Voices January 31, 2019
Our own spirals of hatred are worse than ‘fake news’
Local journalism needs your support. But you yourself need the grounding of local journalism, to help find your way in the digital era of “fake news.”
Digital technology, which is bringing new habits to our daily routines, threatens to undermine the most human ways of connecting.
Instead, negativity becomes an instant impulse in reaction to everything that happens. For example, after Pope Francis spoke at the World Youth Day prayer vigil in Panama City, on Saturday, Jan. 26, my social media feed lit up with attacks on the Pope over his remarks.
In this instant negativity, the Pope was being called an idiot (and worse) for allegedly saying that Mary was the first social media “influencer.”
But then I read the speech. It was immediately clear what the Pope in fact said was that Mary was not an “influencer.”
“Obviously, the young woman of Nazareth was not part of the ‘social networks’ of the time. She was not an ‘influencer,’ but without wanting or trying to, she became the most influential woman in history,” said Francis.
This is where we are now. Apparently people cannot even be bothered to read or to think. Rather, they prefer to react on the basis of a handful of words. They simply project what they feel they perceive.
The most common behaviour is to perform outrage
A headline or picture is all the bait it takes. Since people already have their prejudicial habits of mind on lock, the most common behaviour of theirs is to perform outrage.
They react viciously, set off by the sketchiest of details. And everybody thinks their anger alone is righteous, completely different from the wrongheaded people whom they so wisely oppose.
In contrast, the Pope said we should seek a more positive way of influencing the humans around us. Subverting the digital trend, he said we should cultivate a different kind of influence, one that unleashes our authentic human capabilities in this new digital era.
“To be an ‘influencer’ in the 21st century is to be guardians of roots, guardians of all that prevents our life from dissipating and evaporating into nothingness. Be guardians of everything that can make us feel part of one another, to feel that we belong,” exhorted the Pope.
For me, this is one of the great functions of local journalism. It can make you aware of what is happening in your own community. It can prepare the way for you connecting with gentle people in real life.
Good journalism can make us aware of local social justice causes
Now more than ever, good journalism can make us aware of local social justice causes that seek our action and engagement. The best way to connect is often simply to help out wherever you see there is need for empathy and more compassion.
“Only love makes us more human and fulfilled; everything else is a pleasant but useless placebo,” concluded the Pope at that World Youth Day prayer vigil.
Tellingly, he was referencing a theme he had been developing during the preceding week. On Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, the Pope, while speaking to the bishops of Central America, had commented on the failures of certain Catholic media outlets.
According to the Pope, their failure lay in their inability to use digital media to serve “the centrality of compassion” in human relations. Unsparingly, he also warned any bishops who fail to act on the same criterion.
“I am worried about how the compassion of Christ has lost a central place in the Church,” said Pope Francis to the bishops. Among many Catholic groups, he said, compassion has been lost, or is at least being lost.
Even in the Catholic media there is a lack of compassion
“Even in the Catholic media there is a lack of compassion. There is schism, condemnation, cruelty, exaggerated self-praise, the denouncing of heresy,” all of which the Pope warned are undermining our chance for authentic connectivity.
In his World Day of Social Communications message released that same day, the Pope said that online interactions are “too often based on opposition to the other, the person outside the group: we define ourselves starting with what divides us rather than with what unites us.”
Consequently, digital media ends up “sometimes ends up fomenting spirals of hatred,” because they assert public performance of an “unbridled individualism” and “every kind of prejudice.”
But the tools of digital media can never truly satisfy our relational needs as human beings. Instead, Christians should act with the view that we are all members of one body. “This helps us not to see people as potential competitors, but to consider even our enemies as persons,” wrote the Pope.
Perhaps your local Catholic newspaper can help you find the others. The others? Yes, those locals with whom you can collaborate for a community built on love and welcome.