Columnists, Opinion

RENNER: Instagram CEO’s meeting with Pope Francis unwarranted

Pope Francis had an unlikely visitor to the Vatican on Friday. Kevin Systrom, American entrepreneur and Instagram CEO, graced the presence of the holy leader to “discuss the power of images,” TIME reported. And that’s a discussion they did spark.

TIME referred to the meeting as “the latest move by Instagram to assert itself as the dominant platform for visual communication.” Apparently, that calls for a meeting with the leader of the Catholic Church. Systrom presented the pope with a book containing 10 of some of the most powerful images from this year, including scenes of Middle Eastern migrants in Europe and protests in Baltimore, according to TIME.

The gathering took place behind closed doors at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. However, Systrom managed to upload a picture of the meeting to his Instagram account. The caption below it read, “[Meeting Pope Francis] was by far one of the most memorable experiences of my life!” Although Francis does not have his own personal Instagram, Systrom was still able to broadcast this image to his 1.2 million followers.

Most news sources reported that Systrom’s caption provided a reason for the event. Thankfully so, otherwise it would be difficult to find one. However, the more heated and in-depth discussion of “the power of images” is taking place outside the Vatican’s white walls.

It’s impossible to dismiss the power of a smiling pope shaking hands with a man in a suit, especially when the man is very rich and powerful. Just last month, the pope met with Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook. TIME reported “neither party has disclosed what was discussed,” but after the meeting, the pope called modern communication technology “a gift of God.” The pope’s get-together with Systrom, just as the one with Cook, is just another rung in his ladder to sociocultural relevance.

However, these meet-ups don’t just feed power into the pope’s image. An endorsement from the pontiff is a huge boost to any consumerist good — especially a capitalist, American one. But Francis has historically had mixed views on capitalism.

During September 2015, the pope visited the United States to meet with his followers and dignitaries and deliver a speech to Congress that primarily focused on the topic of capitalism and entrepreneurialism. At some points in his speech, he praised capitalism for the entrepreneurial spirit it inspires and declared business a “noble vocation,” according to The Washington Post. When it is “directed to producing wealth and improving the world,” Francis said, “it can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.”

The idea of a common good is at the core of the pope’s values and is something he stresses to be far more important than an individual pursuit. However, the types of entrepreneurial leaders he has met with as of late give off a different message. Although the supposed reason for meeting with Systrom was to promote the single-most positive, world-changing aspect of social media, the underlying message was that power attracts power.

Systrom did nothing to directly help the poor, bridge the wage gap or share his wealth in the ways the pope called for in his most recent speech in front of Congress, and yet, he is a shining star to the papacy. Even more puzzling is Francis’ meeting with Cook, which can be explained with no relevance or reason.

Although a juxtaposition of these meetings against the pope’s recent speech doesn’t expose any revolutionary, previously unknown hypocrisy in the Roman Catholic Church, it reminds us to be wary of the ulterior motives these leaders can have and to never stop questioning the media-related choices great leaders make. Perhaps there is an Instagram in heaven, or perhaps there are just good public relations.

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