Pope urges Christians to counter fake news about COVID-19, but always respecting people
“We can hardly fail to see that these days, in addition to the pandemic, an ‘infodemic’ is spreading: a distortion of reality based on fear, which in our global society leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news,” Francis said. “Fake news has to be refuted, but individual persons must always be respected, for they believe it often without full awareness or responsibility,” he added. “[T]ruth is never merely a concept having to do with judgment about things; no, that is only a part of what truth is. Truth regards life as a whole”.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis spoke today to members of the International Catholic Media Consortium, participating in a meeting centred on Catholic fact-checking.
The pontiff urged participants to work together in order to seek the truth, which is the best way to counter fake news and distorted information on topics such as anti-COVID-19 vaccines.
This task belongs to media that pursue rigorously the facts and do not bend before economic or political interests.
For Catholic communication media, countering fake news and disinformation that is spread perhaps unconsciously means building bridges and not being "against".
Francis noted that Paul VI himself had emphasised that the work of communicators “calls for a rigorous method”, making “a critical evaluation of the sources of their information, and finally, pass[ing] on their findings.”
The initiative of putting several Catholic media online involving various experts “was born as a Consortium that seeks to be together for the truth,” Francis explained.
“First, together. Working together is essential, not least in the field of information. Networking, sharing skills, knowledge and contributions in order to provide suitable information is already an initial form of witness. At a time when we are feeling the effects of the pandemic and of divisions in society – and divisions in opinions – the fact that you are networking as Christian communicators is itself sending a message. It is a point of departure, a message.
“We can hardly fail to see that these days, in addition to the pandemic, an ‘infodemic’ is spreading: a distortion of reality based on fear, which in our global society leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news. Contributing, often unwittingly, to this climate is the sheer volume of allegedly ‘scientific’ information, comments and opinions, which ends up causing confusion for the reader or listener.
“This points to the importance of networking and uniting forces with scientific research on diseases, which continues to advance and enables us to combat them more effectively.”
“Together” is a principle that also applies to vaccines, which must be given to everyone, and not just be “motivated by the haste of wealthy nations to be safer. Remedies must be distributed with dignity, not as pitiful alms. [. . .] Correct information must be ensured above all to those who are less equipped, to the weakest and to those who are most vulnerable.
“The second word, after ‘together’, is ‘for’ – together for. ‘For’ is a little word but it says much. It reminds us that, as Christians, we are against injustices and lies, but always for persons. Even if the purpose of your Consortium is to combat disinformation, to refute fake news and the manipulation of more impressionable minds, the fundamental distinction between information and people must never be overlooked.
“Fake news has to be refuted, but individual persons must always be respected, for they believe it often without full awareness or responsibility. A Christian communicator must be evangelical in style, a builder of bridges, a promoter of peace, also and above all, in the search for truth. His or her approach is not one of conflict, it is not marked by an attitude of superiority, and it does not simplify reality, so as not to fall into a kind of ‘fideism’ when it comes to science.
“Science itself is a constant process of advancing towards the solution of problems.” For this reason, “As Christians, we ought to be the first to avoid the mentality of conflict and simplification, but rather making an effort to approach, accompany, and provide answers in a serene and reasonable way to questions and objections. We should work to help provide correct and truthful information about Covid-19 and vaccines, without digging trenches or creating ghettos.
The third word is truth. “May we never tire of verifying data, presenting them in a suitable way, pursuing our own search for truth. That search cannot yield to a commercial viewpoint, to the interests of the powerful, to the great economic interests. No. Being together for truth also means seeking an antidote to algorithms projected to maximize commercial profit; it means working to promote an informed, just, sound and sustainable society.”
“For Christians, truth is never merely a concept having to do with judgment about things; no, that is only a part of what truth is. Truth regards life as a whole”; it “is something one can lean on, so as not to fall. In this relational sense, the only reliable and trustworthy One – the One on whom we can count – is the living God”, Jesus.
“We discover and rediscover the truth when we experience it within ourselves as the loyalty and trustworthiness of the one who loves us” (Message for the 2018 World Communications Day). To work in service to truth thus means to seek the things that foster communion and promote the good of all, not those that isolate, divide and oppose.”