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Catholic Church, Edenbridge
St Lawrence Edenbridge
Telephone: 01732 862256
Email: info@stlawrence.org.uk

Message of Pope Francis on the 52nd World Communications day 2018

12th May 2018


The truth will make you free ( Jn 8,32). Fake news and peace journalism 

Dear brothers and sisters,

in God's project, human communication is an essential way to live communion. The human being, image and likeness of the Creator, is able to express and share the true, the good, the beautiful. He is able to tell his own experience and the world, and thus build the memory and understanding of events. But man, if he follows his own proud selfishness, can also make a misuse of the right to communicate, as shown from the beginning episodes of the biblical Cain and Abel and the Tower of Babel (see January4.1 to 16; 11,1-9). The alteration of truth is the typical symptom of this distortion, both on an individual and on a collective level. On the contrary, in fidelity to the logic of God, communication becomes a place to express one's responsibility in the search for truth and in the construction of good. Today, in a context of ever faster communication and within a digital system, we are witnessing the phenomenon of "false news", the so-called fake news : it invites us to reflect and has suggested that we dedicate this message to the theme of truth , as my predecessors have already done many times since Paul VI (cf. Message 1972: Social communications at the service of truth ). I would thus like to make a contribution to the common commitment to prevent the spread of false news and to rediscover the value of the journalistic profession and the personal responsibility of each person in communicating the truth.

1. What is false about "false news"?

Fake news is a term discussed and an object of debate. Generally it concerns the diffusion spread online or in the traditional media . This expression therefore refers to unfounded information, based on non-existent or distorted data and aimed at deceiving and even manipulating the reader. Their dissemination can respond to desired objectives, influence policy choices and foster economic revenues.

The effectiveness of fake news is primarily due to their mimetic nature , ie the ability to appear plausible. In the second place, these false but probable news are captious, in the sense that they are able to capture the attention of the recipients, relying on stereotypes and widespread prejudices within a social fabric, exploiting easy and immediate emotions to be aroused, such as anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration. Their diffusion can rely on a manipulative use of social networks and the logics that guarantee its functioning: in this way the contents, even if baseless, gain such visibility that even the authoritative denials can hardly contain the damages.

The difficulty in unveiling and eradicating fake news is also due to the fact that people often interact within homogeneous and impermeable digital environments with divergent perspectives and opinions. The outcome of this logic of disinformationis that, instead of having a healthy comparison with other sources of information, which could positively put prejudices into question and open a constructive dialogue, we risk becoming involuntary actors in spreading biased and unfounded opinions. The drama of disinformation is the discrediting of the other, his representation as an enemy, up to a demonization that can foment conflicts. The false news thus reveal the presence of attitudes that are at the same time intolerant and hypersensitive, with the sole result that arrogance and hatred are likely to spread. This ultimately leads to falsehood.

2. How can we recognize them?

None of us can exonerate ourselves from the responsibility of countering these falsehoods. It is not an easy task, because disinformation is often based on variegated discourse, deliberately evasive and subtly misleading, and sometimes makes use of refined mechanisms. Therefore, educational initiatives are highly praiseworthy that allow learning how to read and evaluate the communicative context, teaching not to be disclosers unaware of disinformation, but actors of its unveiling. The institutional and legal initiatives involved in defining regulations aimed at curbing the phenomenon, as well as those undertaken by the tech and media companies, are equally commendable., to define new criteria for the verification of personal identities that hide behind the millions of digital profiles.

But the prevention and identification of the mechanisms of disinformation also require a deep and careful discernment. In fact, to be unmasked is what could be defined as the "logic of the snake", capable of disguising and biting everywhere. This is the strategy used by the "astute serpent", mentioned in the Book of Genesis , which, at the dawn of humanity, became the author of the first " fake news " (see Gen 3,1-15), which led to the tragic consequences of sin, which then took place in the first fratricide (cf. Gen 4) and in other innumerable forms of evil against God, neighbor, society and creation. The strategy of this skilled "father of lies" ( Jn8.44) is precisely themimesis , a creeping and dangerous seduction that makes its way into the heart of man with false and enticing arguments. In the story of original sin, the tempter, in fact, approaches the woman pretending to be a friend, to be interested in his good, and begins the discourse with a true statement but only in part: "It is true that God said:" Do you have to eat any tree in the garden? "» ( Gen 3 : 1). What God had said to Adam was in fact not to eat of any tree , but only of a tree : "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you must not eat" ( Gen.2:17). The woman, answering, explains it to the snake, but gets attracted by her provocation: "Of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said:" You must not eat it and you must not touch it, otherwise you will die "» ( Gen.3,2). This answer knows legalistic and pessimistic: having given credibility to the forger, letting himself be attracted by his approach to the facts, the woman is led astray. So, first he pays attention to his reassurance: "You will not die at all" (v.4). Then the deconstruction of the tempter takes on a credible appearance: "God knows that on the day when you ate it your eyes would open and you would be like God, knowing good and evil" (v. 5). Finally, we come to discredit the paternal recommendation of God, which was turned to good, to follow the seductive enticement of the enemy: "The woman saw that the tree was good to eat, pleasing to the eye and desirable" (v. 6) ). This biblical episode thus reveals an essential fact for our discourse: no disinformation is harmless; on the contrary, trusting what is false, it produces harmful consequences. Even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects.

