The Pope has called on journalists to search for the truth in an era characterised by ‘fake news’.
The comments come after the unprecedented bad press the Pontiff faced during his recently-concluded South American tour where he visited Chile and Peru.
Fake news grabs people’s attention “by appealing to stereotypes and common social prejudices, and exploiting instantaneous emotions like anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration”, Pope Francis wrote in his message for World Communications Day 2018.
He added that fake news is as old as history itself, highlighting the story of Eve being tempted to take a fruit from the Garden of Eden based on disinformation from the serpent.
“The first to employ the fake-news tactic was the serpent in the Garden of Eden who convinced Eve she would not die by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree,” he said. The Bible story shows that “there is no such thing as harmless disinformation; on the contrary, trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences”.
Pope Francis praised educators who teach young people how to read and question the news and the information they see presented on social media. He encouraged efforts to develop regulations to counter fake news and he praised tech and media companies for trying to improve ways to verify “the personal identities concealed behind millions of digital profiles”.
But, he insisted, individuals always will have the final responsibility for discerning what is real news and what is helpful to share on social media.
“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” like the serpent in the Garden of Eden did, he said.
Since becoming Pope, Francis has learned to use the media, such as Twitter, to spread his message, but he still frequently complains about what he considers one-sided reporting and what he has dubbed the “sins of the media: disinformation, slander and defamation”.