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The Era of Misinformation

The Era of Misinformation August 19, 2021

One day, centuries from now, history will call the early 21st Century the Era of Misinformation. History has a way of repeating itself, and our modern age of believing that, “It’s on the internet, so it must be true.” Meanwhile our culture is forgetting how to think for itself.

Paulo Freire’ is a personal hero of mine. Born into poverty in Recife, Brazil in 1921, he grew up realizing that the oppression of his government created a culture of illiteracy and understanding of their economic situation. Basically, they didn’t realize they were poor and oppressed as they had no knowledge of any other way of living. They were denied education by the poor economy, and didn’t have enough knowledge to even question the present reality they were in. They were silent and unable to reflect critically upon the world around them, so they became fatalistic and dominated, powerless to change their situations.

Freire’ wrote his most famous work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, in 1972. He contrasted “banking” education, the process of depositing facts into the minds of students to have them “withdrawn” on demand, with a model of learning where people bring their own knowledge and experience into the education process.

Teaching is typically undertaken in small groups with lively interaction and can embrace not only the written word but art, music and other forms of expression. In layman’s terms, Freire taught people to question things and apply their own imaginations and life experiences as tools in learning. His philosophy contradicted the oppression tactics of the Brazilian government, and he was branded a traitor.

One of my favorite quotes from Pedagogy of the Oppressed is, “Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress. Oppression is a breeding ground of conformity.” Paulo Freire’ taught us to think for ourselves and speak words that can and will change the world.

Centuries earlier, the Apostle Paul laid this same philosophy out, “Don’t be conformed…be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Let go of conformity and embrace transformity. Overcome social oppression and embrace the freedom to learn and grow and become agents of change in our world!

The Loudest Voices Are Seldom in Charge

Social media has created a platform for people from all walks of life to champion whatever causes they value. They believe if they make enough digital “noise” regarding their individual bents, people will join their cause. For people who don’t actively think for themselves or arm themselves with knowledge, it is very easy to be drawn into the noise and be inclined to raise even more noise.

For example, recently the issue of vaccinating against COVID has become a hot button issue. The people who are against vaccination appear to be growing in number. They appear to be, but they may, in fact, not be as large in number as they seem. Appearances can be deceiving. The ones who make the most noise are seldom the ones actually making a difference.

My first church staff position was as a Minister of Music and Youth. As minister of music, I led the congregational singing as well as the adult choir. This part of my job came very natural to me. In high school, I was elected to be Student Conductor in both the band and chorus. Directing singing was easy to me. My Minister of Music growing up was Reverend Lloyd Brewer. He was amazing! He was the purest classical musician and vocalist I have ever known. I watched him for years. As music minister, I pretty much did the job the way I watched Pastor Lloyd do it. I loved him very much.

One day a grumpy gentleman in the church came up to me after the service and said, “Todd, we can’t follow your directing during church. A bunch of people agree with me. You are throwing the whole church off.” I asked him if he could name some of these people so that I might meet with them and find out how to better serve them. He never gave me a name. They were just a bunch of people unhappy with my directing…so he said.
I’m sure you realize there was not a bunch of people at all. It was just him. Just one person who couldn’t connect with my method of conducting.

This type of misrepresentation has been going on for many years in churches, Ruritan Clubs, Masonic Lodges, PTA organizations, and, even, book clubs. Anytime you have a group of people gathering together, someone is always jockeying for positions of influence and seeking followers to back up his/her point of view. That’s the American way, and we only see so much more of it now because of the speed at which social media fills up our feeds. Anyone can find a group of people who will agree with them. Finding a group of people who are of one mind and purpose is difficult, but not impossible.

Baiting to Be Heard

Gary Vaynerchuk, entrepreneur and author of the book, Crush It, says that social media attention is the asset, the internet has it, and people will pay anything, say anything, or do anything to get it. Much of the internet is filled with “click bait.”

An example of click bait is a regular Facebook post that says that Sylvester Stallone is dead. I am a huge Stallone fan, and I happen to know he is alive and still making movies. However, many people will see that headline, be shocked, fail to read the story, and then start forwarding the false news report without first verifying the facts. The more clicks a site gets, the more advertisers will pay to be on it. We now have a culture of humanity that specializes in using the amazing and wonderful gift of technology to promote nonsensical information designed to draw you in to their feeble causes.

