February 1, 2024

Verbatim: CCCB's pastoral letter from the Commission for Justice and Peace


The CCCB’s pastoral letter from its Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, released this week, calls on Canadian Catholics to serve Christian values by following seven commitments online.

1. A commitment to truth lies at the centre of the Christian life. The great Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, describes truth as adaequatio rei et intellectus (“the correspondence of the thing to the intellect”) or having a picture of things in your mind aligned with how they are in reality. While we will never have a complete picture of (reality) in our minds, as Christians we always commit to (aligning) what is in our minds, as best as we are able, with what is real...

2. As each of us attempts to build connections and healthy online communities, we do so on platforms congested with content posted by others: some known to us, others who are not; some share our commitment to seeking truth, others who do not. One of the most dangerous dynamics… is the proliferation of misinformation, disinformation and “fake news.” Many posts intend to deceive or manipulate readers to serve an agenda, be it political, economic, social or personal. Pope Francis notes, “We need to unmask what could be called the ‘snake-tactics’ used by those who disguise themselves to strike at any time and place. This was the strategy employed by the ‘crafty serpent’ in the Book of Genesis, who, at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news, which began the tragic history of human sin.”

3. We should all be cautious about online information generated to deceive or manipulate other regardless of the reason; in all such cases, we should take care not to spread it. As Christians, our commitment to truth necessarily implies a commitment to accuracy…. (T)here can be legitimate reasons for sharing or engaging with doubtful or uncertain information (if) it is done in good faith, is motivated by a desire for the truth and is mindful of the inherent dignity of the person and the common good. We should never use social media with the intent to manipulate, to deceive others or to tarnish someone’s reputation.

4. Pope Francis reminds us that part of “the difficulty of unmasking and eliminating fake news is due … to the fact that many people interact in homogeneous digital environments impervious to differing perspectives and opinions.” The Christian commitment to truth implies not only that we pursue what is real, but also that we look at the vastness of reality from a wealth of angles. The danger of “fake news” on social media exists alongside the danger of echo chambers in which we read only from a narrow set of sources and engage with a narrow set of like-minded voices that reconfirm what we already believe rather than broadening our understanding of reality.

5. Social media platforms benefit financially from keeping people online as long as possible… When we demonstrate interest in a particular topic and linger there, platforms will continue to send us further content on that topic and put us into contact with people who share similar opinions. (W)e will need to be intentional about seeking information from sources to which we are not already inclined or predisposed….

6. (W)hen using social media, Pope Francis reminds us, we must be true to one another online... (H) notes, “An impeccable argument can indeed rest on undeniable facts, but if it is used to hurt another and to discredit that person in the eyes of others, however correct it may appear, it is not truthful.”....

7. Remembering the personhood of those with whom we enter into conversation on social media can be difficult. (O)n most platforms we see only a small headshot of the person on the screen — if that — (which) inclines us to treat persons as if they were only… a sum of their thoughts and ideas. It is easy to forget behind those thoughts and ideas are real people who, just like us, have bad days and good days, experience a wide range of emotions, make mistakes and lead complicated lives. Even when we disagree with what others post we must maintain a commitment to treat them with human dignity.


Jan. 24, 2024

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