121418CHICO&ZERBO_Incivility in Filipino Catholic religious

Incivility in Filipino Catholic religious discussions on Facebook

Edward Dunhill Pas?mba Chico

Sr. Victorine Zerbo, RHF



CCC – Catechism of the Catholic Church

LG – Lumen Gentium

GS – Gaudium Et Spes

EN- Evangelii Nuntiandi

CP – Communio et Progressio


The language of the media is one of the most prominent areas of linguistic studies. The media are seen as important institutions, not because it is easier to access and collect data, but also, they contain the language of everyday.

Hence, the media mirror and shape the language use and behaviour of people. Bell (2008) affirms that ‘the ways in which the media use language are interesting linguistically in their own right; these include how different dialects and languages are used.

It is the mission of the Church to communicate the Gospel and transform all areas of human life with it (EN 18). This is the same noble mission that Christ entrusted his Apostles (Mt 28:19). Christians are called to evangelization through their words and through their lives in virtue of their baptism (CCC 905; LG35).

To St. John Paul II, it is a “supreme duty” (Rederemptoris Missio, 3). In her two thousand (2,000) years of history, the Church has employed various means to fulfil this sacred task.

The use of modern technologies, such as the Internet, has always been favoured by the Church in her mission of evangelization. This was affirmed by the Second Vatican Council fathers when they wrote that technology was changing the world (GS 5). Through Inter Mirifica (5), the Council also asserted the right of the Church to use these new media for they are useful in the instruction of the faith and the salvation of souls.

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St. John Paul II (1990), in a speech during the World Communications Day, acknowledged how computers can provide the Church better opportunities to enlighten the world more about her beliefs and stances on issues and events.


“E-vangelism” is a word describing the use of the Internet for evangelization. Individiuals committed to such effort are called “cyber missionaries” (Eilers, 2014, p.264). Through these tools of communication, cyber-missionaries announce the Word of God thus bringing Jesus to the cyber-space and beyond.

Social media are the different mediums and technologies on the Internet that permit online or digital communication (Badmos, 2014), Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Google + are examples of the commonly used websites (SMW) or social networking sites (SNS). Through times, religious groups and organizations have been actively establishing online missions. The implication and presence of dioceses, parishes, and religious congregations on social media are remarkable. Their usage of the Internet is not limited to pastoral works only, but also it is extended to vocation promotion (see Church and the Internet 5). With regard to this, it is obvious that social media contributes to the mission of the church in reaching peoples. Eilers (2014, p.194) believes that online evangelization would be more fruitful if online freedom was given to users to express what they need, think, and feel in terms of their pastoral concerns.

The wish of Eilers was not utopic. In fact, in Facebook, there exist comments sections where users can express themselves, engage into conversations and debates. For instance, users can react to a post, share their opinion about a particular topic.

Direct or instantaneous responses to comments can be the starting point of a conversation threads” and “the introduction or opening of dialogues with the members of the community (Lavrusik, 2013). Furthermore, reactors can send either a positive or negative feedback such as the like, heart, sad, wow, and angry emoticons to commenters. For example, when someone uses likes or hearts, it means his or her approval. The angry button signifies outrage or disappointment.

Incivility in online religious discourse and in SNS

The Church supports Internet communication because of its practicality and usefulness. However, she is aware of the negative consequences the Internet could have. In Church and the Internet, no.7 (2002), the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, underlined violence and hatreds towards religious, ethnic, and political groups. In this light the Internet is a mere reflection of human shortcomings. Also, in the document ‘Ethics in the Internet’ (11), it is stated by the council that “imposing of world view, values, and language of one culture upon another” as “cultural imperialism.”

Incivility is the portrayal of “an unnecessarily disrespectful tone towards a discussion forum and its participants or topics” (Coe et al., 2014). Lately, Incivility has gained momentum in social media (Rainie, Lenhart, and Smith, 2012). A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, discovered that “73% of online adults have witnessed the harassment of somebody in SNS, and 40% have personally undergone this experience. 49% of SNS-using adults have seen other users behaving cruelly, 60% witnessed someone being called offensive names, and 53% had seen efforts to purposefully embarrass someone. 92% of Internet users agreed that SNS-mediated interaction allows people to be more rude and aggressive, compared with their offline experiences (Duggan, 2014).”

The research design of this study will be guided by the study of Coe et al. (2014). Based on their findings, incivility is not something habitual. It is more likely conditioned by contextual factors (e.g., the source and topic of the article). Using the coding scheme for the operationalization of incivility, the researchers will determine the patterns of incivility found in Facebook religious discourse.

