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Philippines bishops urge Catholics to fight ‘fake news’

Social media apps are seen on Apple iPhone 5s (Getty Images)

Catholics have a moral duty to resist “fake news” and “alternative facts”, the Philippines Bishops’ Conference has said.

In a pastoral letter, believed to be the first of its kind in the world, the bishops call fake news a “sin against charity” that engenders “faulty decisions”.

The letter, titled “Consecrate them in truth: a pastoral exhortation against fake news”, the bishops say Christians “cannot be part of falsehood, deceit and lies”.

“Crucial decisions — personal and social — depend on the accurate grasp of facts. “Alternative facts” and “fake news” engender faulty decisions many times with disastrous long-term consequences to persons and to communities,” the bishops say.

They lament that social media, which initially promised to “free” the spread of information from the mainstream media, has led to the spread of false stories.

“Not only does this offend against the orientation of the human intellect to the truth. It is, more fundamentally, a sin against charity because it hinders persons from making right and sound decisions and induces them, instead, to make faulty ones!” they say.

Catholics are therefore obliged to “refrain from patronizing, popularizing and supporting identified sources of ‘alternative facts’ or ‘fake news’,” and to “identify the sources of fake news so that our brothers and sisters may be duly alerted and may know which media and which sites to shun.”

The exhortation comes as a Philippines senator proposes a bill to criminalise people who spread fake news, punishing them with a jail term of up to five years.

Senator Joel Villanueva said: “The effect of fake news should not be taken lightly. Fake news creates impressions and beliefs based on false premises leading to division, misunderstanding and further exacerbating otherwise strenuous relations.”