While our culture seems obsessed with rooting out fake news, my social media feeds are filled with it. With the bitter partisan divide gripping our land, each side seems bent on demonizing the other in the worst way, even if it means spreading lies to make it happen. I’m sure most of the people sharing lies on the Internet don’t know that they are, but that’s what makes it even worse. To share an untruth because you did not take the time to verify the information you are spreading is an act of foolishness.
It only takes a little bit of work to ensure that you stop spreading lies and information on the Internet, but it is worth it. This is especially true if you are a follower of Jesus. We believe in the one who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) and stand under the divine command “do not lie to one another.” (Colossians 3:9)
The truth matters. When we share lies and misinformation, especially when we do so to discredit and public figure, we defame someone made in the image of God and bring shame on the name of Christ. Because Christians live as ambassadors for Christ in this world, we can and must exercise more caution and discernment concerning what we share on the Internet.
How can you ensure that you are not spreading lies and misinformation on the internet?
Love People More than You Love Politics
The vast majority of the misinformation I see on the internet is designed to attack political opponents. Therefore, we need to think about how the 9th commandment applies to the information we share on social media. The commandment, which states that “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16) beckons us to examine information before we share it to make sure it is accurate.
Last week Tim Challies wrote two excellent posts exploring the duties required by the 9th commandment and the sins it forbids. Two questions he asks should cause us to pause before we share any information that could be damaging to another reputation, even if they are a national political figure you have never met. First, he asks, “In what you say and what you read online, are you committed to promoting truth and to preserving and enhancing the reputation of others? Or are you willing to read rumors and innuendo, or to spend time reading, writing, or sharing things that tarnish reputations, especially of other believers? He also asks, “Do you demonstrate love and respect even for people with whom you disagree? Do the sites you read demonstrate that same kind of love and respect?”
Many theologians believe the first four commandments show us how to express our love for and devotion to God and that the last six show us how to love our neighbors. After all, if you love your neighbor, would you murder him, steal from him, or commit adultery with his wife? In the same way, when you love your neighbor, you will speak truthfully about her. Love for your neighbor and a disregard for the truth cannot coexist. And where there is no love for your neighbor, there is no love for God.
Politics yields temporary victories. The souls of men and women made in the image of God will last for eternity. When we sacrifice the good of eternal souls for temporal political victories, even seemingly important ones, we act foolishly and barbarously. Instead, let us remember the image of God in every man, woman, boy, and girl, resolving to not bless our Lord and father while cursing others. (James 3:9)
Spend Less Time on the Internet
I know this sounds radical, but hear me out. You need to spend less time on the Internet. It gives you the feeling that you are with people while leaving you in isolation, makes you less empathetic, and destroys your ability to focus on important tasks. Also, it fosters a sense that the only debates that matter are the ones taking place in this current moment, blowing their importance out of proportion.
What then could you do with your time when you are not on the Internet? You could spend time around your family, friends, and neighbors. Talking to actual people rather than reading opinions on the Internet increases your empathy and reminds you there is a world outside of our current political debates. Also, as you spend time with people who would disagree with you, you realize that “the other side” is way more complicated and real than social media makes them look and that they have real-life concerns that cause them to land on the other side of issues.
You could also spend your time away from the Internet reading good books. Good books encourage you to think and expose you to a world wider than the one you currently inhabit. History books give you some perspective on our current debates. Theology books anchor you in the truth of God’s word and help you to see current issues in light of the Christian worldview. An excellent novel will take you to a different time and place, while also giving you keen insight into the human condition.
You should also take some of your time away from the Internet and spend it outside. When you live your life engulfed in the social media bubble, you always have a head full of noise. However, when you leave the phone behind and go for a walk or work in the yard, you clear your head and return to the quiet thoughts that help to form your character and view of the world.
Read Good Journalism
Our current obsession with “fake news” is most unfortunate because it creates skepticism about anything that doesn’t conform to our current biases. For some reason, we only scream “fake news” about the news we don’t agree with.
If you want to be informed, start by reading one of our nation’s major newspapers. Yes, they are run by people who are more liberal than most of the people who are reading this post, but it is not hard to ferret out the difference between facts and opinions. If you truly desire to be informed, you are going to have to read more than headlines and tweets.
In addition, subscribe to a weekly or monthly news magazine. News magazines seek to be timely, but they also have more space devoted to stories that are not grabbing the headlines every day. They dive into stories affecting life here in the States and help us develop a better understanding of international conflicts, like the civil war taking place in Yemen.
If you are still unsure about what to read, a good place to start is Al Mohler’s daily podcast “The Briefing.” He explores news from a Christian perspective and each day his website has links to relevant news stories about the issues he discusses. Look for the sources he continually refers to and make it a habit to read one or two of those publications each day.
Don’t Talk about Politics on the Internet
I remain baffled by people who yell “Fake News!” about The New York Times, but believe every word they read on posts from Facebook pages with names like “Handcuffs for Hillary.” Most of the posts I see from Facebook pages and groups with an explicitly partisan bent contain untruths that can be uncovered in two or three minutes.
There’s one easy way to get away from spreading these malicious untruths–stop talking about politics on the Internet. What are you going to accomplish? Whose mind are you going to change? And what kind of damage are you doing to the cause of Christ by continually bashing the other side’s politicians and praising your own? When you share a Bible verse in one post and a blatant untruth in the next one, why would your unbelieving neighbors believe the Bible verse?
The composition of the Supreme Court is important, but it pales in comparison to the importance of our friends, neighbors, and family members hearing the Gospel. If we share ten political posts during the week and then talk about how great Jesus is on Sunday, I doubt that they are going to want to listen to what we say about Jesus. Every person’s greatest need is to hear and believe the Gospel. Do not let a pet issue or political cause get in the way of this mission.
“How to Ruin Your Christian Witness on Social Media“
For Further Reading:
The Dignity Revolution by Dan Darling
How the Nations Rage by Jonathan Leeman