When I saw this “news” article posted on Facebook several months ago, I nearly burst my kidneys laughing:
This is probably the funniest thing I’ve seen in months. Maybe ever. So much hilarity. The picture, the headline, the sub headline. It’s a masterpiece on par with Hemingway.
After reading the article for about three seconds, it became obvious to me that it was fake news. Yes, the site it was on looked like a real news site…but it obviously wasn’t.
But look at how many times it was shared on Facebook. Two million!
Granted, many of these shares were probably by people like me who think it’s hilarious, but how many people believed this article and shared it as some sort of bizarre cautionary tale (“I always knew squirrels were dangerous!”)?
This is the insidious, deceitful power of fake news. This particular article was pretty stupid, but there have been numerous fake news articles recently that have caused serious real-world problems. Earlier this year, a man went to a pizza place with a gun because he was convinced that Hilary Clinton and other top Democrats were running a sex ring out of the basement.
It all started as an “innocent” internet rumor that quickly blew up into national news.
Fake news is dangerous. It misleads, deceives, and can ultimately bring about destruction.
Lies and defamation have been propagated. Conspiracy theories have been set ablaze. Reputations ruined.
As Christians, we’re called to be discerning, knowing good from evil, truth from fiction. We’re also called to hold fast to what is good and hate what is evil.
Plain and simple: Lies and deception are evil.
Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness. (Exodus 23:1)
We can’t be swayed to and fro by every rumor on the internet, and we can’t take part in spreading those fake rumors.
But how can we know what’s true and false?
The book of Proverbs.
Street Wisdom For A Confused World
Proverbs is full of what Ray Ortlund Jr. calls “street wisdom”. In other words, it’s not esoteric sayings about a one-handed person applauding in the woods or the number of angels who can jitterbug on the head of a pencil.
Proverbs gives divine wisdom for the messy, gray, confusing situations we encounter every day. This is wisdom that works – wisdom with teeth. It’s a book given by God to help us navigate the rocky shoals of relationships, money, children, sex, and…
Even though the Bible was written thousands of years before the advent of the internet, the nature of rumors and fake news hasn’t changed.
God knows that we all have a tendency to spread false reports. They itch a particular sinful bone in our body. They give us a sort of exquisite pleasure – the delight of being the first to share something interesting or grotesque.
Proverbs 18:8 nails it when it says:
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.
Social media allows us to be a connoisseur of delicious rumor morsels. We see something and share it immediately, without taking the time to separate truth from fiction.
But lies are lies, and lies are abhorrent to God. He’s the God of all truth and hates falsehood. He is not a man that he should lie. When we spread falsehood, whether intentionally or not, we are working counter to God.
And frankly, it makes us look like morons who have been duped.
This is where Proverbs comes to the rescue. It gives us spiritual x-ray vision of sorts, allowing us to see beneath headlines and pictures to the sham of fake news.
Getting Both Sides
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17)
The first step in avoiding fake news is considering both sides of the story. This shouldn’t be news to us. We’ve been taught this since we were young. There are always two sides to a story. And yet for some reason, we forget about this online.
Before we share something, we need to ask ourselves:
- Is this even true? Some stories are true, some have bits of truth, and some are totally false. We need to take the time to figure out where each story falls.
- Is this side of the story particularly biased? Every news source has biases, but some sources are far more biased than others. Read other articles on the site to determine the biases. Once you’ve done that, read the same story on a site equally biased in the other direction. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.
- Has this story been verified by major news outlets? I suspect some of you will push back against this, but major news outlets, biases or not, have a legal responsibility to verify news stories. They can be sued if they don’t. This isn’t true of fake news sites, blogs, and one man shows. While many outlets will ignore stories based on their biases, a story should be verified by at least one news outlet.
Taking Fake News Seriously
If fake news is a lie, then we are perpetuating a lie every time we share a fake news story. Proverbs 18:21 puts it in even more visceral terms:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
The words we speak (and share) can either bring death or life. And (this is crucial), if we spread death, we will reap the fruits of death. Not only does spreading lies destroy other people, it rots us from the inside.
As Christians, we are called to speak and spread life. And we are called to stand for and promote truth. This is why we should take fake news so seriously. It’s not just a political or cultural phenomenon. It’s an issue of life or death.
If we want to reap life, we will spread truth.
If we want to reap death…
…we’ll share stories about assassin squirrels and Democratic sex rings.