No fast forwards for me
MY passion for truth won’t tolerate forwarded social media messages that sound too good or too bad to be true—whether they’re plain news items or videos from netizens. I won’t forward messages just because they make me feel noble, or even just useful, as I suspect many Facebook friends of faith do. While I appreciate the senders’ good intentions in spreading supposedly informative or uplifting posts, my kneejerk reaction is to ask them, “What/who is your source?” When the answer is “it’s forwarded by a friend”, I first verify and validate it if I think it’s worth the trouble. And almost always, the post is fake news, propaganda in disguise, religious intolerance masked as righteous indignation, or hatred posing as a cry for justice. My nose for news usually warns me, and I heed it because I know that once I carelessly hit the forward button, I’d be caught in the viral spiral to spread lies—a mortal sin for a writer.
I could name a few netizen-friends who are in the habit of thoughtlessly forwarding such unchecked posts, and I used to respond to each and everyone of them once I got the facts straight, but now I’ve grown tired of it, because they don’t seem to learn, or care, or care to learn. Sometimes I even fear they resent me for bursting their bubble. Maybe the old adage “you cannot teach old dogs new tricks” applies here. I’d hate to be known as “Pambansang Kill Joy”, so… let it be. But lately I got two posts on the same day that raised the alarm bell several notches higher. The first one is plain text with a photo of Pope Francis titled “Gentle reminders from Pope Francis”; the second is a video accompanied by a caption “Hindu girl burned alive in Madhya Pradesh for attending Christian prayer service”.
Reading the “Gentle reminders…” I saw that some advice made sense, but as a whole, I thought, “No, this couldn’t have come from the Pope. The style, the content, the references—it may have been written by a woman aching to be liberated from drudgery and with no strong religious affiliations. Why for heaven’s sake would the Pope advise us to “Look for the person that makes you happy. If you make a mistake, let it go and keep seeking your happiness…. Don’t save your favorite perfume, use it to go out with yourself; wear out your favorite sport shoes,” etc.So unbiblical.
So I went to Snopes.com, my go-to verification site, and combining my findings there with more Google results and other fact-checking sites, my hunch was validated. The original release was written in Portuguese and posted by one Marcela Tais (the Brazilian singer?) in April 2016, and only after several months was the attribution to Pope Francis added. Then it went viral. This happens often—when a meaningful text by a nobody is attributed to a celebrity, it gets a share boost; meanwhile, no one cares to check its veracity. Later on it was posted by a pilgrimage agency, perhaps capitalizing on the line “Enjoy, travel, enjoy your journeys, see new places, give yourself the pleasures you deserve…” to sell package tours. When a Catholic community posted the “Gentle Reminder…”, and it got so many “Amens” from faithful FB friends, the lie was sealed, so to speak. Snopes.com added that the “Gentle reminders” could not be found in any of Pope Francis’ writings. So you see—that’s one way the Catholic catechism gets bungled up.
The second one, the video that says a Hindu girl was burned alive for attending a Christian prayer service in Madhya Pradesh (India), is simply heart-wrenching. It was a lynch mob that actually led to a young girl’s being burned alive to death—a nightmare almost five minutes long. I watched it intently against my better judgment for it showed how beastly and murderous humans can become. I wanted to believe it was a movie clip, but no, it looked real from every angle. Despite the pain I felt experiencing the violence in the entire video, reason didn’t desert me. I heard familiar-sounding words—puta, fuego—which evoked scriptural visions. How different was this from the bloodthirsty crowd gathered around the woman caught in adultery? There is no Jesus in this video—just men brutally beating the unresisting girl, and people who looked not quite Indian, but more like…. South Americans? Even the girl’s facial features didn’t look Indian. And did she really come from a church service wearing short shorts and spaghetti-strapped blouse?
So I Googled again, accessing fact-checkers and major international news sources and came upon the real news item. The incident is real, it happened in Guatemala, and the victim is a 16-year old girl whom the mob captured as she tried to run away from the murder of a 68-year old taxi driver. The police reportedly could not get past the 250-strong mob that cheered as the girl screamed and writhed in pain until she died. Guatemala is almost 100 percent Christian (65 Catholic, 35 Protestant), with but 1,200 Muslims (0.008percent of the population). How can this heinous crime happen in a Christian country? How this sickening video got to be spread around as being about a Hindu girl killed for attending a Christian service—no one yet knows. But the accompanying text—“Please send this around so that the whole world may see India, the real Hell on planet Earth. Just see the ugliest face of Incredible India!!!”—may be something worse than just slinging mud on India’s tourism campaign. Could it have been deliberately distorted to foment hatred between Hindus and Christians? It is not an impossibility.
If you care to look at the two websites best representing the results of my search, please go to https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/did-pope-francis-write-the-gentle-reminder-message/ and girl https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3093163/Shocking-moment-girl-16-surrounded-beaten-mob-burned-death-involved-murdering-68-year-old-taxi-driver-Guatemala.htmlAnd please, I invite you to share my passion for truth. Share this column with your soc-med friends, especially those who like to “fast-forward” things. Spreading the truth won’t cost you anything—but it can bring priceless rewards from The Way, The Life, and The Truth we serve. And that’s the truth.