Message of Pope Francis on the 52nd World Day of Social Communications (2018)
“The truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32)
By Fr. Fernando Navidad Egargo, Ph.D.
POPE Francis begins his message with the assertion that “communication…(is) an essential way to experience fellowship…(through) sharing the true, the good, and the beautiful”.
It is not surprising that Pope Francis has been sounding off his call in the responsible use of media in the proclamation of the TRUTH. He has been vocal against those who spread lies and gossip. In fact, he has likened gossips to “terrorists” because of the utter destruction that they cause on the lives of innocent victims. For him, spreading lies and fake news is a sign of one’s unfaithfulness to God. He says “when we are faithful to God, communication becomes an effective expression of our responsible search for truth”.
Social media has created instant celebrities. Many of these “celebrities” rose to fame by being provocative or controversial either in words, in deeds or in pictures. This desire for unabashed fame sometimes forces people to fabricate lies. Pope Francis claims that this is rooted in one’s “pride and selfishness” that twists the truth and seeks to “distort the way we use our ability to communicate”. He insists that proliferation of fake news, i.e. “spreading disinformation or false information meant to deceive and manipulate”, is one big cancer that is slowly destroying today’s society. He further laments that “the tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others presenting them as enemies (and) demonizing them (consequently) fomenting conflict”. He, therefore, proposes that the only way to fight lies is to constantly proclaim the TRUTH whatever it takes.
But how do we fight fake news? Pope Francis rightly explains that there is a “need to unmask the snake-tactics” used by deceptive individuals or groups. He was, of course, referring to the snake of deception (Gen 3:1-15) who tricked Adam and Eve, the innocent victims of the “first fake news”. Helping people “unmask” lies is achieved through education. He suggests a process of education for truth, that is, “a process (of) helping people to interpret and assess information provided by the media (and) teaching them to take an active part in unmasking falsehoods”. Truth, Pope Francis claims, is proclaimed with the way we live our lives reflecting our relationship with God. Telling the truth is telling people that we are on the side of God. After all, our life of faith is not detached from our day-to-day life.
We can only proclaim truth if we sincerely seek to know the truth. Failure and negligence in seeking the truth results to a life of “terrorism”, a life that seeks to destroy others by way of disinformation. “To discern the truth, we need to discern everything that encourages communion and promotes goodness from whatever tends to isolate, divide, and oppose”. Information and formation are intimately linked. Sharing information is necessary in order to help others form their own intelligent opinion regarding various issues. Therefore, truthfulness in sharing information is indispensable in order to “promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results”. Manipulation of facts has no place in the life of a believer.
Finally, Pope Francis talks about “peace as the true news”. We, the people of God, must share this true news of peace. He says, “the best antidotes to falsehoods are not strategies, but people: people who are not greedy but ready to listen; people who make the effort to engage in sincere dialogue so that the truth can emerge; people who are attracted by goodness and take responsibility for how they use language”.
The challenges involved in fighting against the spread of fake news is enormous. It does not mean, however, that they are unsurmountable. Lies can be defeated not by spreading more lies by rather by our life of witnessing – we, believers of God, must constantly stand tall in fighting for what is “true, good, and beautiful”.