7 ways to rise above the Hunger Games that is social media

The scenes at the Cornucopia in The Hunger Games, both in the books and films, are some of most intensely violent parts of the story, hard to read or watch.

Written by Suzanne Collins and later produced into a four-part film series, the games set young contestants against each other to fight to the death. At the beginning of each of the games, they all race to the center of the arena toward the Cornucopia to compete for weapons and other valuable supplies — hacking each other down while the rest of the country watches from screens.

The Capitol, the utopian city where the wealthiest citizens live, watches these violent games as entertainment, making sport of human life and suffering.

This is just one scene of the dystopian story that’s in the milieu of some distant future in a fiction novel, but it’s revealing about the way our culture already is today.
Let’s look at the world of our media.

Earlier this year on Easter, Steve Stephens drove around downtown Cleveland, streaming himself on Facebook Live, on what he said was a mission to commit murder. It wasn’t long before he found Robert Godwin Sr., a 74-year-old man, and shot him to death. Millions witnessed the shooting over social media.

That’s just one example, albeit extreme, of the world we live in. Our entertainment has become one that feeds off of the pain and even death of others. Not unlike “The Hunger Games.”

None of us are immune — we breed and feed off of negativity on social media, and just about all of us are guilty of it.

Look at the way we’re sharing stories to our social media feeds (sometimes from totally unreliable sources) that have bogus headlines and get everyone riled up in comments.

We forget we’re speaking to human persons who deserve love and respect when we comment in a social media share, or even when we’re sending feedback to an organization.

Look at the way we’re harboring division in our hearts as a result of the political divide, believing “the other side” to be the one that’s the bad guy. And maybe we treat people kindly in person but forget that kindness online when dealing with people we can’t see — especially if we disagree with them.

These seemingly small encounters with people in comments or stumbling across news that belittles a fellow human feed us, and they fester. We slowly start to believe the speculations about the world we’re constantly fed, and we form opinions on things we actually know very little proven facts about — especially when it comes to the people around us.

Whether we want to admit it or not, this negativity influences us and can deform us. And in his message for the 36th World Communications Day in 2002, St. John Paul II agreed.

“The Internet offers extensive knowledge, but it does not teach values; and when values are disregarded, our very humanity is demeaned and man easily loses sight of his transcendent dignity,” he wrote. “Despite its enormous potential for good, some of the degrading and damaging ways in which the Internet can be used are already obvious to all, and [it should serve] the common good and not become a source of harm.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We have a choice.

Social media gives people a platform to speak, and most people talk about the way the world is going wrong in one way or another; but we need to stop thinking that the problem is “out there.” There will always be problems. The only real change happens when we take a hard look at ourselves and do something about what we find there.

Stephen Covey, author of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” writes about the “Circle of Influence” — the things that we have the power to affect. This is smaller than the “Circle of Concern,” which encompasses everything we care about.

“The place to begin building any relationship is inside ourselves, inside our circle of influence, our own character,” Covey says. “In our personal lives, if we do not develop our own self-awareness and become responsible…we empower other people and circumstances outside our Circle of Influence to shape much of our lives by default.”

This includes media.

So in a noisy world where media and social networks are unlikely to change, this is an opportunity for a gut check: Will we consciously choose to think about what we’re feeding ourselves emotionally, spiritually and mentally with media? Will we try to think critically about what we read, and form our opinions and responses based in truth and charity? Will we lay down our arms and stop picking sides?

Here’s how to rise above the Hunger Games that is social media and be a force of positivity instead:

Ask: What am I trying to accomplish? Will sharing this article or posting that comment benefit anyone, or will it stir division? Is it to seek validation? If it’s for a purpose that’s centered toward our self, it’s probably better to refrain.

Ask: Are there people I struggle with? (Especially online.) What are the thoughts I have about this person? What does that say about my own heart? How can I pray for this person (or group of people) instead of harboring negativity, or even foster a relationship if possible?

Ask: What do I want? Often when we are speaking on social media, we are acting out of a deep desire for change, which is good. But we won’t change things on a media platform – that’s not where it happens. Change happens when we work on our own hearts and then work with people around us, face-to-face. Ask what your desire is and then work toward it person-to-person, or in yourself.

Ask: Would I say this in front of someone? Is what you’re about to say online something that you would say to someone’s face? If not, don’t say it.

Remember: Do some research. You’ve heard it before, but don’t believe everything you read online. If it’s from an outlet that’s not official, if it doesn’t cite claims or name sources, if it’s from a blog — take it with a grain of salt. Remember the bias of major outlets, too; they all do it, so do some critical thinking with everything you hear. Research even ideas that oppose yours – differing views shouldn’t offend you or be seen as a threat to your ideology. Instead, it’s an opportunity to enhance your ability to listen and dialogue.

Remember: Take a break. If media is causing you to live in fear, anger or bitterness, take a step away from it for a while – even if it’s just a day. Taking a break from social media especially on a Sunday is a great way to rest on the Sabbath. Social media is useful, but not at the cost of your inner peace.

Remember: When you come across tragedy, pray. Remember that first and foremost, what you’re hearing about involves people.

Media is a wonderful tool, so of course, it’s not all bad. But in a constant stream of noise, we have to be especially intentional about what we read, hear and see — because what goes into our hearts and minds does influence us, for better or worse. When we remember to set boundaries and consciously choose how to respond, we are no longer at its mercy.

St. John Paul II said, “From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For it is only when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization. And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man. Therefore, on this World Communications Day, I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net.”

COMING UP: Cyber bullying: Protect your kids

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Cyber bullying: Protect your kids

Catholic schools take proactive measures against cyberbullying

Bullying can take many forms, but in this cyber era, the most prevalent kind of bullying often goes unseen, yet the consequences are anything but.

Cyber bullying is a very real and serious issue kids face every day. In 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that 4-in-10 internet users have been victims of online harassment, and 73 percent of internet users said they had witnessed online harassment in some way.

Of course, the majority of cyber bullying happens on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the use of which has become standard fare for the primary targets of cyber bullying. Add to this the countless stories of cyber bullying victims who have attempted or committed suicide, and suddenly the problem seems much bigger.

“I am afraid that [cyber bullying] is probably the most pervasive form of bullying children deal with today,” said Mary Cohen, Assistant Superintendent of Denver Catholic schools. “It impacts our schools in that it breaks down the Christ-centered community we are attempting to build with our students and their families. Social media allows bullies a much greater audience and the impact of this type of bullying is far reaching. I cannot imagine the pain a child must feel when they have become the target of a social media campaign that belittles them on such a large scale.”

I am afraid that [cyber bullying] is probably the most pervasive form of bullying children deal with today. It impacts our schools in that it breaks down the Christ-centered community we are attempting to build with our students and their families.”

– Mary Cohen, Assistant Superintendent of Denver Catholic Schools

Archdiocesan schools are taking proactive measures in the fight against cyber bullying. Last year, several schools piloted an internet monitoring program called Safe Students Online (SSO) that enables parents to play more active roles in their children’s social media use. Tim Polizzi is the Vice President of SSO, and he said the goal of the program is ultimately to keep kids safe online and promote an open dialogue between kids and parents.

“The challenge right now is kids are [technologically] savvy and parents are at somewhat of a disadvantage and may be intimidated,” Polizzi said. “There’s stuff going on that they would like to know, but they’re not sure how. Our approach is really about giving parents better awareness so that they can be parents.”

Polizzi started Safe Students Online out of a desire to provide a different sort of solution for internet monitoring. He said he noticed that many of the current solutions are either very heavy-handed and monitor every little thing, or they invade the child’s privacy by having full access to their accounts, passwords and all. SSO does neither of these. Parents configure the program via the web and work with their children to install it.

“The challenge right now is kids are [technologically] savvy and parents are at somewhat of a disadvantage and may be intimidated[…]It’s more than just a hobby for kids; it’s how they live their life. [Parents] need to be involved.”

– Tim Polizzi, Vice President of Safe Students Online

“It’s definitely not something you do behind your kid’s back or some way spy on them,” Polizzi said. “Part of the reason we think the kid can buy into it is because unlike a lot of other programs out there, it’s not showing the parent 100 percent of what happens online.”

SSO currently is able to monitor the most popular social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+. Parents send an authorization request to their child’s social media account, and the child gives the app permission to monitor it. Parents never receive their child’s passwords. Instead, using a filtering system, SSO monitors keywords, language and topics, and alerts parents via email if it detects problematic or questionable behavior.

Polizzi said that privacy is an important component of the program and clarified that even though the program is paid for and distributed by the school, school administrators never actually receive any alerts.

“The school does not come between the parent and the child, and that’s a very important distinction. [This] is the parent’s responsibility,” he said. “Schools want to get on board now and be proactive. As with a lot of things, parents look to the school for guidance, and if you can provide a tool that makes this difficult part of parenting a little easier, I think it’s worth it.”

“I think it is important for…Catholic educators to partner with our students’ families to help kids realize that with the privilege of technology use also comes great responsibility.”

– Detty Hensen, Principal of Christ the King Catholic School

Christ the King School in Denver is one of the schools that participated in the pilot program for SSO last year. Detty Hensen, principal of Christ the King, saw employing the services of SSO as a smart proactive move. Hansen offered the program to the parents of the school’s 5th through 8th graders, and saw a participation of around 45 percent. She said she wants to move forward and implement it more fully for the next school year.

“With all the negative influences our children are exposed to regarding the use of internet technology and social media, I jumped at the chance to pilot this program,” Hensen said. “I think it is important for…Catholic educators to partner with our students’ families to help kids realize that with the privilege of technology use also comes great responsibility.”

Polizzi is hopeful that more schools and parents will jump on board with SSO to address this pressing issue. By having a social media account of any kind, kids put themselves at risk for cyber bullying without even realizing it, and Polizzi said it is essential for parents to be curious about what their child is doing.

“I’m trying to make this technology thing not so intimidating that parents can’t be parents and kids can’t be kids,” he said. “It’s more than just a hobby for kids; it’s how they live their life. You need to be involved.”

To learn more about Safe Students Online and internet safety and responsibilty, visit safestudentsonline.org.


Tips for safe social media use
  • Keep the conversation open.
  • Stay up to date with current social media platforms and learn how to use them properly.
  • Be mindful of the images you post and the things you say.
  • Use privacy settings to control which people see your social media accounts.
  • Don’t share personal information, such as home addresses or phone numbers.