By Elizabeth Prata
Social media is great! I like it. You can see how friends and family who live far away are doing. I enjoy seeing their kids get older as photos are posted year after year. We can celebrate each other’s accomplishments. People share tips and recommendations. People encourage each other. We become aware of needs we can fulfill.
But one thing I do not like about social media is the tendency for people to pass along gossip from comments and to circulate false information from poorly researched ‘news’ sites. People do that a lot.
Since the advent of the internet, there has been opportunity for people without credentials or training to call themselves journalists. Organizations write the news but they are really just anonymous gossipmongers. If I’m in a charitable mood I’d say it’s because these less than credible organizations are simply inexperienced with how to gather news properly, or they are inexperienced at how to write news well.
More often, these less than credible news organizations actually have an agenda. It’s that they want to influence you. They want to pollute the public square with twisted facts, spread misinformation, or confuse you.
There is a reason these people and organizations have an agenda of spreading false news. A populace needs solid information they can trust for several reasons. One is to have accurate information so they can be a good citizen. They need to trust the people they elect and in order to elect people to civil service we need credible information about them. We also need good information in general to be a good citizen. Trying to live our lives but never trusting the information or the people we live with in our spheres creates confusion then anger, angst, and eventually defeat and retreat from public life, saying “What’s the use?” Tyrants arise out of an apathetic citizenry. A lot of bad is done behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms.
During wartime, the Propaganda ministry was booming. There is a reason why. Flooding the culture with false and/or confusing information does our head in. Wars are won with guns, but also with words. Currently, the war has merely shifted to peacetime. Though guns may be absent, never doubt that propaganda under the guise of news” is part of an ongoing campaign to win power. Christians should be careful not to participate in it.
Christians bear a special responsibility not to fall into the trap of disseminating bad information and helping people with less than credible bad motives pollute the civic arena. We are supposed to be better than that. Jesus said,
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as wary as serpents, and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16).
I love this comment on the Matthew 10:16 verse from Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary. It’s excellent:
'be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves'—Wonderful combination this! Alone, the wisdom of the serpent is mere cunning, and the harmlessness of the dove little better than weakness: but in combination, the wisdom of the serpent would save them from unnecessary exposure to danger; the harmlessness of the dove, from sinful expedients to escape it. In the apostolic age of Christianity, how harmoniously were these qualities displayed! Instead of the fanatical thirst for martyrdom, to which a later age gave birth, there was a manly combination of unflinching zeal and calm discretion, before which nothing was able to stand.
Further, we are supposed to be in the world, NOT of the world. This same principle stands for us as social citizens IN the world. Passing along unsourced and poorly written news or memes is being a person OF the world. Just because a news article tickles your fancy or aligns with your presuppositions or opinions, does not mean you should pass it along.
People who constantly circulate this kind of stuff remind me of the verse “For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires,” 2 Timothy 4:3, where they don’t want (or don’t know how, to be charitable) to do the hard work of critical thinking, analysis, or evaluation, but instead just gravitate to news articles that make them feel good, confirm their own notions, or satisfy some kind of lust of the flesh.
If a Christian is constantly promoting news that’s based on opinion or at the least is non-credible, it’s a sure bet she’s also gravitating to less than credible Bible Studies that rely on emotion and opinion, too.
Christian ladies, we need to be more thoughtful in evaluating information. We need to be careful before we press ‘send’. We are not supposed to bear false witness. We’re not to be passing along unfounded news, unsourced gossip, and unfactual information is in a sense bearing false witness against our neighbor.
So, to the practical part of this post. How are we to test if the news we circulate is factual? I was a journalist who worked for newspapers for 6 years. I was selected to participate in Bloomberg News Training. The Society of Professional Journalists/Bloomberg News “Training On The Go”. TOTG was a journalist training program led by leading national journalists from a variety of media. Participation depended upon completing an application and invitations to selected participants were extended to a few chosen applicants. I was also a three-time New England Newspapers Award winner, twice for writing and once for general excellence in advertising. I’m not saying this to boast- I desire the reader to know I have been trained and I’m credible to say these things. I am not a hypocrite speaking out of two sides of my mouth. These concepts are dear to me.
Here is a chart I found helpful.
We are called to be in the world and in so doing we must be the best Christians we can be. Good citizens, models of propriety and honor. Critical thinkers, wise but harmless. If a Christian can’t evaluate a secular piece of trash writing, how will she evaluate a nuanced doctrine from the Bible? If people who twist the Bible are called “unstable” (2 Peter 3:16), how unstable is a believer who passes along twisted worldly facts? That same verse calls such people ignorant. Yet believers are called to be wise.
The Bible says in Proverbs 12:18, There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing. On social media, pressing send without proper vetting of the information is speaking rashly.
Friends, before you press send, THINK (of your neighbor). EVALUATE (the information). ASSESS (whether to pass it along). Be wise and harmless.