

Ultimately the Statement calls us to be active citizens to humanise the digital landscape for the sake of the common good to sow the seeds for the Gospel.