Taking care of people instead of thinking about strategies: this is the warning raised by Pope Francis who, in his usual message released on the occasion of the 52nd World Communications Day, dealt with fake news and the approach adopted by the media.
“The effectiveness of fake news is primarily due to the mimetic nature, that is, to the ability to sound believable. Moreover, this false but plausible news is engaging, in the sense that it is able to draw the attention of the public, relying on stereotypes and widespread prejudices plus leveraging easy and immediate emotions such as anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration. The diffusion of this type of news can count on the manipulative use of social networks as well as of the mechanisms that guarantee their functioning: in this way, the contents, even if unfounded, gain such a great visibility that even the retractions of the authorities often fail to mitigate the resulting damage”.
A faithful overview of this long-existing phenomenon, which is often discussed in meetings and debates. Fake news, as we all know, meets the need of the media to gain the readers’ approval and shares. But, paradoxically, this choice has seriously threatened the credibility of journalists and newspapers. Fake news is misinformation. Pope Francis stresses this assumption: «No disinformation is harmless. On the contrary, trusting what is false leads to harmful consequences. Even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects». And this is what happens when fake news and wrong information produce a falsehood to satisfy the «insatiable greed that easily fires the human being with enthusiasm».
Within this falsehood, the reader plays a key role. The latter, in fact, should be taught not only how to recognise fake news but also to steer away from negative, destructive and anxiety-provoking information. On one hand, we need to increase the reader’s awareness and, on the other hand, journalists should be more interested in the truth.
The pursuit of the truth drives us to become journalists. It is our strong desire to describe the world, listen to its stories, inspire and inform the reader. Communication experts do not choose this profession to gain the popularity granted by social media. They choose it based on a passion deeply rooted in words and reality. What happens during their career and any change in their attitude towards this profession are the results of the macro logic that urges the journalist to believe that “that’s how it works”, despite their passion.
In conclusion, readers should become more aware of their role and journalists and communication experts should feel responsible for the information that they spread and the use of language. I, therefore, share the definition of the journalist as the «keeper of the news» suggested by Pope Francis in his message. Journalists “not only carry out a profession but pursue a mission. In spite of the frenzy of modern media and the constant search for scoops, they should always remember that the core of the news is neither the speed at which it spreads nor the impact on the audience, but rather the people.”
And those people deserve better journalism. Constructive journalism rejecting any appeasing attitude and able to identify effective solutions. Journalism created by people for people.
This is the real mission: journalism that aims at a positive approach to news that will generate trust and lay the foundations for sharing and new solutions.
Translated by V.L. and revised by M.K.