Fake news can’t measure up for people of faith
In a recent Catholic Voice, syndicated columnist George Weigel wrote about "fake history," and how that impacts decisions and perceptions today. And that can be an issue as people – by mistake or not – provide somewhat twisted versions of history to justify a stand.
Fake history, though, isn’t new. People have been putting a spin on historical facts for centuries.
Fake news – at least the term – is a more current phenomenon, the product of social media, a divided country and unethical communication/public relations folks, power-seeking politicians and, as some say, even foreign governments.
What’s most concerning about fake news is that those responsible seem to ignore the fact they are doing something wrong, that fake news can hurt others, lead to bad decisions and generate even more fake news. Unchecked, fake news eventually separates the public from reality.
It’s more than disappointing to see people who claim to be public relations professionals pull fake news out of their communication tool box. And it’s even more frustrating when the reporters and editors in the mainstream media pick up the fake news – knowing that the content is questionable – and report on it, giving it some type of inferred endorsement.
Fake news, of course, isn’t mentioned in the Catechism … at least in a direct sense. But you needn’t look far to know that fake news isn’t in line with our faith. Consider church teaching on telling a lie, on gossiping, on loving your neighbor … just to mention a few examples. It’s pretty clear. We Catholics should want no part of fake news.
Ask most Catholics and they would agree. Yet, in our digital universe of instant access, street journalism, misinformation, and government policy-setting in fewer than 144 characters (and often with what seems to be a corresponding amount of thought), it’s easy to be a part of the problem.
See something on social media? Read the headline, look at the picture and send it on (that’s what more than 50 percent of social media users do, according to one study). And the message keeps getting sent on and on and on. Few questions are asked. No sources are checked. And magically, or so it seems, the message becomes news and, by default, fact.
Those messages are shaping people’s views, providing background for discussions, causing problems, even determining how people vote. And, to a great degree, how they see "real" news.
Defenders of fake news might cite the freedom of speech or press. But those freedoms – like other freedoms we enjoy – are not unlimited. There are legal parameters. But, more important, there are some basic, ethical, moral, faith-based guidelines that should be followed. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis tell us communication first must be responsible and truthful, and must be offered in a spirit of charity and respect.
Fake news fails on all counts.
"All we can do is pray." Those few words are a common response when we face difficult situations in life.
But Mary Ann Thiele of Clearwater might tell us that prayer shouldn’t be the last resort – it should be the first. And she knows of what she speaks. Mary Ann has been leading the prayer effort at St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Clearwater for some 35 years.
News editor Joe Ruff tells her special story of prayer ministry on Page 8. It’s not only a great story about a special woman, it’s a reminder to all of us how we can make a difference in the lives of others.
Deacon Randy Grosse is editor and general manager of the Catholic Voice. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.