News and Events

“I AM REAL: RISING ABOVE FAKE NEWS” CAMPAIGN President’s Message of Institutional Commitment February 27, 2018

Students and fellow members of the academic community, distinguished members of the Fourth Estate, guests, ladies and gentlemen: Good afternoon and thank you all for coming. I would like to reinforce the commitment of Holy Angel University to rediscovering the dignity of mass communications and our personal responsibility to communicate the truth.

Thirteen years ago, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman published his award-winning best-seller The World is Flat. In it, Friedman wrote about the drastic changes that have occurred in the last sixteen years or so—events that have leveled the global playing field. He wrote about ten so-called “flatteners.” These are the things that have enabled us to connect with the rest of the world much more easily than ever before. These flatteners are such events as the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Netscape going public in 1995, uploading—a phenomenon that he described at that time as the most disruptive of all, and the new “technologies on steroids”—cell phones, wireless devices, always being connected, and so on. These events have made our world a new place. Those of you who are old enough might recall that the buzz words at that time were Globalization 3.0 or the “New Economy.”

Thanks to these new tools, a leveled playing field has been created. Our colleagues no longer have to work side-by-side inside the same building. Companies from anywhere in the world can now compete with others from around the world. This convergence has also resulted in the production and dissemination of information at a speed not known before. What we learn today in school will be outdated by tomorrow and, therefore, the most successful people in the “flat world” will be those who are able to adapt and learn quickly.

Unfortunately, the technologies on steroids that enabled our flat world have also enabled the weaponization of misinformation to create what we now call the “Post-Truth Age.” For educators like us here at Holy Angel, there are only a few things more disconcerting than the viral spread of misinformation. Despite our varying political views, we all share our collective mission of discerning and teaching truth, as well as enabling our students to be truth-discerning critical thinkers. As educators, we can no longer take for granted the importance of teaching reality-based, evidence-supported thinking.

In today’s fast-changing world, we are witnessing the spread of what has come to be known as “fake news.” The term “fake news” has to do with false information based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader. In June of last year, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral letter against fake news, which is the first-ever pastoral letter of its kind in the world. During World Communications Day last month, Pope Francis spoke about the evil of fake news. We believe that we have been made in the image and likeness of our Creator. Through communication, we are able to express and share all that is true, good, and beautiful. if we are faithful to God’s plan, communication becomes an effective expression of our responsible search for truth, our pursuit of goodness, and our appreciation for beauty. But when we yield to our own pride and selfishness, we can also distort the way we use our ability to communicate. The capacity to twist the truth is symptomatic of the human condition.

Fake news is a sin against charity. It prevents individuals to make sound decisions and, instead, leads them to make faulty decisions. The effectiveness of fake news is primarily due to its ability to mimic real news, to seem plausible. Identifying and preventing fake news calls for not only reflection, but also a profound and careful process of discernment. Let us examine the earliest-recorded fake news in history. In the Book of Genesis (Gen 3:1-15), at the dawn of humanity, the “crafty serpent” created the first fake news (cf. Gen 3:1-15). The strategy of this skilled "Father of Lies is precisely mimicry, which is that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments.

In the Genesis’s account of the first sin, the tempter approaches the woman by pretending to be her friend, concerned only for her welfare, and begins by saying something only partly true: “Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” (Gen 3:1). In fact, God never told Adam not to eat from any tree, but only from the one tree ["Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat" (Gen 2:17)]. The woman corrects the serpent, but lets herself be taken in by his provocation by responding: "Of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, “You must not eat it nor touch it, under pain of death” (Gen 3:2). Her answer is couched in legalistic and negative terms; after listening to the deceiver and letting herself be taken in by his version of the facts, the woman is misled. So she heeds his words of reassurance: “You will not die!” (Gen 3:4).

The tempter’s “deconstruction” then takes on an appearance of truth by saying: "God knows that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5). In the next verse (Gen 3:6), “The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye and desirable,” we see the seductive enticement of the devil discrediting God’s paternal command, meant for the good of Adam and Eve. This biblical episode brings to light an essential element for our reflection about fake news: there is no such thing as harmless disinformation; on the contrary, trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences. The first sin began the tragic history of human sin, beginning with the first fratricide (Gen 4) and issuing in the countless other evils committed against God, neighbor, society and creation. As you can see, even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects.

Education for truth means teaching people how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to every temptation. In The Brothers Karamazov (II, 2), the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote: “People who lie to themselves and listen to their own lie come to such a pass that they cannot distinguish the truth within them, or around them, and so lose all respect for themselves and for others. And having no respect, they cease to love, and in order to occupy and distract themselves without love they give way to passions and to coarse pleasures, and sink to bestiality in their vices, all from continual lying to others and to themselves.” Constant contamination by deceptive language will end up darkening our interior life.

So how do we defend ourselves? The most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood is purification by the truth. We do so by returning to the original definition of freedom, which is the capacity to obey God in a world where disobedience provides a path laden with a bed of roses. The reality is this: The foundation of good character is moral courage – the freedom that allows us to control urges, desires, and passions, so that, in the end, we do what we should do. “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to the “slavery of sin” (CCC #1733).

We recognize the value of any endeavor by its fruits, and the “I Am Real” campaign is no exception. May this campaign be one that does not provoke quarrels or foment division, but promotes informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results. Indeed, “the truth will set us free” (Jn 8:32).

Laus Deo semper!

Date Posted: 02-26-2018