On Friday, June 22, there was a 5.3 magnitude earthquake at 9.54 p.m. that was felt in some parts of Trinidad and Tobago. Within twenty hours a message was being circulated on social media indicating that there were nine more earthquakes in Trinidad subsequent to the Friday night earthquake.
This message being passed on turned out to be related to a January 2018 seismic event! Clearly, those passing on this message did not employ due diligence in checking the truthfulness of this message as it related to the earthquake of June 22.
Unfortunately, there are those who use social media for nefarious purposes and deliberately employ social media platforms such as WhatsApp to spread “fake news”. The rest of the public, called to social responsibility, has to employ an awareness of the fake news reality and act accordingly.
When videos and posts are rooted in creating panic, fear, anxiety and instability, we are losing the essence of social media as its very name suggests. Social media must never become something that is essentially anti-social and anti-community.
Social media is a gift to world civilisation. All gifts, which ultimately come from God, must be used to build up the human person and the society as a whole. Our gifts must be placed at the service of the common good.
The gift of social media has to be placed at the service of responsible use of truth. The use of social media to circulate fake news has to be rejected.
The ‘new media’ also known as ‘social media’, should be held to the same ethical standards that ‘traditional’ media are held to. Said differently, the users of social media ought to respect the values of truth and social responsibility.
In reality, every person who has access to social media platforms has become a kind of journalist who impacts minds and hearts of millions. This is a frightening thought in the context of deliberate fake news reporting.
When the users of social media post falsehood meant to create fear, panic and anxiety in the population they are the equivalent of a rogue journalist who writes an erroneous story that is oozing bias and prejudice. The general public who condemns inaccurate news reporting should be encouraged to condemn ‘fake news’ reporting too.
The notions of ‘alternative truth’ and ‘fake news’ have been conceived in the womb of moral relativism that Pope Benedict XVI so courageously condemned. He was prophetic in launching an attack on the ‘Dictatorship of Relativism’.
The truth is not relative. There is no such thing as an alternative truth. The average user of social media can stand shoulder to shoulder with Pope Benedict XVI and all people of goodwill in upholding truth in both traditional and new media.
Every user of social media platforms is called to be mindful, aware and discerning of what is posted and what should or should not be forwarded. The gift of communication that is social media is too beautiful to be disfigured by falsehood and mischief.
There is the social responsibility all users have to delete fake news videos and posts. There is the social responsibility that we have to challenge friends and contacts in passing on material that are false or doubtful in accuracy.
School teachers, catechists, priests, deacons and lay minsters must teach and encourage young people to use social media responsibly. In so doing, we will be standing with Pope Benedict XVI in challenging the dictatorship of moral relativism.