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How Should Religious Groups Use Social Media?

By Scott Sams & Cari Hensley, CBS 11 News
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(credit: AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

(credit: AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Many religious groups are using social media to help spread their beliefs in cyberspace, but Pope Benedict XVI recently warned Catholics that a new iPhone app used for confession should not act as a substitute for a real priest. So, just how far should religious groups go with social media?

CBS 11 News spoke about the issue with two tech-savvy religious leaders from North Texas.

John Dyer is the director of web development at the Dallas Theological Seminary. He writes a blog called “Don’t Eat the Fruit” that discusses mixing religion with new forms of technology. “Every technology brings a pro and a con with it,” Dyer said. “So, there is always something good that it will give us, but there will be a tradeoff at the same time.”

Dyer continued, “Where you want to be is to be interacting with people, to be seeing what they are saying and commenting with them, and to have more of a dialogue style. And that’s a lot harder to do, because it requires someone to be online a lot.”

Zvi Drizin is the director at The Intown Chabad, but he has also been referred to as the YouTube Rabbi. “It makes myself, as a religious figure, so much more accessible to other people,” Drizin said. “Because they know, hey, if 100 people are friends in common with this person, hey, he can’t be that bad.”

But both Dyer and Drizin said that technology is only as strong as the people who run it. “Make sure there is a person behind the technology that people know,” Drizin explained. “When they become a friend of some organization, it’s not just an organization, but a person who they can turn to for their own personal needs. That is very important.”

“That’s where the younger audience is,” Dyer added. “You kind of have to go where they are. It would be a mistake not to go where they are. But I still think the primary purpose of things is to draw them in to meeting face-to-face.”

Dyer said that religious organization should hold group discussions to get feedback from their members about how social media is being used, and what the organization could do to improve in their online efforts.

Drizin noted that the key benefit to technology is the open door for everyone to enter. “You can sit today on your laptop, God knows where, and access the greatest secrets of Judaism and religion that ever existed. I think, at the end of the day, it’s all about access. Giving people access to information and education empowers people.”

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