Misinformation is a big issue in today’s society and is so prolific and influential that we, as Christians, need to know how to fight fake news.
The words ‘fake news’ are on everybody’s lips nowadays, including those of the American President. What most people understand by this term is the manipulated or fabricated news, usually political, that we see in newspapers, TV presentations, and social media. However, the problem is deeper and more pernicious than just news reporting. The bigger problem is the proliferation and power of misinformation in general. By this, I mean fabricated or manipulated information used primarily to influence people and further a specific agenda. All of us are targets of political, business, ideological or religious campaigns that use misinformation to influence us.
What it is and how it travels
Misinformation creators present their ‘lies’ in a variety of ways. It is either fabricated content (made up), manipulated content (‘spinning’ a story), content taken out of context, or content falsely connected with other content. Whatever the formulation, the aim is always to mislead, influence and control. Simply put, it falls under the prohibition of the 9th Commandment, “You shall not give false testimony…”
In New Testament times, information travelled by foot on Roman roads at about 1.4 meters per second. Today information travels over the internet at approximately 25 million bits per second. The Roman roads made the international spread of the Gospel possible, but the internet has facilitated the almost instantaneous spread of misinformation.
The biggest disseminators of misinformation are Social Media and Google. Facebook with its over 2 billion monthly users, YouTube (1.5 billion), WhatsApp (1.5 billion), Instagram (800 million) and Twitter (330 million) are the dominant social media mega-sites and Google is the biggest and most used search engine. Oh dear, I have just given you some misinformation; Google has a search engine but it is much more than that, it has a social network (Google+), email, and so on, but in essence, it is a HUGE content provider.
Obviously, these social media, search, and content providers aim at providing true news and reliable information, but they also constitute a massive potential for the creation and lightning-fast dissemination of misinformation.
Two sociological shifts
Now, add two radical shifts in the way people in general process information in our day, and we have a problem of seismic proportions. Firstly, society, in general, has moved away from engaged critical thinking to passive gullibility. Secondly, group consensus and trendy ‘thought leaders’ have replaced tradition authority and qualified experts as sources of ‘reliable’ information. Misinformation can now travel at billions of bits per second into billions of receptive minds. Of course, I am generalising here; not all people are undiscerning and ignorant – you clearly aren’t because you are persevering with this article. 🙂
A helpful article
I had planned to write something about how people generate and spread misinformation, but I want to move on to the actual purpose of this article – how we can fight false news. However, here is an article by Dom Galeon that I found helpful It highlights a recent study by MIT that mentions, among other things, that fake news evokes the emotions of fear, disgust, and surprise and that these emotions fuel the propagation of the news to others. Clearly not something that we Christians want to experience or transmit.
So, how should we counteract misinformation?
Strategy One: Realise that as Christians, we are children of the light and not of the darkness (Ephesians 5:8-11) and that generating or spreading misinformation is displeasing to God. Isaiah wrote;
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).
So, we need to repent and desist from spinning stories, gossiping electronically, and passing on unverified ‘news’ to others.
Strategy Two: Change our default position from passive gullibility to active discerning scepticism. Hardly a day goes by without me reading, seeing, or hearing news or information that is outrageously and preposterously ridiculous. The ex-president of South Africa waves a piece of paper in his hand and claims that he has fired his minister of finance because he has an intelligence report proving that the man is a treasonous villain. Now, why should anyone who has access to the background and track record of the man in question believe that… yet millions apparently did! The same ex-president is now telling university students that state capture is just a political myth! Yes, sure! The secret planet Naburu is on a near collision course with Earth that will enable enlightened aliens to visit our planet again… Oh, sorry, actually its going to collide with earth and wipe us all out. You don’t say! Bottled water blessed by the Man of God from Nigeria cures cancer provided you pay handsomely for it – and so on, day after day. We need to be asking ‘why should I believe this?’ rather than ‘who can I tell this to?’
Strategy Three: Fact-check before passing on information. I get many WhatsApp messages, emails, or Facebook posts that I recognise as misinformation that I have seen several times in the past. The all-time record repeater must be the scare report circulating for the last 18 years that someone is making a movie about a homosexual Jesus. Snopes.com is a good fact-checking site and it is so easy to type into its search facility some key words or even a cut and paste from the post you have received. Yes, there is good and useful stuff on the internet as well.
Strategy Four: Commit to being a proactive conveyer of truth. Jesus is the way, truth and life. He is the source of truth and the Bible is the repository of truth. Instead of passing on misinformation that brings fear, indignation, and a sense of hopelessness, we can and should pass on messages of hope, life, and TRUTH.
This then is how we can fight false news.