Pope Francis released a message for World Communications Day, titled,
Francis describes fake news as “spreading of disinformation on line or in traditional media.” Fake news is used to deceive and manipulate. It twists the truth. It identifies hatreds and biases, and feeds those hatreds and biases to promote its own agenda.
Truth is more than freedom from falsehood. Truth is also about relationships. Francis writes,
To discern the truth, we need to discern everything that encourages communion and promotes goodness from whatever instead tends to isolate, divide, and oppose. Truth, therefore, is not really grasped when it is imposed from without as something impersonal, but only when it flows from free relationships between persons, from listening to one another…
We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits: whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results.
The evil of fake news lies in its insidious, snake-like nature. Francis turns to the book of Genesis, describing the methods of Satan in the Garden of Eden. Fake news looks like real news. It sounds like truth. But, it isn’t.
Francis calls for journalists to work harder in the service of truth, but the burden really lies with all of us. How educated are we in spotting fake news? Can we spot it in our own news feeds? Do we confirm the legitimacy of a news story or the reliability of an author before we share, retweet, or forward a story to others? Are we quick to be the first to share news before all the details have been reported? Do we respond to headlines without reading the full article?
It is possible to be emotional and rational in our writing. There is a way to seek truth in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. There is a way to promote dialogue rather than angry diatribes. Francis ends his message with a practical, inspirational guide, based on the prayer of St. Francis.
Make me an instrument of your peace…