I say again, the ones who make the most digital noise are not the driving forces of the internet. For every piece of click bait, there are many reliable news sources that share a commitment to the truth. We only need to learn how to distinguish the truth from the falsehoods. Just because it’s on the internet, does not necessarily make it true.

This book is about the renewing of your mind. I submit that it is just as vital to use your mind! We have got to stop allowing the click-baiters to tell us what is important and what isn’t. It is our responsibility to get all the facts and supporting information that we can. It’s there if we take the time to look for it. Allow me to illustrate.

The headline on your news feed reads, “The President states that all red-haired Americans are really Irish Terrorists and need to be rounded up.” The first thing you should do is look at the source. Where did this headline and story come from? Let’s imagine the website is www.newsforamerica.com.go. Our next step would be to visit the website. As you examine the site, you realize that this page belongs to an Anti-Redhead group. The whole website is replete with completely biased articles about why redheads are dangerous to society.

You have just experienced click-bait. Our culture also calls it, “Fake News.” Fake is the opposite of real. Fake is untrustworthy. Fake is not worth the time it takes to read it. The information is useless. Why exchange valuable time to mentally ingest something that has no value whatsoever? Time is a non-renewable resource. You spend it, it’s gone, and you can’t earn more. I have determined to no longer waste my precious time and intellect engaging in rubbish.

Before the internet and social media became mainstream, we had news publications called, “Tabloids,” such as The National Enquirer. They are still there as you check out at the grocery store. From cover to cover, there is not one ounce of truth within the tabloid’s pages. People read them for entertainment. There is no intrinsic harm in that, to be fair, but one could also choose to only eat bread found in a dumpster. I don’t recommend that, either.
I believe that if we all resolve to never follow click-bait or fake news or to read supermarket tabloids, they would eventually stop. Or, at the very least, greatly diminish. The choice begins in our minds.

Another internet trap to beware of are inflammatory headlines. We see many of these throughout the day, and they are almost always related to politics. Republicans said this, and Democrats did that. I call them “inflammatory,” because they tend to get your blood boiling.

For example, a local headline I read just today about a man who was captured for murdering a local college student. The headline read, “Guilty man was a no-show for his arraignment.” How did that happen? Was he free? Did he escape? After reading the story, the truth was that the man opted out of being present for his arraignment. The headlines are designed to anger and draw you in.

If you really want to get fired up, read the comments. Better yet, don’t read the comments. Arguing with total strangers while hiding behind your computer screen is one of the biggest time-and-brain-wasters out there. Nothing gets solved in the comments section. Quote me on that. Nothing of any worth or value exists in a place where all people do is unleash their opinions back and forth.

Americans struggle with anxiety more than any other time in history. I wonder if some of that anxiety could be alleviated by becoming more vigilant as to what we allow into our minds. If it looks bad, it almost always is. Find something better to look at and to ponder.

I have completely resolved that I will guard my mind from useless junk. I simply will not let it in. I scroll past it, I block it, I delete it, I unfriend it, and I log out of it. Information that does not serve my happiness and personal growth is no longer welcome in my mind. I have spent too many years renewing my mind to allow any false or inflammatory so-called news articles to steal my joy. Furthermore, I refuse to read anymore comment threads from which intelligence and reason are painfully absent.

We are so bombarded with information today, but, oh, so lacking in wisdom and unity. The Bible teaches us to focus our minds on higher things (Colossians 3:2; Philippians 4:8). Now would be a good time for you to take stock in what you arereading and scrolling. It may be time to clean out your mental house. As you do, take time to answer these questions as you read or scroll:

1) Is the source reliable and unbiased?
2) Does this information serve my happiness or move me closer to my dreams?
3) Will having this information make me smarter and more equipped to face my everyday life?
4) Will this material draw me closer to the heart of God?

If the answer is no, then scroll past, block, delete, or log off. Protect your mind and your heart. Protect it as if your life depended on it. Transformity only happens when we renew our minds. The “same ole, same ole” hasn’t helped you thus far. Let it go. You wouldn’t feed your body from a sewer, so, why would you feed your mind from one?

For God’s sake, have the confidence to think for yourself! Don’t let the Pied Piper of misinformation lead you off the cliff of reality.


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