Ms Michelle Voo speaking at the archdiocesan-run workshop, ‘Untangling Fake News’.

By Christopher Khoo

Why is fake news a problem, and how does one manage it and stop it from spreading?

These were issues that an archdiocesan-run workshop, titled “Untangling Fake News”, addressed on April 14.

Fake news appeals to stereotypes, and people’s social prejudices and emotions, said Ms Michelle Voo, vice-president of the Catholic Lawyers’ Guild, and one of three speakers at the workshop.

People spread fake news because they are misinformed, misled or are being malicious, said Ms Voo, at the event held at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd annex building.

Speaking to about 60 people involved in Church communications, she gave as examples of fake news photos of the pope circulating on social media that have had misleading descriptions given to them, as well as how certain words were attributed to the pope which he had never said.

She noted that fake news can also spread regarding the local Church’s stance on liturgy and other disciplines. This comes about when people mistake personal opinion for authoritative Church teaching, and assume that norms for foreign dioceses apply in Singapore.

To discern if something is fake news, one should ask the following questions, she suggested: Is it current? Is it relevant? Who wrote it? What authority does that person have? Is it accurate? What is its purpose?

Ms Estella Young, a lay Dominican, gave a theological reflection on “The Truth Will Set You Free”.

Pope Francis, in his World Communications Day 2018 message, pointed out that it was the serpent who created the first “fake news” in the Garden of Eden, said Ms Young. The serpent pretended to be Eve’s friend and hinted that man couldn’t trust God.

The deadly sin behind fake news is greed – greed for social, financial and political gain, she noted.

She offered four tips from Pope Francis on fighting fake news. These are:

• Avoiding cliques and silos. The pope notes that fake news thrives in closed circles, when people associate only with like-minded people.

• Education. Pope Francis supports educational programmes to help people discern what they read and what they share.

• Initiatives. The pope commends the efforts of governments and private institutions to develop laws to curb fake news as well as initiatives by the media and technology companies to verify the identities of people who are hiding behind digital profiles.

• Journalism for peace. The Holy Father has called for journalism that is not driven by sensationalism but which shares with people the root causes of problems and helps to foster dialogue.

Participants broke into small groups to discuss questions related to fake news.

Participants at the workshop also broke into small groups to share examples of fake news that they have encountered and how they can play a part to stop it.

Mr Andre Ahchak, director of communications in the Archbishop’s Office, shared with participants that the archdiocese has come up with various channels to fight fake news.

These include a Telegram channel, www.telegram.catholic.sg, for subscribers to receive verified information about the Church. People can also visit www.check.catholic.sg for verification of Church-related news.

Mr Ahchak also informed the crowd that the archdiocese will hold a special World Communications Day Mass at the cathedral on May 13 at 10.30 am. Fr John-Paul Tan will celebrate the Mass during which there will be a special prayer for those working in communications. 

Visit www.fakenews.catholic.sg for various resources including articles, reference sites and FAQs dealing with fake news. If you think you have received fake news, a three-step process is suggested here which includes a report submission form.

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