Table 1. Code for operationalization of Incivility (Coe et al., 2014)

Category Definition

Name-calling Attack on a person or a group of people

Aspersion Attack on an idea 

Vulgarity Use of vulgar terms

Lying Implying that a policy or idea is disingenuous

Pejorative for Speech Disparaging the manner in which someone communicates

Ethics in Internet expressed concern for the alarming spread of hate speech hurled towards peoples and cultures. In line with this, the researchers will investigate the frequency and pervasiveness of incivility in religious discussions on Facebook. Anonymity is a contributing factor to online incivility (Rowe, 2013). Because their identities are concealed, netizens tend to be less inhibited with their words and expressions online. Facebook users are more accountable for their online statements since the disclosure of one’s true identity is required in creating an account. The increase or decrease of levels of incivility in an environment unprotected by the cloak of anonymity is an interesting inquiry. The researchers moreover believe that the findings of this study would be beneficial to Church authorities and cyber missionaries in creating safer, healthier, and more dynamic e-vangelization spaces. The study would thus answer the following research questions:

Which are the most frequent and pervasive forms of incivility in Facebook religious discourse?

Which topics or posts are more likely to have uncivil discussions?


The researchers gathered data from the Facebook pages “Defend the Catholic” (DCF) and “The REAL Pinoy Catholic” (TCP). As this research is written, the pages have 114,198 and 5,167 likes respectively. DCF is an online Catholic apologetics ministry that seeks to defend the Church from those who oppose her and to enlighten both Catholic and non-Catholics on important Church teachings. With a wide variety of content in English and Tag?log, DCF was a nominee for Best Catholic Organization Facebook Page during 2017 Catholic Social Media Awards (CSMA). CSMA is an event spearheaded by YouthPinoy to recognize exemplarily performing social media ministries. DCF also utilizes Facebook’s filter function to remove uncivil comments. It is interesting to discover if incivility still persists despite this mechanism. TCP, on the other hand, is the official Facebook page of the “The Pinoy Catholic” blog spot. Identifying as Catholic traditionalists, they are known for making frank commentaries on liturgical abuse, clerical corruption, political issues, and the like. Many netizens lamented that TCP is a page that works contrary to the Gospel because of its frequent use of hate speech (e.g., vulgarities) and spread of controversies without substantial evidence.

Print screens of posts, comments, and replies were gathered from DCF and TCP in the span of a week using the application “Snipping Tool.” The posts were first group according to their topic. Second, the number of comments and replies that exhibited different forms of incivility were identified using the code of Coe et al. (2014). The frequency of specialized words used for insults were recorded. They were defined according to how they were used as well. Lastly, the number and percentage of posts with uncivil comments were recorded and computed. Written comments and replied were the only ones considered for this study. Duplicates of the same comment were omitted.

Results and Discussions

A total of 127 posts, 634 comments, and 687 replies were collected. The first research question aims to identify the most frequent and pervasive forms of incivility in Facebook religious discourse. The results are recorded in the table below. Name-calling (35%), lying (12%) and aspersion (9%) are the top three commonest forms of incivility. On the other hand, vulgarity (4%) and Pejorative for Speech (0.7%) are the least exhibited.

Table 2. Forms of Incivility found in DCF and TCP

Form Frequency Percentage

Name-calling 396 35%

Lying 140 12%

Aspersion 107 9%

Vulgarity 45 4%

Pejorative for Speech 8 0.7%

The use of insulting nicknames against opposing religious and ideological groups or opposing netizens is the parlance in these pages. In both DCF and TPC, opposing commenters frequently dismiss each other’s claims and demand for more substantial evidence. In DCF, this is with regards to scriptural interpretation. In TPC, commenters usually question the truth of the controversies on sexual abuse cases shared by the page administrators. Doctrines or ideologies are attacked by users who find them incompatible to their beliefs. For instance, in DCF, the tithing practices (i.e., the requirement to donate 10% of your income to your church) of non-Catholics were mocked by Catholics. In TPC, the liturgical abuses committed in some parishes, the priests who are allegedly sex offenders and the prevalence of the “LGBT agenda” were heavily criticized. Vulgarity and pejoratives for speech rarely occurred in discussions. Most comments with these forms of incivility questioned the competence, credibility, or intelligence of an opposing user. While many comments were found to exhibit more than one form of incivility, the number of instances this occurred were not recorded.

The specialized invectives frequently used in discussions were recorded by the researchers in the table below. They were defined according to how they were used in the comments sections.

