Over the past two years I have become increasingly concerned about how we, as followers of the Messiah, express ourselves and how we relate to 'fake news'. So what is fake news? Wikipedia defines it as follows:
Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically, often with sensationalist, exaggerated, or patently false headlines that grab attention. Intentionally misleading and deceptive fake news is different from obvious satire or parody which is intended to humor rather than mislead its audience. Fake news often employs eye-catching headlines or entirely fabricated news stories to increase readership, online sharing and Internet click revenue. In the latter case, it is similar to sensational online "clickbait" headlines and relies on advertising revenue generated from this activity, regardless of the veracity of the published stories. Fake news also undermines serious media coverage and makes it more difficult for journalists to cover significant news stories.
Disclaimer: Fake news or not...A friend of mine posted this on their Facebook page with the disclaimer 'I don’t know if this is false news or not, but I’m very happy to put this picture on Facebook.' However it wasn't true that Facebook were trying to get people to remove the picture from their profiles because it was offensive.
There then followed what became a gently heated discussion with the person who posted it stating...
Given that our Christian heritage is being eroded from our society at an alarming rate, I can’t see who would be “inflamed” by my comment, except those who are anti-Christian anyway. We had in Birmingham the council replacing Christmas with “Winterval” until there was protest. As a convinced Anglican (despite certain internal unbiblical trends) I am pleased to be part of the state church which reaches vast areas of our population. We are still basically a Christian country, so why should we put up with the pc trend and not resist. That’s as much as I will say lest this “molehill” thread becomes even more mountainous!Unfortunately, the example he used to justify his position was in itself fake news!
Debunking the fake newsSnopes and Hoax Slayer are two websites that aim to debunk fake news, myths and lies circulating on the Internet.
Snopes begun in 1994 as an expression of David Mikkelson's interest in researching urban legends that has since grown into the oldest and largest fact-checking site on the Internet, one widely regarded by journalists, folklorists, and laypersons alike as one of the world’s essential resources.
Hoax Slayer's mission statement is to make the Internet a safer, more pleasant and more productive environment by:
In the case of the claim that Facebook was trying to get people to remove the picture from their profiles, Hoax Slayer unequivocably stated 'No, Facebook Is NOT Trying to Get Users to Remove a Nativity Scene Picture' and Snopes stated 'Not only is that rumor both old and long-debunked, but the source of this most recent version (Associated Media Coverage) is a fake news site that typically spreads falsehoods regarding to non-existent laws or statutes which would affect a specific subset of the population.'
The story of Birmingham City Council rebranding Christmas as Winterval had gone viral some years earlier, but the Daily Mail admitted the story they had published was not correct, and the Guardian described Winterval as the unpalatable making of a modern myth. Indeed there are many citations proving that the story was, in fact, fiction.
So why does this matter?Many Christians are responding emotionally -- they often feel under attack regardless of the truth or otherwise of actually being attacked so stories that support their position do not get adequate levels of 'due diligence' of checking the veracity of the article or news item.
A significant number of people, particularly those in the west, see Jesus as a myth, something maybe not quite fake news, but certainly not rock solid fact. So if we, as followers of the Messiah, knowing Him to be alive and not mere myth write things that would not stand up in a court of law, we will be demonstrating that we are people who don't check our facts. As such we appear unreliable witnesses and thus our testimonies as followers of Jesus are rendered invalid. It is thus of critical importance that we fact-check stories.
Where does it start and where does it end?The problem we increasingly face is that Fake News, Myths and Lies are not merely about whether or not Facebook has or has not banned an image of the nativity, nor whether or not Birmingham City Council has or has not renamed Christmas to Winterval, but it affects many more serious issues like the UK membership of the EU and the USA potentially going to war with North Korea.
Every day we are affected by it. And some people have decided to just go with the flow. For Brexit I get told 'it is a done deal so just accept it'. No, that is not defensible. There is a quote widely attributed to Edmund Burke: 'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.'
Who can you trust?I spent 7 years working for the BBC, the last two of which were for BBC TV News. Back then we struggled to give both balance and truth to our reporting.
|John Simpson in Cardiff (c) Wales Online|
In an article written for WalesOnline he is quoted as saying, 'We have seem to have got a kind of dislocation between truth and fiction. Which I really find very it very disturbing... You get sheer, sheer, untruths fired away at you and nobody knows what is correct and which isn’t... Organisations which were obliged by law to be balanced and not to take sides, like all the broadcasters, that business of balance just simply led to ‘on the one hand, on the other’.'
He expressed that a really good friend of his, Christiane Amanpour, a journalist of similar position to him but with CNN, 'is moving away from the balance idea and towards what she says is truth-telling. That’s fine but we have got to put a hell of a lot of faith in the truth teller.'
We, as Christians, should be 'truth tellers', after all, we follow the person who is the way, the truth and the life.