Did you know that

  • President Obama signed an executive order to remove the phrase “under God” from the U.S. pledge of allegiance.
  • a Republican lawmaker has proposed a saliva test to determine that poor people are actually hungry before they can use food stamps.
  • the Zika virus is being spread by genetically modified mosquitoes.
  • It has been discovered that solar panels are draining the sun of its energy
  • a Nazi submarine has been spotted in the Great Lakes.
  • Miami, Florida has introduced new texting-friendly expressway lanes complete with “safety bumpers” along the sides.
  • the United States has banned the popular game Pokemon Go.

Actually, none of the above statements are true. All of them are fabricated and false.These are just a few examples of “fake news.”

I remember a college classmate showing his innocence or ignorance by declaring, “If it wasn’t true, they wouldn’t put it in the newspaper.” With the proliferation of social media it has become so easy to spread rumors, gossip, and untruths but many people accept them as factual. I suspect my college friend would be one of those to whom the fake news websites would cater.

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According to one source as much of 60% of the links shared on social media are shared based on the title alone, with the sharer not actually reading the article itself.

Hoaxes, misinformation, and propaganda are routinely and deliberately published. They seek to mislead rather than entertain for financial gain or other reasons. One news source “described the proliferation of fake news as a form of psychological warfare.”

False information is also shared at times through respected media sources, albeit not intentional. At 7:55 PM EST last Friday the Washington Post sparked a wave of fear when it ran the headline “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.”

About an hour and a half later the utility company itself issued a formal statement rejecting the Post’s claims: “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems. We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding.”

Almost a full hour more the Post finally updated its article and changed the headline. Finally more than a half day later the newspaper added an editorial note at the very bottom of the article acknowledging that the earlier story was incorrect. By that time thousands of people had read and believed that Russian hackers has breached the U.S. electricity grid.

All fake news is not the result of some well-conceived conspiracy produced purposely or some news outlet failing to verify the facts. Ordinary people often post or tweet false information that is then seized on and spread through the internet. One example is 35 year-old Eric Tucker from Austin, Texas. He had about 40 followers on Twitter but during the presidential election campaign he posted that paid protesters were being bused to demonstrations against President-elect Donald Trump.

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 Mr. Tucker got it wrong. There were no such buses packed with paid protesters. But that didn’t matter. The firestorm had already begun.

There is enough real bad news in the world without fake news causing unnecessary anxiety and harm.

In contrast to fake news or bad news, God taking on human form and becoming one of us is incredibly Good News. “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life” (John 3:16, The Message).

Jamie Jenkins

 

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