One of the more grievous things about social media is to see the number of posts and memes, many of a political nature, that, when fact-checked, are either half-truths or outright lies. The most unsettling are personal attacks on individuals, based on false information.
I am most disturbed when I see friends who I know as professing Christians engaged in this kind of activity. The apostle Paul in Ephesians calls us to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). What is disturbing is that much of this activity evidences neither truth nor love.
Sometimes, it may be that we see something that either incites our outrage, or reinforces an existing belief, and it is so easy to click “share” or “retweet.” The thing is that often, that is exactly what the originators of this content want us to do, whether they are partisans in this country or propagandists from foreign countries seeking to sow discord in the American system.
I think that if all professing Christians determined to not share and retweet political posts, without checking their truthfulness before passing them along, it would not stop this practice, but it might make a difference. If they went a step further and let the person who shared the information with them that it was inaccurate, this might give others pause (and might not).
This does raise the question of how we assess the truthfulness of posts and tweets. The Huffington Post recently published an article on “How to Recognize a Fake News Story” that reflects my own practices. They suggested nine practices:
- Read past the headline.
- Check what news outlet it is published on. (Google the site’s name.) I would add, be aware of the bias of all news outlets, even mainstream media.
- Check the publish date and time (sometimes old events are represented as current).
- Who is the author? (Search their past articles to see if they are reputable or have a reputation for hoaxes)
- Look at what links and sources are used.
- Look for questionable quotes and images. (The article suggests tools you can use).
- Beware of confirmation bias. (Don’t just share something because it agrees with your point of view–it could be false.)
- Search if other news outlets are reporting it. (Especially those with a different bias).
- Think before you share.
I also use sites like FactCheck.org, or Politifact.com to check posts, quotes, and memes. Often I end up finding the actual meme or post and then a detailed citation of reputable sources confirming the post or showing it partially true or false. Some people have accused these sites of bias, but I have found them willing to take to task posts across the political spectrum, and to provide reputable sources to back up their findings.
What is most challenging to me however is that I do not want to be found disobedient to the word of God. And I believe that anyone who really loves God and God’s word does not want to be found disobedient, either. Consider some of these scriptures and their implications for what we say and write online:
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16.
“The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” Proverbs 12:22.
“ Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” 1 Corinthians 13:6
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Ephesians 4:25
“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” 1 Peter 2:1
I spend a good deal of time online with this blog, and on different social media sites I curate. This is a challenging word that I consider:
“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” Matthew 12:36 [All verses NIV]
I just added it up. I’ve written over 1.5 million words on this blog since I began it in 2013. I believe I will give account for every one. As well as my posts and comments on social media. All my emails. My words offline. Apart from grace, I know I’m in deep trouble. But even with grace, I’m sobered that my words, indeed my life, is an open book to God. I love God and I want to tell a story God loves.
If you love God, I think you do as well. We may not always agree, and I don’t think we need to mute our disagreements or our convictions about parties and issues. Can we agree to tell the truth to the best of our ability? Can we agree not to “gaslight” each other? Can we agree to believe the best of each other?
Jesus called his followers the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We may wonder whether what we do makes a difference. I would suggest that it does not take much salt to flavor something. Even a small light can pierce and dispel darkness. “Tipping points” happen when a number of small changes come together and have a cumulative effect. Imagine what would happen if the 65% of self-identifying Christians in the U.S. took truthfulness online seriously. It may not end our political disagreements, but I wonder if it would change the online world and the rancor and discord we encounter.
Will you take truthfulness seriously? Will you encourage this in your social media circles? Do you think I am speaking the truth? Will you share that truth?