As part of his World Communications Day message published Wednesday, Pope Francis compared today’s “fake news” to the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis.
Francis explained that “fake news” goes back to the first book of the Bible where the serpent lies to Eve to get her to eat fruit from the forbidden tree.
“This biblical episode brings to light an essential element of our reflection: there is no such thing as harmless disinformation; on the contrary, trusting in falsehoods can have dire consequences,” he said in his message.
Francis added that he wants “to contribute to our shared commitment to stemming the spread of fake news and to rediscovering the dignity of journalism and the personal responsibility of journalists to communicate the truth.”
The pope clarified that the fake news he is talking about has to do with false information based on “non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader.”
“Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions and serve economic interests,” Francis said.
He said that people struggle with “unmasking and eliminating fake news” because they do not interact with people or read news sources with different opinions than their own.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke told CNN that the pope’s message is cautionary to fake news and disinformation, and not warning or supporting U.S. President Donald Trump who frequently uses the term.
“I’m sure everyone is thinking U.S. They think fake news and they think U.S.,” Burke said. “No, this is because fake news is spreading around the world.”
Pope Francis said that seeking the truth is the only way to combat fake news in this day and age because “The truth will set you free.”
“The capacity to twist the truth” is reflexive to the human condition, but Francis said “when we are faithful to God’s plan, communication becomes an effective expression of our responsible search for truth and our pursuit of goodness.”
He concluded his message with an invitation for people to “promote a journalism of peace.”
“I mean a journalism that is truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines. A journalism created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those — and they are the majority in our — who have no voice,” Francis said. “A journalism committed to pointing out alternatives to the escalation of shouting matches and verbal violence.”
World Communication Day has been celebrated by Catholics since 1967, and the Pope’s message is usually published during the day of the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists. World Communication Day isn’t until May, but the early publication of the message allows preparation time for local and national celebrations.
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