ROME – “Fake news” and journalism as a force for peace are the themes chosen by Pope Francis for the Church-sponsored World Day of Social Communications 2018.
As usual, the actual theme includes a Biblical quote: “‘The truth will set you free.’ Fake news and journalism for peace,” with the famous Scriptural phrase drawn from the Gospel of John.
For the first time since a pope issued a message for World Communications Day in 1967, the theme was also announced by the pope via Twitter:
I have chosen this theme for World Communications Day 2018: “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) September 29, 2017
According to a statement released by the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, the message is directly linked to so-called fake news, “namely, baseless information that contributes to generating and nurturing a strong polarization of opinions.”
Given the fact that key internet companies, institutions and the world of politics all have begun to address the phenomenon, which involves “an often misleading distortion of facts, with possible repercussions at the level of individual and collective behavior,” the Church too, wants to contribute, the statement said.
That contribution will come in the form of “a reflection on the causes, the logic and the consequences of disinformation in the media,” and also by helping with the promotion of “professional journalism, which always seeks the truth, and therefore a journalism of peace that promotes understanding between people.”
The World Day of Social communications actually was established in 1963, by the Vatican Council II, with the document Inter Mirifica. It’s celebrated on the Sunday preceding Pentecost, which next year will be May 13.
However, the first message to mark the day wouldn’t come until 1967. That reflection, by Pope Paul VI was on the theme “Church and Social Communication: First World Communication Day.”
Decades before the internet arrived in people’s everyday lives, the pontiff wrote that the Church, “truly and intimately linked with mankind and its history,” wants to draw attention to the “vast and complex phenomenon of the modem means of social communication, such as the press, motion pictures, radio and television, which form one of the most characteristic notes of modern civilization.”
Francis’s actual message will be released, upholding tradition, on the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, marked on January 24.
The announcement of the theme is traditionally made on Sept. 29, the feast of the Archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel, with Gabriel being designated the patron saint of telecommunications.
The term “fake news” is used to refer to fabricated news, which can be found in traditional news, social media or fake news websites. They have no basis in fact, but are presented as being factually accurate.
Back in November, some observers claimed that the proliferation of fake news, particularly on Facebook, had influence in the elections that put President Donald Trump in the White House.
On Friday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who had dismissed this idea, acknowledged in a post on his own social media platform that he was wrong to do so.
“Calling that crazy was dismissive, and I regret it,” Zuckerberg wrote. “This is too important an issue to be dismissive.”
His note was prompted by a tweet from Trump earlier that day, calling Facebook “anti-Trump.” On the same day, Facebook was formally invited to testify in front of Congress in early November, after admitting to selling ads to Russian propagandists.
“Trump says Facebook is against him,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Liberals say we helped Trump. Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don’t like. That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like.”
During the election cycle last year, the pope himself fell victim to a fake news story, which falsely reported that he had endorsed Donald Trump.