The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of online social networks in an attack on Facebook and MySpace, says Internet Psychologist, Graham Jones.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, the archbishop claims that social networks like Facebook and MySpace are leading children to consider friendship as a “commodity” and that the networks represent a suicide risk.

However, his thoughts “demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the way social networks like Facebook actually operate. Furthermore, it suggests he doesn’t even know how people are using such sites,” says Mr Jones.

Graham Jones goes on to say that all of the evidence demonstrates that Facebook users are using the social networking site to deepen and extend existing relationships, more than creating new friendships. Furthermore, if anything, such networks would reduce suicide risk, rather than increase it.

Mr Jones adds that the archbishop rightly claims that suicide is associated with lack of friendships. But he then points out that Facebook appears to be about gaining lots of friends. If people are getting lots of friends then that would point to reduced risk of mental trauma associated with suicide – the reverse of what the Archbishop claims.

According to the Archbishop, too much electronic communication “dehumanises” us – but he fails to explain what he means by this or where he gets his evidence to suggest this is the case.

“His whole interview appears to be a collection of random thoughts from someone who has no experience of online social networking and who has also failed to read any of the research on it – or ask someone who actually knows. It is ill-informed in the extreme.” said Mr Jones.

The interview in today’s Sunday Telegraph follows the suicide of a teenager after being bullied on a social networking site. “Of course that is dreadful – but it is the bullying that was at the heart of her problem, not the social networking site. Cyberbullying is a real issue – but so it is “real world” bullying. There is no evidence that cyberbullying is more prevalent than real world bullying,” said Mr Jones

“Hence rather than focus his criticisms on the likes of Facebook and MySpace, which the Archbishop clearly does not understand, he would have done more good for children by raising the issue of the way society handles bullies,” he added.

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