The Bishop of Manzini, Swaziland, calls us to examine the population of fake news, and what can be done to stop its spread.
Our diocese has a number of WhatsApp groups. Many of them added the bishop as soon as the group was created. It is not easy for me to follow them but, every now and then, I do read the messages trying my best not to interfere and allow everyone to freely share on a topic.
Fake news, though, has been one of those cases where I struggle to keep quiet.
Not long ago, a member of the Catholic men’s group shared news with this title: “We are at the end of times”. It then said: “Pope Francis cancels the Bible and proposes to create a new book”. He himself never believed it but felt important to share it and open a dialogue. Someone, in fact, confirmed that members of other churches had shared their sadness and horror at the Pope’s decision.
A question arose regarding what to do about it.
Someone wondered: “If the church does not refute such news, people are going to believe it”. There was no agreement about the choice to “defend ourselves as a Church” or “to entrust this to Jesus who promised to be our defender. The truth will always come out”.
The sharing was good and it was done under the light of our being “baptised and sent”, helping others to open their eyes.
Fake news is all over and about any topic and person:
- “Pope Francis cancels the Bible”
- Cold front on its way, do not leave your home
- Italy finds the cure to COVID19 and leaves WHO
- A Chinese expert assures everyone that inhaling hot water vapour kills the Coronavirus 100%
- Microsoft will donate $ to (someone in need or yourself) for every post being forwarded
Some years ago, my office was contacted by a national media outlet about a certain Cardinal who said that Jesus was not coming back because he was too busy with something else. The media wanted to know what we thought about the Cardinal’s words. A quick search showed there was no Cardinal with that name but no one – even in the national media outlet – took the time to check the facts before asking my office for an opinion.
The title of this post is taken from Jeremiah 28:15 where he addresses a false prophet with these words:
Thanks to you the people are now relying on what is false
I guess they are addressed to each one of us when we choose to forward to others what is false.
What could be done? These are just a few ideas:
- Think before you share. Not because it was sent by someone you know or because it “sounds” true, it is true;
- How comes you have not read any of this in any other media? Don’t you think every media would be talking about it if the Pope would cancel the Bible or if said he is deceiving people?
- Whenever I am not sure, I just copy a few words of the message and paste them on Google. Nearly 100% of the times I would find it is fake and has been around for a certain number of years.
- Follow reliable sources. Regarding Catholic topics, it is healthy to follow the Holy See news webpage, the diocesan webpage and others you already know you can trust. This applies, though, to any topic. In matters regarding COVID-19, WHO is one of them together with the guidelines shared by a government.
- Say it. When you know or wonder if it is fake news, do not keep quiet. Open other people’s eyes.
As it is frequently said: “you can be part of the problem or part of the solution”. It is your choice.
You can choose to break the cycle of lies or be part of it.
In Jeremiah’s words, you can be a real prophet (which you should because of your baptism) or a false one.
The command to love your neighbour includes protecting him or her from what is false, creating false hopes, anxiety, fear, confusion…
The choice is yours.
Bishop José Luis Gerardo Ponce de León IMC is the Bishop of the Diocese of Manzini, in Swaziland.
Reproduced with permission from Bhubesi and Bishop José Luis Gerardo Ponce de León IMC.
Apology: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Diocese of Manzini was in South Africa. The Diocese of Manzini is part of the Southern African Catholic Bishop’s Conference and the only Catholic Diocese in Swaziland.