Lent a time to disconnect, give up trolling â Pope Francis
Pope Francis as arrives to leads the Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter, on February 26, 2020, at the Santa Sabina church in Rome.
AFP/Alberto Pizzoli

Lent a time to disconnect, give up trolling — Pope Francis

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - February 27, 2020 - 12:41pm

MANILA, Philippines — Addressing scores of Catholic faithful in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday (Philippine time) appealed for Catholics around the world to disconnect from their phones and cease their online trolling to focus on their religious devotions. 

In his address, the Pope reminded Catholics that Lent was a "time to give up useless words, gossip, rumors, tittle-tattle and speak to God on a first-name basis."

“We live in an environment polluted by too much verbal violence, by many offensive and harmful words, which the internet amplifies,” said Pope Francis.

“We are inundated with empty words, with advertisements, with subtle messages. We have become used to hearing everything about everyone and we risk slipping into a worldliness that atrophies our hearts.”

Closer to home

In November, a communications professor expressed concerned over academic findings that the Philippines was the "patient zero" of digital disinformation today. 

He highlighted two things what the study labeled the "in-house model" which he said "local but also national politicians adopted [by] making the people in their own offices do 'trolling' and disinformation" as a strict requirement alongside their regular duties.

In another model which he called the "clickbait model," he said "it wasn't politicians approaching them (creators of false content) but rather them approaching the politicians." 

"Think of it as the digital version of propaganda," he added. 

Lines have often been drawn between misinformation and disinformation. While the former is often a knee-jerk reaction born out of emotional appeal, the latter is much more pointed, much more grotesque. And although the phenomenon of fake news rears its head in a plethora of shapes and sizes, these days, it often turns political. 

For instance, during the 2016 elections that saw then-Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte running away with the presidency, a study published by New Mandala said that "foul-mouthed influencers shared emotionally manipulative ‘fake news’ to organise and mobilise networks of supporters."

And in the months after his electoral victory, academics warned that disinformation on social media was still rampant, this time to amplify the existing support for the president-elect.

Consequently, there exists today a faux blanket of praise for the president and his policies, according to a study by the Ateneo School of Government that found that high approval ratings for the president were tied to disinformation and herd behavior. 

“Lent is the right time to make room for the Word of God. It is the time to turn off the television and open the Bible. It is the time to disconnect from your cell phone and connect to the Gospel,” the Pope added.

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