Antidote to “Fake News”

by Sr. Susan Wolf, SND on January 30, 2018

in Pope Francis

This year we will celebrate the 52nd World Communications Day which is held annually on the Sunday before Pentecost, falling this year on May 13, 2018. As is the practice, Pope Francis released his message for the day on the Feast of Saint Francis de Sales, January 24.

This year’s theme is: “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace.”

Fake News

Aware of the damage and negative impact of “fake news” which itself is not a new phenomenon, but is spread so much more quickly in today’s digital world, Pope Francis reminds us of the importance of communications that are an “effective expression of our responsible search for truth and our pursuit of goodness.”

The Holy Father explains that “fake news” generally means disinformation spread through the traditional media. Its effectiveness is due to its ability to “mimic real news” and its engagement of people’s attention by “appealing to stereotypes and common social prejudices, and exploiting instantaneous emotions like anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration.” It is a “manipulative use of social networks and the way they function.”

Pope Francis praises those who are creating programs and processes to help people discern “fake news” from truth, including “institutional and legal initiatives aimed at developing regulations for curbing this phenomenon” and the work by tech and media companies to develop protocols to verify sources of information no matter how deeply they are hidden.

He says that “education for truth means teaching people how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to every temptation.”

The Importance of Being Open to Diverse Thinking

This “every temptation” comes from within us as well as from without. If we take in and accept only the information that confirms our fears and prejudices, that feeds our greed or our need to be better than the other we will easily fall prey to “fake news.” But if we are conversant with diverse opinions even those that threaten our opinions, challenge our righteousness or call us to compassion for the other, we will be better prepared to discern the truth or at least question the validity of information that we receive. We will appreciate those who “promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results.”

Journalism of Peace

Pope Francis concludes his message by inviting all of us to promote a “journalism of peace,”

“By that, I do not mean the saccharine kind of journalism that refuses to acknowledge the existence of serious problems or smacks of sentimentalism. On the contrary, I mean a journalism that is truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines. A journalism created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those – and they are the majority in our world – who have no voice. A journalism less concentrated on breaking news than on exploring the underlying causes of conflicts, in order to promote deeper understanding and contribute to their resolution by setting in place virtuous processes. A journalism committed to pointing out alternatives to the escalation of shouting matches and verbal violence.”

Truth Will Make Us Free

Each of us can promote this journalism of peace, by working on ourselves. Drawing inspiration from the Prayer for Peace, Pope Francis invites us to pray and live:

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.

If we do that, we will be truly free.

You can read the entire message here.




{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lawrence Jurcak January 31, 2018 at 12:01 am

Nicely written, in this weekend’s bulletin we have printed Pope Francis’ prayer.

Pat February 1, 2018 at 11:22 am

Love this article. Thanks Susan. I am sharing it on Facebook.

Martha February 2, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Thanks so much for informing me of this timely and inspiring message! A wonderful example of “good communication.” So grateful for your ministry!

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