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Social Communications: individual and collective responsibility in combating fake news

The concluding remarks of the Message embraces a journalism of peace, understood not as a vapid, hypocritical approach to dramatic events, but rather as the profession of a precious commitment to researching and reporting the root causes of conflicts, along with a responsible understanding of the dynamics that trigger and fuel hostilities whose counteraction could not be conceived or planned otherwise

The Pope’s Message for the 52nd  World Communications Day raises public awareness on a rapidly spreading phenomenon, object of an intense, diversified debate: the alteration of the truth and its dramatic repercussions on social relations. The premise of the Message, in fidelity to Christian rationale, is that communication is an essential dimension both on the individual and the collective level in the pursuit of the truth and the common good. 
However, its instrumental use as a weapon to delegitimize the other in order to satisfy purely selfish ends, to separate rather than unite, ought to be acknowledged. The perspective advanced by the Pope in the first part of the Message is precious insofar as it helps us not to give way to a deterministic view of the relationship between the tools of communication and the manipulation of the truth. In fact the risks of misusing responsible communication originate from a vision of the relationship with the other that fails to recognize the value of dialogue and brotherhood.

Significantly, in the Message the question of fake news is framed within a perspective that far from being technological can be defined anthropological.

One of the main features that make false content particularly insidious is the ability to “mimic” real news, that appear authentic to some despite being completely fabricated, reinforcing attitudes of intolerance, fostering negative passions such as hate, contempt, ultimately leveraging on cravings. At the same time it should be acknowledged that the manipulative use of communication is marked by peculiar dimensions and characteristics in the context of contemporary communication media and social networks, fuelling a logic of conflict aimed at discrediting the other to obtain a political advantage but also to distort facts for economic gains. In this respect we are rightly reminded of the known phenomenon of the so-called “echo-chambers”, object of numerous studies, that make the challenge of correcting misinformation and unmasking biased content particularly complex. The central part of the Pope’s message focuses on the fundamental role of individual and collective responsibility in countering fake news. Thus the reference to the strategy of disinformation employed by the “crafty serpent”, described in the Book of Genesis, is extremely significant. It enables us to realize that

the dramatic effectiveness of falsehood spread through means of communication equally calls into question the recipient of the distorted message, it questions his intelligence and compassion, and solicits discernment.

In this respect, the Pope points out that “none of us can feel exempted from the duty of countering these falsehoods.” The third part of the Message centres on the relationship between truth and freedom as understood by Christianity, namely not only as the act of “revealing reality”– aletheia (from a-lethès, “not hidden”) but as an existential dimension that is part and parcel of human life. Therefore, truth, “is not really grasped when it is imposed from without as something impersonal, but only when it flows from free relationships between persons, from listening to one another.” This helps us understand the reference to John 8:32: “The truth will set you free”, hence to recognize that communication is inhabited by the truth inasmuch as the truth conveyed is a result of in-depth reflection, always open to dialogue and recognition of the other. The concluding remarks signal openness to a journalism of peace, understood not as a vapid, hypocritical approach to dramatic events, but rather as the profession of a precious commitment to researching and reporting the root causes of conflicts, along with a responsible understanding of the dynamics that trigger and fuel hostilities whose counteraction could not be conceived or planned otherwise.

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