Pope Francis’s Challenge to Fake News and Our Role in It

Pope Francis addresses a crowd and offers challenge to the media to stop reporting Fake News. Here's what we can do about fake news as consumers.
Today, the majority of people say that they don’t trust the news. In fact, two-thirds of people think it contains bias, spin, or hidden agendas.

Even Pope Francis has voiced his concerns: the theme for the 2018 World Day of Communications is ‘”The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace.’

At a recent press conference, Pope Francis encouraged the media to only provide trustworthy and factual news, and not clickable content that’s exaggerated for the purpose of starting futile “media dust storms.”

“Your voice — free and responsible — is fundamental for the growth of any society that wishes to call itself a democracy, so that the continuous exchange of ideas and a fruitful debate based on real and correctly reported information may be guaranteed,” Pope Francis said.

Not just a problem for the media

The responsibility to report the truth may fall on the media, but the responsibility to promote the truth falls on all of us — for our own sake and for the sake of others. Seeking and sharing truth is something that all people are called to do, because it is essential to a just world.

“Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation, especially in a globalized society at difficult times like the present,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Caritas in Veritate.

So — how can we be bearers of truth, especially given the current state of the media?

It starts with media literacy.

Evaluate what you are consuming

Opinions and unbalanced reporting can easily squirm into news coverage. It is important to know the difference between different kinds of content, so that you are able to distinguish between them.

Opinion pieces

The purpose of an opinion article is to argue a particular perspective. They are usually written by people who are independent of the news source and utilize one person’s experience or knowledge to add to a national or local story. This type of piece has the power to shed light on a particular aspect of a story or expose an angle that people may have not considered.

However, opinion pieces are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to being a well-informed person. They are best consumed in conjunction with other pieces of content and read with a grain of salt.

Factual reporting

Factual reporting is supposed to provide readers or viewers with the who, what, when, where, and why of a story. Ideally, this type of reporting includes all relevant information that is available, so that the audience can come to a reasonable understanding about what did and did not take place.

Often, this type of reporting includes first-person accounts of an event — but also includes input from experts or is supplemented by journalistic research. An eye-witness may give their account of something that took place, but reporters and publications, ideally, look deeper into a story.

Reporting clips or articles that draw conclusions for their audience, withhold information, or abandon deeper investigation cross into a gray area of “truth.” These pieces are misleading to readers and, unfortunately, common in most people’s news feeds.

Fake news

The Vatican defined “fake news” as “baseless information that contributes to generating and nurturing a strong polarisation of opinions.” They are concerned that this type of content “involves an often misleading distortion of facts, with possible repercussions at the level of individual and collective behaviour.”

One of the best ways to avoid being misled by “fake news” is to engage with multiple sources before drawing conclusions about a news story, and the best way to avoid promoting “fake news” is to confirm that a piece of content is reliable (by checking backlinks, confirming the story from another news source, etc.) before you like or share it.

Hope for the future

Hopefully, Pope Francis’s powerful words will encourage the media toward more objective reporting. His full message for World Communications Day is expected to be released on January 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of journalists.

But until we are confident that a major shift in mainstream news is taking place, there is a lot that we can do to help. From scrutinizing what you’re consuming to being more intentional about your likes and shares, let’s make 2018 the year of truth — and finally put “fake news” behind us.

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