Table 3. Insulting words that recurred across different comments

Word Definition % of comments

sulpot (adj.) Christian denominations which “suddenly emerged” since the Protestant Reformation

Origin: from the Filipino word meaning “to sprout.” 22.7%

Iglesia Ni Manalo (INM/INCM) (n.) A nickname for followers of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ). 6.9%

katoLIKO/kultoliko (n.) Former Catholics who converted to other Christian denominations or sects

(adj.) Teachings and practices of the Catholic Church that allegedly deviated from the true teachings of Christ

Origin: From the Filipino word “liko,” meaning “to bend” or “to turn.” 4%

These words were notably found only in DCF. This is probably because the two pages had different foci. DCF focuses more on defending the Church from anti-Catholics, while TPC exposes corruptions and abuses within the Church. These three words are all related to the debate on which of the thousand churches and denominations is the true Church established by Jesus Christ. They are frequently used by Catholic netizens to refer to non-Catholics, whose churches they claim are merely founded by men.

The second research question aims to identify topics or posts are more likely to have uncivil discussions. Below is a table categorizing posts according to their topic, their frequency, and the frequency of uncivil discussions per topic.

Table 4. Topics with most frequent uncivil discussions

Nature of Post Description # of posts # of posts with uncivil discussions

Devotional Invites followers to prayer or reflection 41 0

Tirade against non-Catholic groups Attacks on other religious groups 4 4

Crowdsourcing and promotion Promoting a product or a service; surveys answers from followers 26 2

Religious instruction Educates followers on the different areas of Catholic faith and life (e.g. catechesis, apologetics, solemnities, Church History, lives of saints, etc.) 31 8

Criticisms of [Catholic] Church hierarchy Expose corruption allegedly committed by the pope, bishops, and other members of the clergy (e.g., sexual offenders among the clergy 20 15

Tirades against the LGBT community Criticizing the “LGBT agenda” as something harmful to the good of the Church. 6 4

Liturgical abuse Exposing liturgical practices that violate liturgical rubrics and norms approved by the Holy See. 3 3

28% of 127 posts contained discussions teeming with incivility. Criticisms of Church hierarchy (12%) and religious or doctrinal instruction (6%) are the top topics with the most uncivil discussions. Other posts with incivility in their comments sections are tirades against the LGBT (3%), on liturgical abuses (2%), and on crowdsourcing (2%). Uncivil comments are relatively absent in devotional posts. They are concentrated on religious instructions (8 posts) and tirades against non-Catholics (4 posts). These results affirm the conclusion of Coe et al. (2014) that incivility is influenced more by contextual than habitual factors.


After the analysis of data, researchers conclude that incivility in online interactions is caused by the absence of religious tolerance. Religious intolerance is “the inability of people to recognize, acknowledge and accept the religion and faith of others. CITATION Dou12 l 13321 (Anele, 2012).” Aggressive and insulting utterances seem to be a normal phenomenon to defend one’s religious beliefs and insights on Facebook even though the names of commenters can be filtered and in the comments section. It is worth noting that some users call the attention of fellow users to respect the religion of others. However, these reminders of being ‘civil’ online were most of the time disregarded. Posts about church hierarchy and Catholic teaching are the most attacked and criticized with uncivil comments. Comments are directed towards the hierarchy of the Church (i.e., Pope, Bishops). They are said to be involve in corruption, sexual abuse. Moreover, the doctrinal teachings of the church are questioned by non-Catholics who speculate that the catholic religious instructions are not well grounded.

Online incivility does affect the quality of religious discourse as well as deteriorate the image and credibility of the Church in her work of evangelization. E-vangelization ought to be a “true and authentic witness to life.” It should reflect the love of God transmitted through Jesus Christ. As stated by Antoci et al. (2016), the behaviour of SNS users depends on the behaviour of other users. Incivility in online religious communication will be defeated if religious communities, organizations and groups active online commit themselves in fostering respect, solidarity, common good and above all a spirit of tolerance for an authentic community of God’s children. (Ethics in Internet 14)

Intellectual content is not the only factor that determine the moral worth and validity of a communication or conversation. Therefore, it important to consider how utterances are delivered and the how the receivers could be affected (CP 17)”. God’s grace together with our “ ways and communicative manners contribute to the spread and fruitfulness of evangelization. (Eilers, 2014,p 238). It is the responsibility of the Catholic Church’s leaders to form and give a solid education to its members: clergy, religious, and laity about the proper and appropriate usage of social media in all aspects including evangelization (Church and Internet 7).


Future researchers could consider other religious pages and different types of social media in determining recurring patterns that are recur constantly. Researchers could also examine other contextual elements that could impact online religious discourse incivility. The correlation of religious ideology and incivility could be an interesting topic. Lastly, future researchers could investigate on how incivility in religious discourse affects believers or Christians online.

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121418CHICO&ZERBO_Incivility in Filipino Catholic religious. (2019, Nov 16). Retrieved from http://paperap.com/121418chico-zerbo-incivility-in-filipino-catholic-religious-best-essay/

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