How We Respond to Fake News

How We Respond to Fake News

Don’t worry, ya’ll, this isn’t a political post.

While the term “fake news” has been used a lot in the political world these days I’m actually talking about stories that we Christians share on social media that are fake. Very often these stories are about pop culture or Bible prophesies, or even sometimes, Christian values. We need to use caution when we believe a story, share it, or discuss it.

Fake stories are opportunities to discuss what is real and tell the world why we believe in the truth of Jesus’ teachings. But what if the story being shared is completely wrong? Would you know?

A few years ago there was a story circulating about Christians being upset by something sold at a popular chain. I’m friends with a lot of non-believers on social media and this story got shared quickly, along with opinions about Christians in general.

My first reaction was to defend Christians. The story seemed ridiculous but that wasn’t the point, was it? I asked many of my Christian friends if they were upset by this news article, and no one had even heard this thing was happening. (And yes, I’m being vague about what it is for the purpose of this post so we don’t get stuck on the news item and instead focus on the greater issue).

My freelance writer curiosity would not let me move on from this. I started digging. I asked for links to the story that was being discussed and went back from there. The story was shared from an outlet known for spreading theories. Not a news outlet. I asked people if there was a credible source and a writer friend sent me a link to a CBS article and then added a note to me about why she personally felt this was “payback” for Christians who behave judgmentally.

She wasn’t wrong about the judgmental part. We do that sometimes. More than sometimes. But I was still obsessed with the article. I dug through the CBS article to find that they quoted the original, non-reliable source. Then the story spread faster, with other news outlets picking up the story and quoting the CBS story (whose only source appeared to the fake news outlet.)

But where did the fake news outlet get its info from? I read the fake news outlet’s “about” page and found a name. I googled that name and found his Twitter feed and website, and there, I found the original source. I spotted the time stamps and noted that he had a part-time role at the fake news outlet, who quoted his tweet as fact. The story snowballed from there, to the point where everyone was sharing it and (in the case of CBS and others) quoting it.

I went back to the rest of this person’s feed and saw that this was something he did regularly. He threw things out there to see what “bit” on social media, and what would get people riled up. Then, the fake news outlet took the “stories” that got the most comments and created a piece from them. This person has a big following and many of his followers believe him at his word.

Two days later, this story was confirmed by credible news outlets, some of which had quoted the story, as being completely false. But boom… we’re on to the next thing in this society. I tried to talk with people who went on their Christian rants to tell them this story was made up and no one cared.

The Hard Truth

I realized it wasn’t about the story itself. It was about people’s beliefs. And while this particular post is about a story that attacked Christians, this morning I commented on one where Christians were attacking their own and after some digging I found that story to be false, too. I commented and told the people posting this, and guess what? Same response. The opinions were still flying. No one cared.

Why do we do this? And by “we” I mean, me and you, sister. We are the truth tellers. We need to be careful.

This morning I went to this person’s feed and corrected them. I shared proof that the story was false and asked them to be diligent about the truth. Then after I did that, I prayed about what I should have said. (See how I have that backwards? I should pray first.)

What We Can Do

In this busy life, we already have enough to worry about. Why bother correcting people about truth, especially when that truth might not be directly related to Jesus?

I believe that when one lie is allowed, the rest of them flow freely. How can we be trusted in telling the truth of God’s word if we share stories that are false? If we are to be trusted we need to be diligent about pointing about fact and not parroting falsehoods.

Here’s what I find helpful:

  • Pray first. Before you comment. Before you dig for the truth. Before you react.

 

  • Know how to distinguish fact from fiction. We have to get out of our comfort zone or we may find ourselves in a place that feels good but where God doesn’t want us to be.

 

  • Don’t rely on one source. I hear people quote one source as their go-to for debunking stories, but learn to dig in many sources to distinguish truth. Even sources like Snopes or NPR or MSM (mainstream media) have gotten it wrong. They are fallible, so don’t rely on them solely. Turn to God and he will help you find truth.

 

  • Acknowledge how people feel. The arguments start because they see a story that makes their feelings justified. The woman that attacked me, saying Christians were judgmental, wasn’t exactly wrong. We are at times. We are with other people and even ourselves. We aren’t perfect and sometimes we mess up when trying to spread the truth of God’s love.

 

  • Understand the real reason people post something. If someone posted a fake news story, are they trying to find the truth about God? Trying to call out the bad behavior of others? Trying to feel superior? Or maybe trying to do the right thing in the wrong way?

 

  • Watch your response. When I’m in “freelance writer digging for research” mode I get very short with people. It comes from years of trying to find sources, meet tight deadlines, and get answers verified so I can write my story. That doesn’t come across so well when I’m trying to lovingly provide truth, does it? I find myself having to slow down, pray, ask God to give me the attitude and words to respond.

