Opinion: Pope Francis Takes on Fake News

Pope Francis released a document for World Communications Day denouncing “fake news” following the Trump-created trend to combat the misleading and false information that is encompassing the field of journalism. He proclaims that no one is exempt from having the duty to fight falsehood.

Some argue that Trump and his advocates have used this term to silence sources that oppose him. Others, on both sides of the party line, have taken the term and run with it to aid in voicing their own opinions. Regardless of the usefulness of this term, the pope’s agenda with its use is to detect and terminate deceitfulness and falsehood of any kind.

“Disinformation is often based on deliberately evasive and subtly misleading rhetoric and at times the use of sophisticated psychological mechanisms,” Pope Francis wrote in the document.

This is also evidence for the difficulty in recognizing fallacious information.

The pope thoroughly describes the extent of this problem and offers a few suggestions as to the fundamentals of how to combat it. He also gives instruction for individuals to take some responsibility for their news consumption.

Drastic changes to the spread of fake news can be made if every reader simply verified evidence – that is, verifying if there is any evidence and heeding the strength of evidence. This is not difficult. Difficulty arises at knowing the tactics that can be used to skew truth.

“That is why education for truth means teaching people how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to every temptation,” Pope Francis said.

He makes a critical point – fake news tactics take advantage of man’s greed, fears, hopes and “desire to possess and enjoy.” Appealing to these emotions make bad information believable. In short, it’s because we want to believe it.

The pope argues that fake news now mimics the same kind of deception of the original fake news.

“This was the strategy employed by the “crafty serpent” in the Book of Genesis, who, at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news,” Pope Francis wrote. “The strategy of this skilled “Father of Lies” is precisely mimicry, that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments.”

A Christian perspective is required to accept this, but it is not required to see the symmetry in tactic.

Deceit often comes as a trojan horse attached to truth. Deceit, then, has the appearance of truth. Accepting the partial truth is like putting in an IV. Truth is the fluid, which can now be easily ingested. This then allows easy access to inject other chemicals –
the lies.

This detailed explanation of fake news is highly contrasted to Trump’s use of the term. “Fake news” usually suggests the definition of “bad opinion” or “completely false information.” Further, the idea that these things are absent from Fox News is a deceitful idea in itself.

In part three of the pope’s document, he describes what truth is to Christians, as if it doesn’t apply to all people. This could lead some readers to the idea that Christians believe they live in a different reality where truth has different attributes. This could undermine the whole document as if it was written only for Christians, which is inconsistent with other segments, particularly where he assigns responsibility to all people.

It is not necessary to separate the Christian perception of truth from other worldviews, for truth is an objective essence that is unchanging.

This document displays a deep philosophical and theological understanding of how information can be distorted and turned into “fake news.” Pope Francis wrote to direct fault only to the serpent from the book of Genesis, not to any specific people or organizations. Instead, he focuses on the solution rather than the source of the problem.

In the same way, individuals need to be responsible for finding the truth for themselves rather than relying solely on what politicians or news outlets tell them.

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