CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 September 2018

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Let us communicate the truth

In the days before the Internet exploded in popularity, when we talked about fake news, the focus was always on ethical journalism. During that era, news and information came mainly from specialised agencies. Whether they were newspapers or the news divisions of radio and television stations, they all had the responsibility to ensure that their news reporting was accurate.
 
Such accuracy not only rests on the facts, but also in whether the views presented are fair and just. If news agencies have extremely clear positions and arbitrarily tailor-make the facts to suit to their own views, then they are considered as lacking credibility. Non-credible media are supposed to be disregarded. This is the impetus behind the checks and balances that have assured the honesty of the news over the past years.
 
However, with the rise of the Internet and the emergence of social media, the genuineness of news has seen intricate changes. In social media, every participant becomes a news communicator. When someone sees a piece of news or a picture, they can disseminate it to many online friends simply by clicking on the share button. Given the multiplier effect, this piece of news can quickly reach every corner of the world. In other words, every social media user who disseminates the news and information becomes a communicator without realising it.
 
It was in this context that “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32): Fake news and journalism for peace, was chosen as the theme for this year’s 52nd World Communications Day. 
 
Many people separate the online world of the Internet from real life in the sense that any casually spread information unrelated to their actual life. However, so many examples show that the Internet world is already part of our real life—for some, the online world is even more important than real life.
 
Thus, the use of the Internet also needs to be in line with the truth. When we disseminate information on social media, we must, just as we do when we talk, check its veracity. On a personal level, we must ask ourselves whether we will disseminate fake news or not. Often, the temptation of selfish desire makes us tend to believe in these fake messages that satisfy our own prejudices.
 
In Hong Kong, one item of fake news which keeps popping up claims that, “Comprehensive Social Security Assistance nurtures lazy behaviour.” Although this has been clarified many times over, we still see this claim being shared on social media. This shows that bias and gullibility will sometimes impair our capacity to discern the truth, making us perpetuate these myths.
 
If we understand this logic, we can further reflect on the words “for peace” in the theme of this year’s World Communications Day. Conflicts among people always originate from prejudices. Fake news, which is a petri dish cultivating prejudices, can nurture bias into a real devil. On the other hand, real news enables us to know each other and understand the real situation of the world. Mutual understanding can lead to real interaction and in turn to peace. This is the journalism of peace.
 
In this era of the Internet and social media, let us hope that people, while taking part in these things, still remember the importance of honesty and are aware that they also shoulder great responsibility for making a small but important contribution towards world peace. SE