 

Ask God to help. I very often do this out of order. I do something stupid first and ask God to make it okay. (I know… )

Why Do Christians Share Bad Stories?

The story I debunked today was about Christians attacking another Christian as a way to foretell end times. I think this desire to see scripture play out in our world is a motivation for sharing these stories, perhaps.

While the Bible allows us to know the end of the story, we have to be careful. I’ve heard every president depicted as the anti-Christ, every faith leader as secretly having “the mark of the beast” and other people in society as the ultimate false prophet.

There is a part of us that perhaps wants our homecoming with Jesus to happen and to show the rest of the world that the Bible is true. And while I’ve myself wondered about events sometimes, I am cautious about declaring people as the anti-Christ. I mean, I’m sure people said this about Hitler, too, and his time from this earth has passed.

Share the Truth of Scripture Without Being a Fortuneteller

I think every generation probably thinks they are part of the end times, and maybe we are. Things do happen that the Bible predicted that even a few years ago wouldn’t seem possible. Just yesterday I saw a (true) news story that had me digging through the book of Revelation.

It’s natural to wonder and to warn people. But let’s try to do it without playing fortuneteller. Quote the Bible directly and let people decide. Offer the truth. Help people find answers. Share your story and your testimony, because that is truth you don’t have to research (ha!) and very often your personal story is what will help someone else reach out to God in the same way.

1 Corinthians 14:33

For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

(KJV)

 

These fake news stories and end times prophesies are confusing and sometimes frightening. But remember, God is not here to trick someone into believing in Him OR into failing to believe in Him. He’s tells us all we need to know with His word and helps us navigate to find truth. Allow him to guide us in these days of social media, where things are shared too quickly and recklessly. We’ve all done it. When I see a fake story from someone else, it gives me pause and reminds me to slow down before I share one myself. We are all here to learn from each other.

 

 

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Cherie Burbach About Cherie Burbach

Cherie Burbach is the founder of Putting on the New. She is a poet, mixed media artist, and freelance writer. She’s written for About.com, NBC/Universal, Match.com, Christianity Today, and more. Her latest book is: Art and Faith: Mixed Media Art With a Faith-Filled Message. For more, check out her website.

Comments

  1. Cherie, this is a fantastic post! Made me stop in my tracks and think back to times I may have been guilty of propagating fake news.

    Due diligence is the key, as you’ve pointed out. If even one FB or Twitter post causes you to raise an eyebrow, check it out before reacting. If you don’t have or want to take the time to verify the content, then don’t react at all.

    A week or so ago, I came across a very funny ballet video on FB … watched it, laughed out loud, and shared it. It wasn’t ten minutes before I got a notification from a friend telling me the ballet ‘cast’ consisted of males pretending to be female, the ‘prima ballerina’ in particular. I took it down immediately. Though I still think it was hysterically funny, knowing the ‘truth’ about the performers made me feel a little ‘dirty’ for sharing it.

    [Reply]

    Cherie Burbach

    Cherie Burbach Reply:

    I think we’ve all shared something that we later didn’t feel great about. I’ve done it, too. Hard not to with social media.

    [Reply]

  2. We should turn our country to the Lord. Allow Him to be in charge. Pray constantly. Cherie, this is a wonderful post.

    [Reply]

    Cherie Burbach

    Cherie Burbach Reply:

    Thanks, Janet. Hugs to you, friend!

    [Reply]

  3. I love how you outlined this. It’s a great list to refer back to before I jump into the fray of some “discussion.”

    [Reply]

    Cherie Burbach

    Cherie Burbach Reply:

    Thanks, Linda. But it’s hard not to jump into. We’re in a very reactionary place in our world, especially on social media. I’ve done it a lot and have to stop myself.

    [Reply]

  4. Great food for thought, Cherie. It’s a reminder to us that we don’t grab the “bait” when on social media but to be diligent in what we share and what we let influence our decisions.

    [Reply]

    Cherie Burbach

    Cherie Burbach Reply:

    Thanks, Barbara. I think we all do it, it’s the nature of our world today.

    [Reply]

  5. Laurie Driesen says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing a very thoughtful and careful perspective on fake news. It’s so prevalent today, I’m so glad you boldly addressed it! We are all responsible for making sure we don’t contribute to fake news by liking or sharing things that we haven’t checked out. We also are responsible for making sure we love and pursue the truth above all. I love all of your points in addressing not only what happens but how we should handle it!

    [Reply]

    Cherie Burbach

    Cherie Burbach Reply:

    Thanks, Laurie.

    [Reply]

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