Pope’s fake news guide couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent from Trump’s

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

A WRITER in the New York Times once called Pope Fran­cis “the anti-Trump”, which we guess would make Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump some­thing like the anti-pope.

The es­say’s premise was that the two of­ten agreed on the same world prob­lems but pro­posed an­ti­thet­i­cal so­lu­tions.

For ex­am­ple: both pope and pres­i­dent are crit­ics of a ne­olib­eral glob­al­ism – but while Fran­cis wants peo­ple to help des­per­ate mi­grants who are the vic­tims of cap­i­tal­ist greed, Trump wants to wall out im­mi­grants so Amer­i­cans can get richer.

But that’s the New York Times, which Trump has ac­cused of ped­dling “fake news”. Ac­tu­ally he’s ap­plied that la­bel to al­most all main­stream out­lets by now and went so far as to rank them ac­cord­ing to fak­e­ness.

Lo and be­hold, on Wed­nes­day, Fran­cis re­leased a pa­pal mes­sage ti­tled Fake news and jour­nal­ism for peace. And while, like Trump, he thinks it’s a big prob­lem, his take on it could hardly be more dif­fer­ent.

Whereas the pres­i­dent would tell you what is fake news (CNN is, he says; Fox News is not), the pope would rather you fig­ure it out. In fact, his mes­sage is more or less a how-to guide.

Fran­cis gives only one ex­am­ple of fake news in his trea­tise. He is the pope, so no sur­prise, it’s from the Bi­ble.

“This was the strat­egy em­ployed by the ‘crafty ser­pent’ in the Book of

Ge­n­e­sis, who, at the dawn of hu­man­ity, cre­ated the first fake news,” Fran­cis wrote.

He means the ser­pent in the Gar­den of Eden, who tricked Eve and Adam into eat­ing for­bid­den fruit by mak­ing up a story about how won­der­fully it would turn out.

“The tempter ap­proaches the woman by pre­tend­ing to be her friend, con­cerned only for her wel­fare, and be­gins by say­ing some­thing only partly true,” Fran­cis wrote.

“‘Did God re­ally say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the gar­den?’ “

False premise. “In fact,” Fran­cis wrote, “God never told Adam not to eat from any tree, but only from the one tree.”

Eve tries to cor­rect the ser­pent, and in do­ing so, falls for his trap. It’s a bit like when you ar­gue with a Face­book troll and get sucked into a long com­ment thread, even­tu­ally say­ing things you never meant to.

“Of the fruit of the tree in the mid­dle of the gar­den, God said: ‘You must not eat it nor touch it, un­der pain of death,’ “Eve tells the ser­pent, very specif­i­cally.

“Her an­swer is couched in le­gal­is­tic and neg­a­tive terms,” Fran­cis wrote.

“Af­ter lis­ten­ing to the de­ceiver and let­ting her­self be taken in by his ver­sion of the facts, the woman is mis­led. So she heeds his words of re­as­sur­ance: ‘You will not die! “

And then, as with a chain e-mail, Eve shares the ser­pent’s news with Adam, who turns out to be just as gullible. And while they don’t die when they eat the fruit, they do get the hu­man race kicked out of par­adise for­ever.

That’s how fake news worked back in Ge­n­e­sis, Fran­cis wrote, and it’s not much dif­fer­ent and no less dan­ger­ous in the in­ter­net age.

So, he asked: “How can we recog­nise fake news?”

He listed a few char­ac­ter­is­tics of the genre: fake news is ma­li­cious. It plays on rash emo­tions like anger and anx­i­ety. “It grasps peo­ple’s at­ten­tion by ap­peal­ing to stereo­types and com­mon so­cial prej­u­dices,” Fran­cis wrote.

But in most re­spects, fake mim­ics truth. On the sur­face, they can be hard to tell apart. For ex­am­ple, Trump once retweeted a video ti­tled “Mus­lim mi­grant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” The video was real, but po­lice said the at­tacker wasn’t even a mi­grant.

So fi­nally, here is the pope’s so­lu­tion. “We can recog­nise the truth of state­ments from their fruits,” he wrote, “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.”

Fake news is as fake news does, in other words. It “leads only to the spread of ar­ro­gance and ha­tred”, Fran­cis wrote.

So if you’re feel­ing those things while brows­ing Face­book, or find your­self in a flame war, be es­pe­cially wary of what you’ve just read.

Ask your­self if there might be an­other side. Lis­ten to those who dis­agree with you, in­stead of yelling at them.

“The best an­ti­dotes to false­hoods are not strate­gies, but peo­ple,” the pope wrote. “Peo­ple who are not greedy but ready to lis­ten, peo­ple who make the ef­fort to en­gage in sin­cere di­a­logue so that the truth can emerge, peo­ple who are at­tracted by good­ness and take re­spon­si­bil­ity for how they use lan­guage.”

If you’re won­der­ing, no, the pope does not men­tion Trump in this mes­sage. Not that Fran­cis men­tioned him by name ei­ther dur­ing the

2016 cam­paign when he told re­porters: “A per­son who thinks only about build­ing walls, wher­ever they may be, and not build­ing bridges, is not Chris­tian.”

But the con­trast be­tween these two men’s no­tions of fake news is glar­ing. If Trump’s ap­peals, you can find it on his Twit­ter ac­count. If what Fran­cis wrote makes sense to you, you might try it out the next time you scroll through Twit­ter.

Ask your­self if what you read makes you feel hate­ful or like quar­relling. Ask if the pope might find it fake. And you could ask the same of everything you read, in­clud­ing this ar­ti­cle, which brought Trump into the pope’s mes­sage, even though the pope did not.

In­deed, Fran­cis wrote to­wards the end of his es­say:

“If re­spon­si­bil­ity is the an­swer to the spread of fake news, then a weighty re­spon­si­bil­ity rests on the shoul­ders of those whose job is to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion, namely, jour­nal­ists, the pro­tec­tors of news.”

Just as ev­ery­one should check their emo­tions against the news, he wrote, the news should avoid in­cit­ing them. – The Washington Post.


Pope Fran­cis poses for a selfie with a mi­grant dur­ing the Wed­nes­day gen­eral au­di­ence in St Peter’s Square at the Vat­i­can on Septem­ber 27.

Johnathan An­drews

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