Mexico, 12 February 2018, (Luis Garcia Orso, S.J.). On the feast of Saint Francis De Sales, January 24, Pope Francis issued his Message for the 52nd World Communications Day.  He invites us to reflect on a subject that is quite current: “fake news”.  It is worth it to read the entire message.  Here we will do a kind of a synthesis of its contents.

This widespread communications phenomenon refers to those news items that are created out of “facts” that are either distorted or nonexistent or very incomplete or without any foundation.  Nonetheless, these fraudulent items are passed off as true and/or as the complete story and seen as plausible. Additionally, behind it all is a major deployment of publicity or mass media power, and most of the time significant financial resources.  The success of “fake news”—it often goes viral—is due in great part to how it connects with the emotions of its target audiences among the general public: their anger, frustrations, fears, prejudices, intolerance, etc.  Often incapable of distinguishing truth from falsehood, we humans end up trapped—manipulated and deceived.

We need to warn about one negative aspect of this kind of “news”: behind is almost always hidden the interests of some sector, benefitting economic, ideological, political, group, or party agendas.  It is not concerned with the truth of events or the common good. Thus, the information or reporting are used against opponents, discrediting them, sowing prejudice and ill will, with the goal of wounding, offending, doing damage to others, and creating divisions and hostility.

The reality of  “fake news” with which we are living today merits thoughtful and sound responses on the part of authentic communicators and those who want to live as Christians—and certainly pertains to us as members of SIGNIS.  Pope Francis invites us to bring these  elements to our communications praxis:

  1. Learn to read and evaluate information, to verify the sources, to clarify, to assure what is communicated has a solid basis in fact, to seek the truth and to drill down to understand the roots of any situation, and not to reflexively spread disinformation.
  2. Educate ourselves so we know how to discern, evaluate and reflect on what moves each of our hearts, in such a way that we can act with true freedom and not because of confused self-interest.
  3. Value and support that which favors the good of persons and the common good, an interest in others, unity and cooperation, trust, listening, dialogue and encounter, and not that which causes division and damage.
  4. Draw near to the One in whom we place trust and in whom we believe: the true God who makes us genuine, free persons.  And learn the authentic way of the Gospel of Jesus.
  5. “The best antidote to falsehoods is not some strategy, but persons: persons who, free of greed, are ready to listen and to permit the truth to emerge through the hard work of sincere dialogue; persons drawn to the good who make responsible use of language.  If the way to avoid the spread of disinformation is responsibility, then the one who has a special obligation is the one who by profession has the duty to inform: that is the journalist, the guardian of the news.  The journalist not only carries out a job in our modern world, but also has what is a genuine mission in itself. In the frenzy of newsgathering and the whirlwind of breaking news, he or she has the task of remembering that the focus of the news is not how fast it can be reported and its impact on ratings, but persons.  To inform is to educate, to involve oneself in the life of persons”, concludes the Pope.