A study by the Pew Research Center released last month revealed that after Fox News and CNN, Facebook was listed as the third largest source of news for voters in the recent presidential election. That means the social media site ranked above local TV, other mainstream networks, radio news, national newspapers and local newspapers as a provider of journalistic content.
Unfortunately, as Facebook was a primary platform on which fake news and other hoaxes ran rampant in weeks surrounding the November election, consumers often found themselves faced with sheer propaganda. Memorable headlines on the social network site included: “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President”; or “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide”; or “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning the Pledge of Allegiance in Schools Nationwide.” That last one alone had more than 2.1 million shares, comments and reactions. In December, Facebook announced that it would fact check and label content deemed to be fake news. This month, Facebook and Google said they would work with French news organizations to help stifle the sharing of fake news stories on their sites. Now that platforms are working on their end of the problem, perhaps it is time both media groups and consumers worked on theirs.
When seeking news, consumers ideally should do the following:
Check sources. Is the source of your news a reputable media outlet, with staff and resources and a code of ethics? Or is the source a click-bait site wanting only to drive traffic and earn money? Checking sources also is helpful for keeping in mind the ideological bent of a news provider, should there be one.
Don’t just consume news from outlets with whom you agree. It’s problematic for consumers only to read, watch or listen to outlets that conform to their preferred ideology. In order to get the most well-rounded information, and therefore reach the fullest level of truth, consumers should glean their news from a variety of media sources.
Consume with a healthy skepticism. This is particularly key when reading an op-ed or when listening to quotes from a public-relations expertise. Be wary of spin. This strategy likely is familiar to Catholics, who so often face an anti-Catholic bias in the mainstream media.
Remember that media aren’t the enemy. Media outlets have their faults, but they also are critical to free societies.
Media, too, must play their part. According to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, media groups have the following duties: to seek truth and report it, to act independently, to minimize harm and to be accountable and transparent. For Catholic journalists, the bar is raised even higher, because we know that the stakes are higher. We not only seek truth, but the Truth. We not only seek to inform, but to form in the Faith. The seriousness of this mission is communicated in the pastoral instruction Aetatis Novae (“A new era”), published by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 1992, but still relevant 25 years later. “The media can be used to proclaim the Gospel or to reduce it to silence in human hearts,” it said.
The writers and editors who work on OSV Newsweekly take very seriously this calling to proclaim the Gospel and the truth, and to do so even when it may be uncomfortable. We strive in all we publish to be honest, intelligent and loyal, knowing that our accountability ultimately is not just to our readers, but to God. While we can, no doubt, always do better, we believe strongly in this mission — to do as Jesus taught us and “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”
Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor