Church in Brazil fights fake news during pandemic

The Catholic Church in Brazil is currently fighting both fake news and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

During the pandemic lockdown, fake news on the internet seems to have intensified in Brazil. Much of it is directed against the Church, often by people who claim to be Catholic.

One event that triggered a new wave of fake news against the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) was its recommendation that all public liturgies be suspended to help prevent the virus being spread.

While most dioceses and parishes throughout Brazil suspended public Masses and told churchgoers to stay home, online campaigns pressuerd the bishops to reverse their decision.

The mainly traditionalists objectors were echoing President Jair Bolsonaro, who was refusing to impose social distancing measures as part of his campaign to minimise the threat posed by COVID-19. In his opinion, COVID-19 is “a little flu.”

The traditionalists’ campaign has led to a flood of internet attack on the alleged leftist tendencies of the Brazilian Church.

These include using the CNBBs Facebook posts to accuse it of neglecting Brazilians’ spiritual lives and preferring to engage in left-wing political activism.

“We have two kinds of fake news against the Church,” the CNBB says.

“One of them is connected to religious fanaticism and ecclesial ultra-conservatism.”

“The other one is ideological and expresses a rejection of everything that deals with fraternity, solidarity, and human rights,” Bishop Joaquim Mol Guimarães says.

He thinks the problem is that two groups – ultra-traditionalists and anticommunists – have united, retro-feeding one another and expanding their reach on social media.

At the same time, the pandemic had led to the Church suddenly increasing its social media presence. Hundreds of priests and bishops have started celebrating online Masses, organizing virtual rosaries and debating Catholic topics.

“The augmented exposure of the Church in this period generated a growth in the opposition to it. The internet made it possible for small oppositionist groups with radical views inside Catholicism to have their voices articulated and amplified,” Professor Moisés Sbardelotto, who specialises in Catholic communication says.

In his view, hate speech and fraudulent content are used by those groups as part of a strategy and are produced by professionals. “Such ideas many times reach ill-prepared churchgoers, who only have a basic community experience and didn’t have access to a strong Catholic formation.”

Bishop Devair Fonseca says the pandemic has been accelerating the bishops’ awareness of the need for a professional organization of the Church’s social media.

“The Church knew it was important to manage pages and channels on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, but I think that now most people recognize that more investment is needed.”

Guimarães agrees. “We want the Brazilian Church to have a contemporary approach to the internet,” he says.


Additional reading

News category: World.

Tags: , , ,