There was a popular game when I was a teenager that my youth leaders used to demonstrate the danger of spreading gossip. At least that was what I believed the ultimate point of the game to be. You probably remember this game too. Everyone forms a circle and a randomly selected person begins by whispering a sentence to the person standing next to them. The secret was then shared with the next person in the circle and so forth around the circle until it returned to the first person. As you might imagine the original secret never held together, not even close. There was always a good laugh at the end but the point was well remembered: gossiping is sharing a distorted truth.
Let me ask a very frank question: What would you call sharing, on Facebook, an article that contains unsubstantiated claims that are either unverified or patently false? I can think of two words that are fitting. Digital Gossip. Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that Facebook should censor what you share. I fully believe that an intrinsic concept of our great American freedom is the freedom speech. You are 100% free to share, write, video—practically anything. This is a good thing. So don’t misunderstand my thought. Perhaps it is helpful to apply the principle in mind to myself. As an American I am free to share anything, but as a Disciple of Jesus I am particularly concerned with only sharing truth. Now I realize that most people reading this article do not maliciously and intentionally take part in circulating false information. So in light of this allow me to offer three guiding principles to that I believe would help prevent you from doing such and one reason for why, if you choose to apply those principles, it will glorify The Lord and His Kingdom.
1. Avoid being gullible.
Be aware that most of the content (articles, blogs, reports, etc…) that you see shared on your newsfeed are either completely unverified claims or ideas that have been tremendously filtered through a political or philosophical lens. I’m not encouraging you to be a hard-line skeptic, I’m just pointing out the obvious fact: Facebook (or alternative forms of social media) is probably not the best place to discover truth. My parents repeatedly used the, “Not everything you read on the internet is true.” when I was growing up. That wisdom is still valid, “Not everything you see on Facebook is true.” But…how can I know what is true? Great question. That leads us to the second principle.
2. Ask for sources.
This applies almost entirely to articles which are giving an interpretation of an event, statistics, etc. By sources I mean those places or persons from which an article has obtained the information the author is reporting. Here is the general rule of thumb: if the article you read about an update on the Coronavirus pandemic is authored by the liberal horn or the conservative flute and is lacking any credible source or any source at all—it is more than likely entirely opinion based and is not worthy of sharing. Trusted sources are generally from unbiased organizations or professional studies conducted under unbiased circumstances. I know this can be a tricky thing so here’s my recommendation. Scroll to the end of the article and search for the sources which are cited. If you are unable to locate them then ask the author for their sources. Those simple steps would more than likely give a great deal of clarity. If you are still struggling after those steps I would recommend contacting a local news organization to ask for help. I think the point is this. Care enough about the truth to fact check your sources before sharing something with your approval. But what if you don’t approve with what you learn by checking the sources?
3. Accept the truth.
I was raised on a principle that went like this: the truth isn’t always easy to take. I fear that we are witnessing the demise of principle like that only to replace them with principles that attribute truth to subjective (personal) feelings rather than objective facts. I think it is sufficient to say this. There have been times when I did not like what I read in the Bible—but my sinful distaste in no way discredits the Bible’s claim. There have also been times where I was confronted with a truth, either political or economic or educational, which I did not find to be pleasing. Nonetheless, my feelings did not discredit the truth. As sinful human beings we should expect that their will be times that we discover that we are on the opposite side of truth. Instead of fighting against it by sharing unverified sources which agree with our false opinion we should accept the truth. And just so you know that’s not a strange idea to the Bible. It’s the frequently used word “Repent” which comes to mind. There may be some of you reading this who will go and realize you have been on the wrong side of the truth. My encouragement is that you should repent from your false understanding and accept the truth.
So how does advocating for truth and practicing these principles bring glory to the name of Christ and further His Kingdom? I would say this. Because Christians should be truth-tellers in all matters. First, all truth belongs to God. As those who are being conformed into the image of Christ it glorifies God when we imitate Him in being truthful in spiritual matters as well as all other matters. Secondly, and practically, I can’t think of a more damaging reputation for a Preacher to hold than one which involves dishonesty. I think that should also be said of any disciple of Jesus. If someone can’t trust you to share truth with them on social media then why would they trust you to share truth with them spiritually? Truth-telling matters, folks. So let us be about the business of telling truth whether we are in a circle of friends or on social media interacting with thousands. Avoid the digital gossip and strive to only share the truth.
Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech.Psalm 34:13, ESV