10:15 GMT17 January 2021
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    Pope Francis has warning the youth of the world to beware the "false image of reality" portrayed in social media and on reality television shows - a potentially ironic one, given the extensive exploitation of social media by the Pontiff and Vatican for public relations purposes.

    In a transcript of a speech, the Pope stressed the need for young people to "reflect on [their] lives" and "direct them towards the future," comparing social media to televisual reality shows, "which are not real stories, but only moments passed before a television camera by characters living from day to day, without a greater plan."

    ​"To have a past is not the same as to have a history. We can have plenty of memories, but how many of them are really part of our memory? How many are significant for our hearts and help to give meaning to our lives?  In social media, we see young people appearing in any number of pictures, but we don't know how much of all this is really 'history,' an experience with purpose and meaning. Don't let yourselves be led astray by this false image of reality!" the statement said.

    ​Instead of recording one's doings on social media, the Pope suggested teenagers focus on "life" and to reflect on "good times and challenges" they experience and encounter in a "spiritual journal."

    Furthermore, the Pontiff cautioned Catholics to not let the Internet dilute the Church's message, saying the "hand of God" would guide them through "stormy" seas, and help overcome moments of difficulty.

    "The genuine experience of the Church is not like a flash mob, where people agree to meet, do their thing, and then go their separate ways," Francis wrote.

    Pope Francis, head of the world's largest Christian denomination, with around 1.3 billion followers globally, may well have been speaking with reference to recent studies about the impact of social media on the health of young users — some findings suggest overuse can lead to depression, delusion, bad eating habits, poor fitness, altered sleep patterns and more.

    It is not the first time Pope Francis has urged teens to behave better — he warned against young people becoming "couch potatoes" at World Youth Day 2016. However, some may question whether Pope Francis is positioned to warn against the false images presented by social media, given the Vatican's liberal use of such platforms to disseminate a highly positive image of the Church.

    ​He has staked a reputation as a strongly social media friendly Pontiff, with official Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube accounts, and 10.5 million Twitter followers. When he visited the US in 2015, Snapchat launched a temporary "Pope Mobile" filter, and he frequently poses for "selfies" with fans.


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