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Saturday 28 November |
Saint of the Day: Pope St. Gregory III

Pope Francis issues message for World Communications Day, decries 'fake news'

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Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 01/24/18

Here’s part of the message, from the Vatican website:

Communication is part of God’s plan for us and an essential way to experience fellowship. Made in the image and likeness of our Creator, we are able to express and share all that is true, good, and beautiful. We are able to describe our own experiences and the world around us, and thus to create historical memory and the understanding of events. But when we yield to our own pride and selfishness, we can also distort the way we use our ability to communicate. This can be seen from the earliest times, in the biblical stories of Cain and Abel and the Tower of Babel (cf. Gen

4:4-16; 11:1-9). The capacity to twist the truth is symptomatic of our condition, both as individuals and communities. On the other hand, when we are faithful to God’s plan, communication becomes an effective expression of our responsible search for truth and our pursuit of goodness.

In today’s fast-changing world of communications and digital systems, we are witnessing the spread of what has come to be known as “fake news”. This calls for reflection, which is why I have decided to return in this World Communications Day Message to the issue of truth, which was raised time and time again by my predecessors, beginning with

Pope Paul VI, whose 1972 Messagetook as its theme: “Social Communications at the Service of Truth”

. In this way, I would like to contribute to our shared commitment to stemming the spread of fake news and to rediscovering the dignity of journalism and the personal responsibility of journalists to communicate the truth.

The term “fake news” has been the object of great discussion and debate. In general, it refers to the spreading of disinformation

on line or in the traditional media. It has to do with false information based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader. Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests.

The effectiveness of fake news is primarily due to its ability to

mimic

real news, to seem plausible. Secondly, this false but believable news is “captious”, inasmuch as it grasps people’s attention by appealing to stereotypes and common social prejudices, and exploiting instantaneous emotions like anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration. The ability to spread such fake news often relies on a manipulative use of the social networks and the way they function. Untrue stories can spread so quickly that even authoritative denials fail to contain the damage.

The difficulty of unmasking and eliminating fake news is due also to the fact that many people interact in homogeneous digital environments impervious to differing perspectives and opinions.

Disinformation thus thrives on the absence of healthy confrontation with other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue; instead, it risks turning people into unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas. The tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonizing them and fomenting conflict. Fake news is a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes, and leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred. That is the end result of untruth.

Read it all. He concludes with this prayer, adapted from the “Prayer of St. Francis”:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practice listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.

Amen.

UPDATE – Here’s how The New York Times reported this news today:

The serpent in the Garden of Eden hissed the first fake news to Eve and it all went downhill from there, Pope Francis writes in a major document about the phenomenon of fake news released on Wednesday.

“We need to unmask what could be called the ‘snake-tactics’ used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place,” the pope writes in a message ahead of what the church has designated as its World Day of Social Communications, in May.

Arguing that the “crafty” serpent’s effective disinformation campaign to get Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge “began the tragic history of human sin,” he adds, “I would like to contribute to our shared commitment to stemming the spread of fake news.”

Pope Francis has worn many hats since his election in 2013 — Vatican reformer; global advocate for refugees, the poor, and world peace; and, more recently, defender of bishops accused of covering up for pedophile priests.

But in a varyingly sophisticated, spiritual and questionable analysis of the fake news epidemic, the 81-year-old pontiff tried on the cap of contemporary media critic to address an issue that has wreaked havoc and undermined democracies from the United States to Europe and beyond.

In doing so, he offered a largely cleareyed assessment of the problem, its social impact, and the responsibility of social media giants and journalists. And he called on news consumers to break out of their comfortable echo chambers and cushy news feeds by seeking out different points of view.

But at times the pope also conflated fake news, which is politically or economically motivated disinformation, with an incremental and sensational style of journalism he dislikes — a muddying of the waters that many democracy advocates have worried is corrosive to a free press and to the ideal of an informed populace.

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