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A Modern Epidemic

Fake News

by Ron Matsen


Truth is a Casualty of War

Some say that the first casualty of war is truth. Abraham Lincoln said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”[1]

The media coverage of the 2016 USA Presidential election certainly was a great example of this statement. After the election, Hillary Clinton called the rise of fake news an epidemic in her first speech since losing the presidential election. “It’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences.”[2] As many Trump supporters claimed that she was only crying foul because she lost, I wonder if the same would have been said by the Trump camp if they had ended up on the other side of electoral victory. The truth is, sordid claims and counter-claims obscured many of the real important issues that the voters should have focused on.

The New York Times recently reported: “Mr. Eric Tucker, a 35-year-old co-founder of a marketing company in Austin, Texas, had just about 40 Twitter followers. But his recent tweet about paid protesters being bused to demonstrations against President-elect Donald J. Trump fueled a nationwide conspiracy theory — one that Mr. Trump joined in promoting. Mr. Tucker’s post was shared at least 16,000 times on Twitter and more than 350,000 times on Facebook. The problem is that he got it wrong. There were no such buses packed with paid protesters. But that didn’t matter.”[3] How can this happen?

On December 4, 2016 Edgar Maddison Welch walked into the Comet Ping Pong, in northwest Washington, to “self-investigate” what is being called Pizzagate, an online conspiracy theory asserting, with no evidence, that the pizza restaurant was somehow tied to a child abuse ring. He entered the restaurant shortly before 3 p.m. with a rifle and fired it at least once.[4] How did he get it so completely wrong?

These are examples of how, in an ever-connected world where speed and access often takes precedence over truth, an observation or opinion by a private citizen can quickly become a talking point, even as it is being proven false. Once the contra-information is being offered to offset the falsehood then in come the conspiracy theorists who add to the confusion by jumping on the proverbial bandwagon and help it gain speed as it rushes down the slippery slope of shifting public opinion.

In a world of ever-increasing deception, may people believe they can simply do the information collecting and sifting by themselves. After all, anyone can simply use the power of the Google online search engine to investigate to their hearts’ content. To fight the war against the disinformation spin-doctors effectively you must to understand your enemy.

The Deceptive Art of Astroturfing

The whole idea of astroturfing is to give the impression that grassroots opinion is for or against an agenda when there is not any real supporting data for that position. Astroturfing seeks to get you to change your opinion because you may perceive that you are an outsider when in fact you are not. Astroturfing seeks to make a controversy out of any opinion that is contrary to his/hers. In the end, astroturfing’s objective is to create so much confusion that the honest seeker will simply throw up their hands and give up. In real-world warfare, this is called “target overload.” By saturating the senses of your enemies, they come to a point when they can no longer discern what is chaff and what is the target. Fake news thrives in the green fields of Astroturf[5].

Deception as a Sign of the End Times

Deception is a common sign of the End Times. Jesus warned that there would be deception brought about by false christs.[6] The apostle Paul warned that “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”[7]

Yet in the midst of this we have a precious and powerful promise. “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore, do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”[8]

Be a Berean

Acts 17:11 states the following concerning the people of Berea: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so…” Here are a few tips that will point you in the right direction:

  1. Check Out the Source: “Test all things; hold fast what is good.”[9] The first step in any fruitful investigation is to check out the references. Validation is key to vetting any claim. Crosscheck with sources you already know and trust. All too many times Christians have been caught promoting false reports primarily because they do not do their homework.
  2. Search past the Superficial: Don’t jump on every passing bandwagon. “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”[10] The temptation for the novice is to follow the path of least resistance on the quest for truth. Solomon said, “The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body.”[11] The truth may not always be tasty but it is always safe to consume.
  3. Separate Fact from Fiction: Simply put, facts are statements that can be tested in the real world. They have evidence that can be reviewed and analyzed by everyone. When the Disciples went around declaring that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead they stated that, “we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”[12] Fiction, on the other hand, requires the listener to add feelings to their findings. Fiction will ask you to reach out emotionally in your search. The merchants of fiction masquerading as fact often use emotionally charged language to make their point. Name calling and rude language are often telling signs of someone trying to candy-coat a prickly lie. Rather than presenting objective evidence, they wish to arouse your feelings so you can comfortably bypass your sense of reason and swallow their “version of the truth.”
  4. Stay away from Sites that Slander: King Solomon said, “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife. The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body. Fervent lips with a wicked heart are like earthenware covered with silver dross.”[13] The cause of truth is not advanced through petty degradation of others. Truth provides a beacon of hope to those who are lost in the dark. Truth can stand on its own. It does not need to be made up or dressed up.

Be an Issacharean

1 Chronicles 12:32 records that, “the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times and knew what Israel ought to do…”

  1. Arm Yourself for Warfare: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”[14]
  2. Always keep Your Eyes toward the Sky: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”[15]

In all of this remember that if you are a born-again follower of Jesus Christ then you have the indwelling Holy Spirit who will lead you into all truth. In fact, we are told that, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”[16] May God bless you with His guidance from on high as you seek to declare His Gospel to the whole world.


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