Pope Francis became the first pontiff to issue a warning about the dangers of fake news on Wednesday, comparing the purveyors of false information to the snake in the Garden of Eden.
The Pope described false news as being “evil” and accused peddlers of disinformation of employing “snake-tactics” similar to Satan when, disguised as a serpent, he tempted Eve to eat fruit from the forbidden tree.
“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,” said Francis in the first discourse by any pope on the topic.
Fake news had a damaging, serpentine allure, the Pope said, calling it “that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments”.
He issued the unusual warning in a document issued in advance of the Catholic Church’s World Day of Social Communications, which takes place on May 13.
Without mentioning specific countries, websites or political figures, he said: “Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions and serve economic interests.”
The Pope acknowledged that it was often hard to distinguish fake news from information reliably reported by authoritative sources.
“The effectiveness of fake news is primarily due to its ability to mimic real news, to seem plausible.
“Untrue stories can spread so quickly that even authoritative denials fail to contain the damage,” he said.
It is the duty of journalists to identify and combat fake news, the Pope said.
“A weighty responsibility rests on the shoulders of those whose job is to provide information, namely, journalists, the protectors of news. In today’s world, theirs is, in every sense, not just a job; it is a mission.”
Newspapers, radio stations and television channels should avoid “feeding frenzies and the mad rush for a scoop.”
Journalists needed to ensure “the accuracy of sources” and concentrate less on breaking news and more on “exploring the underlying causes of conflicts,” Francis said.
Francis was widely praised by the global media for his refreshing honesty and down-to-earth manner after his election in 2013, but has been the subject of greater scrutiny in recent years.
He has been accused, in particular, of having a blind spot on the issue of Catholic clergy who sexually abuse children, apparently failing to appreciate the immense damage it has done to lives around the world and failing to take tough action against perpetrators.
During his tour of South America, which ended on Monday, he was lambasted for defending a Chilean bishop who is accused of protecting the country’s most notorious pedophile priest.
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