- A false report was published about Pope Francis being arrested.
- On Saturday, January 23, a statement was released by Pope Francis warning others about misinformation.
- The media in the United States needs to address the issue of fake news.
On Saturday, January 23, a statement was released by Pope Francis warning others about misinformation. The statement comes a few weeks after the pope fell victim to a fake news story.
In a special writing for Francis’ World Communications Day message, he warned, “the risk of misinformation being spread on social media” is now being recognized for what it is. Pope Francis said, “We have known for some time that news and even images can be easily manipulated, for any number of reasons, at times simply for sheer narcissism.”
He went on to write, “Being critical in this regard is not about demonizing the internet, but is rather an incentive to greater discernment and responsibility for contents both sent and received. All of us are responsible for the communications we make, for the information we share, for the control that we can exert over fake news by exposing it. All of us are to be witnesses to the truth: to go, to see, and to share.”
A few weeks ago, there was a false report stating the pope had been arrested by Italian police while the Vatican experienced a “blackout.” The false story was quickly shared throughout social media. A website in Canada posted the report, the same website which had earlier posted a false report that former U.S. President Barack Obama was arrested and charged with espionage.
Pope Francis Calls for Change in Reporting
The pope also went out of his way to stress the positive qualities of the internet in his message. “Digital technology gives us the possibility of timely first-hand information that is often quite useful.” Pope Francis went on to say, “We can think of certain emergency situations where the internet was the first to report the news and communicate official notices. It is a powerful tool, which demands that all of us be responsible as users and consumers.”
The message was signed by the pope, the Vigil of the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers and journalists. St. Francis de Sales also happens to be my confirmation saint, so the message was very personal to me as a journalist and Catholic alike.
Pope Paul VI established World Communications Day in 1967. Many countries throughout the world will celebrate the day this year on Sunday, May 16. Pope Francis went on to issue a passionate call for journalists to recommit themselves to “original investigative reporting.”
Pope Francis wrote, “Insightful voices have long expressed concern about the risk that original investigative reporting in newspapers and television, radio and web newscasts is being replaced by a reportage that adheres to a standard, often tendentious narrative.”
He made sure he praised the “courage and commitment” of camera operators, directors, journalists, and editors. These professionals risk their lives making sure the truth is uncovered. “Thanks to their efforts, we now know, for example, about the hardships endured by persecuted minorities in various parts of the world, numerous cases of oppression and injustice inflicted on the poor and on the environment, and many wars that otherwise would be overlooked,”
Fake News in America
For the last few years, “fake news” has been a growing issue here in the United States. More often than not, something that is said is taken out of context. Words are twisted and turned to push a narrative. Still, there are plenty of instances where stories have been outright fabricated or created out of nothing. It has put Americans in a horrible position. No one knows who they can trust or where to turn for factual news.
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On top of that, social media platforms have gone out of their way to influence what people are seeing. This limits how they’re able to respond to the stories that are revealed. This has led citizens doubting the content they consume, regardless of which political party they align with.
More and more media hubs such as the Vatican are starting to push for changes. If this catches on, mainstream media in the United States could be left in the back seat with world news. America’s own citizens have trust issues with our media outlets. How can other countries possibly take our reporting and journalism seriously?
Jeffrey‘s a senior writer with ThinkCivics and a freelance journalist with The Jerusalem Post. He’s a published author, earned an associate’s degree in theology, and is pursuing a master’s degree in communications with a focus on journalism.