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Fake news: be careful about putting all the blame on the Internet

· ​Women’s voices ·

Rita Marchetti, you are Vice-President of WECA, the Italian Catholic Webmasters Association: is practising a virtue all that can be done to combat fake news?

I would say the virtue of prudence which means the capacity for discernment. We must not trust in disregarding digital platforms, even though the immediacy which characterizes them often acts to the detriment of reflection. It is necessary to develop and cultivate a critical sense through social media literacy, which is expressed in knowing how to understand and critically assess the content with which we come into contact online. Training is fundamental in order to achieve this goal.

“The ‘crafty’ [or ‘subtle’] ‘serpent’ mentioned in the Book of Genesis, who at the dawn of humanity created the first fake news, which began the tragic history of human sin, beginning with the first fratricide and issuing in the countless other evils committed against God, neighbour, society and creation” (Pope Francis, Message for the 52nd World Communications Day).

There were once lies, sometimes called hoaxes, today we have fake news. What is the difference?

In comparison with the past the mechanism for dissemination has changed, made possible by social media. Through sharing, users can foster the spread of fake news and at the same time share responsibility with those who generate it.

Fake news from social media is often found in daily newspapers and on television. And it distorts our opinions, sometimes with serious consequences, we have only to think of news concerning health.

Social media are increasingly sources for journalism. However I would be careful about putting all the blame on the Internet. Although it is true that fake news can be better spread through the social media, it is also true that there is often carelessness on the part of journalists who ought to check their sources.

Fake news is a sensitive and absolutely timely topic, especially if we consider the importance of the media in forming opinions. To use the words of an important media scholar, many of the things that we know, we know precisely from the media.

On the basis of your experience, what should a person do – and we are thinking specifically of a young person – in order to be “prudent” in the use and enjoyment of social media?

Abide by good practices. I mention only a few: evaluate the reliability of sources, be wary of excessively sensationalist titles, look out for links inserted in postings and search for other sources that convey the same news. Then there are debunking initiatives which can be useful, even though alone they do not solve this problem.

How can we beat fake news?

The only possible response to fake news is education in the media and the development of a public debate which can lead to awareness.

What do you do as WECA?

As WECA we constantly endeavour to provide training on subjects linked to the digital. In particular we have the WECA Tutorials: these are short, Youtube-style videos that give indications, advice and suggestions in order for people to move online with a somewhat greater awareness.

Is the current legislation in force sufficient?

I consider that there is a lacuna in social media policies concerning the public content within the platforms. Yet I don’t believe that countering fake news can be entirely delegated to legislation and still less to censorship, which as well as being contrary to website logics is also inefficient. Fake news should be combated by an education in the media and the exercise of prudence, which makes it possible to distinguish both true from false and good from evil. (dcm)

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Sept. 18, 2019

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