Pope Francis suggested Tuesday that “huge economic interests” are at work in the digital world, capable of manipulating “the democratic process.”
“The proliferation of fake news is the expression of a culture that has lost its sense of truth and bends the facts to suit particular interests,” the pope said in a book-length letter bearing the Latin title Christus Vivit (Christ Is Alive).
“It should not be forgotten that there are huge economic interests operating in the digital world, capable of exercising forms of control as subtle as they are invasive, creating mechanisms for the manipulation of consciences and of the democratic process,” he said.
Moreover, social media create polarization and ideological ghettos, the pontiff proposed, as people only listen to those who share their particular worldview.
“The way many platforms work often ends up favouring encounter between persons who think alike, shielding them from debate,” he wrote. “These closed circuits facilitate the spread of fake news and false information, fomenting prejudice and hate.”
The internet and social media are powerful instruments capable of destroying a person’s good name, he said, without allowing them any defense.
“The reputation of individuals is put in jeopardy through summary trials conducted online. The Church and her pastors are not exempt from this phenomenon,” he said.
This is not the first time the pope has come out against fake news, a phenomenon he once likened to “excrement.”
Last year, Francis denounced “fake news” as a serious problem in the modern age, while calling on journalists to break oligarchies that present just one version of the story.
“In today’s fast-changing world of communications and digital systems, we are witnessing the spread of what has come to be known as ‘fake news,’” the pontiff said, suggesting that homogeneous news cartels without the necessary competition easily spread disinformation.
“Disinformation thus thrives on the absence of healthy confrontation with other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue,” the pope said. “Instead, it risks turning people into unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas.”
The Vatican itself has not proved immune to the phenomenon of fake news.
A year ago this month, the Vatican was caught doctoring a photograph of a letter from Emeritus Pope Benedict making it look as if he were endorsing a series of books on the theology of Pope Francis.
The photo-shopped image blurred the final two lines of the first page of the letter, where Benedict begins to say that he had never even read the texts in question and had no intention of doing so.
The Associated Press (AP) said the Vatican’s manipulation of the photograph “violated photojournalist industry standards” and shortly afterward the Vatican fired the head of its communications office over what came to be known as the “Lettergate” scandal.
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