Pope Francis denounced “fake news” and urged people to check the source of what they share on social media. In a message released for World Communications Day, he said the first instance of fake news was from the Garden of Eden, when the serpent lied to Eve.One reason to be wary of sharing a story, he said, was if it “discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonising them and fomenting conflict”.
What the media are saying
The Pope’s intervention was widely welcomed. Kathryn Jean Lopez, writing at the National Review, called it an “urgent plea from a wise pastor”. She cited a wish from one Twitter user that an “ideological opponent would get hit by a bus” as an example of how we risk “losing our grasp on the reality of our common humanity”.
She quoted the Pope’s words that fake news was a “sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes”, adding: “Aren’t we seeing such states of mind everywhere in people’s frequent inability to read not just beyond a headline but even past a word or a name?”
Elsewhere writers compared the Pope’s approach favourably to that of US President Donald Trump. Avi Selk, at the Washington Post, argued that while Trump “would tell you what is fake news”, the Pope’s message was “more or less a how-to guide” in figuring it out.
“Fake news is malicious,” Selk wrote. “It plays off rash emotions like anger and anxiety.” It also spreads “arrogance and hate”.
“So if you’re feeling those things while browsing Facebook, or find yourself in a flame war, be especially wary of what you just read,” Selk said. “Ask yourself if there might be another side.”
The British tech site The Register, meanwhile, criticised the Pope for lumping “inconvenient journalism” together with clickbait. Its writer Shaun Nichols said: “The Pontiff couldn’t help but reveal his disdain for scoops and stuff that makes people uncomfortable. Why can’t you scribes just be, you know, nice, he seemed to sigh.”
✣Our prisons are in deep trouble, says bishop
Bishop Richard Moth, lead bishop for prisons, said Britain’s prison system faced an “ever-deepening crisis” and needed “widespread reform”. He released the statement after two alarming reports. One said conditions at HMP Liverpool were the worst in living memory. The other highlighted a spate of suicides at HMP Nottingham.
Why was it under-reported?
Britain’s prisons have been in crisis for some time. In 2015 the Bishops of England and Wales said they were
“extremely encouraged” by promises of reform. David Cameron talked about the “biggest shake-up of prisons since the Victorian era”. That grand vision has now been lost: prison reform was dropped from the Government’s agenda last year. Assaults in prisons are at a record high, having doubled since 2010. Suicides have soared too. A report into HMP Liverpool found “squalid” conditions, with infestations of rats and cockroaches.
What will happen next?
Rory Stewart, the new prisons minister, has promised to “get back to basics” by ensuring clean, safe jails. He told MPs there had been “too many very abstract conversations in the past two years about grand bits of prison policy”.
Bishop Moth disagrees. The problems, he said, won’t be solved simply by a “renewed focus on basic operational management”. The bishop argues: “If we are to deliver a real change in our prisons, we have to examine the question of who we send to prison and why.”
✣The week ahead
Pope Francis will meet Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Vatican on Monday. The meeting follows a phone call in which they both voiced their opposition to Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But the meeting also comes as Turkey bombs Kurdish-controlled Syria. The US has urged Turkey to “de-escalate” its offensive.
The prior of the Benedictine monks at Norcia, Italy, Benedict Nivakoff (pictured, centre), will celebrate Candlemas at the ordinariate’s Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory in Soho, London, this evening at 6.30pm.
The National Conference for Rural Catholics will take place from Monday to Wednesday. Delegates at the conference will hear talks on the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’, the impact of Brexit and the vocation of the agricultural leader. They will also visit a potato farm. The conference is held at Garstang, Lancashire. Visit ruralcatholics.org.uk
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