01/24/2018, 14.13
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Pope: Fake news, the fruit of evil and offspring of those craving for power

In his message for 52nd World Communications Day, Francis affirms that the fake news is contrary to the "logic of God" for which "human communication is an essential way to experience fellowship". "To discern the truth we need to examine what accompanies communion and promotes goodness and what, on the contrary, tends to isolate, divide and oppose".

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The first Fake news was spread by "the snake" that convinced Eva to eat the apple saying: "you will be like God". "The thirst for power, to have and to enjoy" that is at the origin of fake news, as opposed to the truth that "in the Bible brings with it the meanings of support, solidity, trust", the theme faced by Pope Francis in the message for the 52nd World Communications Day, published today.

Entitled "The truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace ", the document starts from the statement that "in God’s project , human communication is an essential way to experience fellowship ", to "express and share the true, the good, the beautiful ". " 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”".

The Pope writes: “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".

No disinformation is harmless

Faced with this reality. " None of us can feel exempted from the duty of countering these falsehoods.  This is no easy task, since disinformation is often based on deliberately evasive and subtly misleading rhetoric and at times the use of sophisticated psychological mechanisms.  Praiseworthy efforts are being made to create educational programmes aimed at helping people to interpret and assess information provided by the media, and teaching them to take an active part in unmasking falsehoods, rather than unwittingly contributing to the spread of disinformation.  Praiseworthy too are those institutional and legal initiatives aimed at developing regulations for curbing the phenomenon, to say nothing of the work being done by tech and media companies in coming up with new criteria for verifying the personal identities concealed behind millions of digital profiles ".

"Yet preventing and identifying the way disinformation works also calls for a profound and careful process of discernment.  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.  This was the strategy employed by the "crafty serpent" in the Book of Genesis, who, at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news (cf. Gen 3:1-15), which began the tragic history of human sin, beginning with the first fratricide (cf. Gen 4) and issuing in the countless other evils committed against God, neighbour, society and creation.  The strategy of this skilled "Father of Lies" (Jn 8:44) is precisely mimicry, that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments. The story of original sin, highlights the Pope "brings to light an essential element for our reflection: there is no such thing as harmless disinformation; on the contrary, trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences. Even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects".

"The economic and manipulative aims that feed disinformation are rooted in a thirst for power, a desire to possess and enjoy, which ultimately makes us victims of something much more tragic: the deceptive power of evil that moves from one lie to another in order to rob us of our interior freedom.  That is why 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 defense against falsehood, indicated by Francis, is the truth in the Christian vision in Christianity, truth is not just a conceptual reality that regards how we judge things, defining them as true or false.  The truth is not just bringing to light things that are concealed, "revealing reality"[…]Truth involves our whole life.  In the Bible, it carries with it the sense of support, solidity, and trust, as implied by the root 'aman, the source of our liturgical expression Amen.  Truth is something you can lean on, so as not to fall.  In this relational sense, the only truly reliable and trustworthy One – the One on whom we can count – is the living God.  Hence, Jesus can say: "I am the truth" (Jn 14:6).  We discover and rediscover the truth when we experience it within ourselves in the loyalty and trustworthiness of the One who loves us.  This alone can liberate us: "The truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32)

Informing people means forming them

"Freedom from falsehood and the search for relationship: these two ingredients cannot be lacking if our words and gestures are to be true, authentic, and trustworthy.  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".

From the affirmation that "the best antidote to falsehoods are not strategies, but people: people who are free from greed, are ready to listen and through the effort of sincere dialogue let the truth emerge", Francis goes on to define the journalist as " the protectors of news.  In today’s world, theirs is, in every sense, not just a job; it is a mission.  Amid feeding frenzies and the mad rush for a scoop, they must remember that the heart of information is not the speed with which it is reported or its audience impact, but persons.  Informing others means forming others; it means being in touch with people’s lives.  That is why ensuring the accuracy of sources and protecting communication are real means of promoting goodness, generating trust, and opening the way to communion and peace.  would like, then, to invite everyone 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".

The message ends with a prayer addressed "to the Truth in person:

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 practise 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.

(FP)

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