Pope Francis Warns of Spread of ‘Fake News’

Pope Francis
Pierpaolo Scavuzzo/AGF/REX/Shutterstock

Pope Francis warned of the dangers of the spread of “fake news,” and even compared it to the “crafty serpent” who misled Eve in the Book of Genesis.

In a message issued by the Vatican to mark World Communications Day, Francis called for a “journalism of peace,” reporting that “is truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines. A journalism created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those — and they are the majority in our world — who have no voice.”

While President Donald Trump has often dismissed news outlets and stories as “fake news,” Francis defined it as “the spreading of disinformation online or in the traditional media. It has to do with false information based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader.”

He added, “Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests.”

Francis did not provide any current examples of what he considered to be “fake news,” but cited the story of the serpent and Eve in the Bible as the first use of it.

“God’s paternal command, meant for their good, is discredited by the seductive enticement of the enemy: ‘The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye and desirable’ (Gen 3:6). This biblical episode brings to light an essential element for our reflection: there is no such thing as harmless disinformation; on the contrary, trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences. Even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects.”

He gave praise to “institutional and legal initiatives” to develop regulations to curb the spread of fake news, although it was unclear what he was referring to in the United States. Facebook has announced steps to try to limit the spread of fake news, while lawmakers on Capitol Hill have introduced legislation to require greater disclosure of the source of online political ads. The Pope also praised tech and media companies for “coming up with new criteria for verifying the personal identities concealed behind millions of digital profiles.”

He said that the counter to “fake news” is truth, which itself he acknowledged can be difficult to discern.

“We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits: whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results,” he wrote.

Francis said he was not asking journalists to engage in a “saccharine” kind of writing, but one “less concentrated on breaking news than on exploring the underlying causes of conflicts, in order to promote deeper understanding and contribute to their resolution by setting in place virtuous processes.”