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“Benedict XVI dies”: Fake news that caused a global stir



Pablo Cesio - published on 07/12/22

A fake Twitter account attributed to the president of the German Bishops' Conference, Georg Bätzing, falsely announced the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

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On July 11, the news of the death of Benedict XVI (age 95) began to circulate through social media networks. This has happened before. However, on this occasion, the fake news began to circulate rapidly and extensively due to the source that was thought to be providing the message. The announcement of the death of the Pope Emeritus was made, supposedly, by the president of the German Episcopal Conference, Georg Bätzing.

Several renowned Vatican experts quickly denied the claim, including the correspondent for COPE (Spanish radio) in Rome, Eva Fernández. Fernandez promptly confirmed the announcement was not true. She wrote on Twitter:

News issued from a fake account.
This is not the first time this has happened.
The #Vatican has not confirmed this news.

Soon, the fake Bätzing Twitter account admitted that the announcement was a lie

The account was created by the Italian journalist Tommasso Debenedetti, who has a history of initiating hoaxes.

The account was terminated after causing a global uproar. 

The “Italian champion of lies” as Debenedetti once defined himself in an interview with El País in 2010, had once again done his thing. He is well known in Italian media as an author of fake interviews.

“Do you want to take the opportunity to apologize to your interviewees?” Spanish journalists have asked. Using just his imagination, Debenedetti has managed to “interview” illustrious writers and politicians on the global stage. He has faked interviews with the Dalai Lama, Lech Walesa and even Joseph Ratzingerhimself (a stunt Debenedetti pulled shortly before the 2005 conclave).

In response to Spanish media, Debenedetti replied, “I would like to meet these people. At times I have failed to reflect their thoughts, either out of haste or inability. I apologize.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is still alive and well in the Vatican. But the moment reveals the increasing need for fact-checking and reliable journalistic sources in the age of social media.

Pope Benedict XVISocial Media
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