Monday 24 September 2018

Pontiff compares rise of fake news to serpent in the Garden of Eden

Pope Francis waves as he arrives in St Peter’s Square yesterday. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Pope Francis waves as he arrives in St Peter’s Square yesterday. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Philip Pullella in the Vatican City

Pope Francis yesterday condemned fake news as satanic, saying journalists and social media users should shun and unmask manipulative "snake tactics" that foment division to serve political and economic interests.

"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," Pope Francis said in the first document by a pontiff on the subject.

The document was issued after months of debate on how much fake news may have influenced the 2016 US presidential campaign and the election of President Donald Trump.

"Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests," the Pope wrote, condemning the "manipulative use of social networks" and other forms of communication.

Called 'The truth will set you free - fake news and journalism for peace', the document was issued in advance of the Catholic Church's World Day of Social Communications on May 13.

"This false but believable news is 'captious', inasmuch as it grasps people's attention by appealing to stereotypes and common social prejudices and exploiting instantaneous emotions like anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration," Pope Francis said.

False stories, the Pope said, spread so quickly that even authoritative denials often could not contain the damage done and many people run the risk of becoming "unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas".

He called for "education for truth" that would help people discern, evaluate and understand news in order to recognise the "sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments".

Pope Francis compared the use of fake news to the 'Bible' story of the devil, who, disguised as a serpent, persuaded Eve to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. He said she was fed wrong information by Satan, who told her the fruit would make her and Adam as all-knowing as God.

The Pope said the role of journalists was "not just a job, it is a mission" and they had particular responsibility to stem fake news.

"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."

Irish Independent

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