Pope Francis blasted fake news and called for journalists to remember their mission is truth in a message Wednesday ahead of this year’s World Communications Day in May.
What did Francis say about fake news?
Francis said that communication “is part of God’s plan for us and an essential way to experience fellowship,” but sometimes people “distort the way we use our ability to communicate,” citing “the biblical stories of Cain and Abel and the Tower of Babel.”
“The capacity to twist the truth is symptomatic of our condition, both as individuals and communities,” he said. “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.”
Francis called fake news an example of this distortion, pointing to disinformation in both online and traditional media.
He said some spread fake news “to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests,” and the ability to do so “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,” he said.
Francis said a growing polarization of political views contributes to the spread of fake news.
“The difficulty of unmasking and eliminating fake news is due also to the fact that many people interact in homogeneous digital environments impervious to differing perspectives and opinions,” Francis said. “Disinformation thus thrives on the absence of healthy confrontation with other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue; instead, it risks turning people into unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas.”
“The tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonizing them and fomenting conflict,” he added. “Fake news is a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes, and leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred. That is the end result of untruth.”
He called on social media users “to take an active part in unmasking falsehoods” by refusing to share disinformation.
“To discern the truth, we need to discern everything that encourages communion and promotes goodness from whatever instead tends to isolate, divide, and oppose,” Francis said.
What about journalists?
He also said, “A weighty responsibility rests on the shoulders of those whose job is to provide information, namely, journalists, the protectors of news.”
“In today’s world, theirs is, in every sense, not just a job; it is a mission,” Francis said. “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,” he added. “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.”
Francis called for “a journalism of peace,” noting he wasn’t referring to “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 headline,” he said, calling for journalism “at the service of all, especially those – and they are the majority in our world – who have no voice.”
Francis released the message on Wednesday, the feast day of Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists and writers.