In fact, there is our craving at stake. The fake news often become viral, or spread so fast and hardly unstoppable, not because of the logic of sharing that characterizes social media, but rather for their grip on the insatiable craving that easily ignites in the human being. The same economic and opportunistic motivations of disinformation have their roots in the thirst for power, to have and to enjoy, which ultimately makes us victims of a much more tragic imbroglio than any single manifestation: that of evil, which moves from falsehoods into falsehood to steal the freedom of the heart. This is why educating to the truth means educating to discern, to evaluate and to ponder the desires and inclinations that move within us, so as not to find us without good "biting" each temptation.

3. "The truth will make you free" (Jn 8,32)

The continuous contamination with a deceptive language ends up in fact to obscure the person's interiority. Dostoevsky wrote something remarkable in this sense: "Whoever lies to himself and listens to his own lies reaches the point where he can no longer distinguish the truth, neither within himself, nor around him, and so he begins to no longer esteem nor of himself, or of others. Then, since he no longer esteems anyone, he ceases to love, and then, in the absence of love, to feel busy and to distract himself abandons himself to vulgar passions and pleasures, and because of his vices he becomes like a beast; and all this derives from the continuous lying, to others and to oneself "( The brothers Karamazov , II, 2).

How then to defend ourselves? The most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood is to be purified from the truth. In the Christian vision, truth is not only a conceptual reality, which concerns judgment on things, defining them as true or false. The truth is not just bringing to light dark things, "unveiling reality", as the ancient Greek term that designates it, aletheia (from a-lethès , "not hidden"), leads to thinking. Truth has to do with whole life. In the Bible, it carries with it the meanings of support, solidity, trust, as it gives to understand the root ' aman , from which the Amen also comesliturgical. The truth is what you can rely on not to fall. In this relational sense, the only truly reliable and trustworthy, on which one can count, that is "true", is the living God. Here is the affirmation of Jesus: " I am the truth" ( Jn 14 : 6). Man, then, discovers and rediscovers the truth when he experiences it in himself as loyalty and trustworthiness of those who love him. Only this frees man: "Truth will make you free" ( Jn 8:32).

Liberation from falsehood and search for the relationship: these are the two ingredients that can not be missing because our words and our gestures are true, authentic, reliable. To discern the truth it is necessary to examine what accompanies communion and promotes goodness and what, on the contrary, tends to isolate, divide and oppose. Truth, therefore, is not really earned when it is imposed as something extrinsic and impersonal; flows instead from free relations among people, in listening to each other. Moreover, one never stops searching for the truth, because something false can always creep in, even in saying true things. An impeccable argument can indeed rest on undeniable facts, but if it is used to hurt the other and to discredit it in the eyes of others, however correct it appears, it is not inhabited by the truth.

4. Peace is the true news

The best antidote against falsehoods are not strategies, but people: people who, free from greed, are ready to listen and through the effort of sincere dialogue let the truth emerge; people who, attracted by the good, take responsibility for the use of language. If the way out of the spread of disinformation is the responsibility, particularly involved is who for office is required to be responsible for informing, or the journalist, guardian of the news . He, in the contemporary world, does not only do a job, but a real mission. It has the task, in the frenzy of the news and in the whirlwind of the scoops , to remember that at the center of the news there is not the speed in giving it and the impact on the audience, but people . Informing is training, it is dealing with people's lives. For this reason the accuracy of the sources and the custody of communication are real processes of development of the good, which generate trust and open ways of communion and peace.

I would therefore like to address an invitation to promote a journalism of peace , not meaning this expression of a "good-natured" journalism, which denies the existence of serious problems and takes on sentimental tones. I mean, on the contrary, a journalism without pretense, hostile to falsehoods, to slogans and to bombastic declarations; a journalism made up of people for people, and which is understood as a service to all people, especially those - the majority in the world - who have no voice; a journalism that does not burn the news, but that engages in the search for the real causes of the conflicts, to favor their understanding from the roots and the overcoming through the start of virtuous processes; a journalism committed to showing alternative solutions toescalation of clamor and verbal violence.

For this reason, inspired by a Franciscan prayer, we could thus turn to Truth in person:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Make us recognize the evil that insinuates itself in a communication that does not create communion.
Make us able to remove the poison from our judgments.
Help us to talk about others as brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; let our words be the seeds of good for the world:
where there is noise, 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 bring sharing;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us ask true questions;
where there is prejudice, let us arouse trust;
where there is aggression, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.


© Copyright - Vatican Publishing Library

Author: Benedict Fadoju


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