False witness and fake news.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 October

What makes certain Christians so immune to facts?

It should go without saying that Christians shouldn’t bear false witness. It’s one of the Ten Commandments, after all: Don’t claim anything knowingly untrue about your neighbor. Don’t spread gossip, which is nearly always half-true, if not entirely untrue.

And in this present day, we have to bear in mind a lot of “news” sites are really gossip sites. Their writers didn’t bother to go to journalism school, and their publishers don’t care about journalistic standards of truthfulness and accuracy; all that crap just gets in the way of being able to publish sensational clickbait. So when they hear of something, or even just assume something’s true, they don’t bother to confirm or fact-check it. Especially when it suits their biases. Fr’instance if they don‘t like the president, they’ll publish anything which makes him look like an idiot; if they love the president, they’ll publish anything which makes him look like a saint.

So since the websites don’t practice any form of discernment, it’s kinda left up to the readers to judge whether it’s true or not. Trouble is, the readers didn’t go to journalism school either. And likewise are willing to believe anything which suits their biases.

This is why I have friends, progressives and conservatives alike, who post all sorts of stuff on social media which is objectively not true. Rumors, half-truths, gossip, lies. All of it false witness.

And they feel I’m the bad guy for saying so.

See, for some people, their worldview isn’t based on truth. It’s the other way round: The truth is based on their worldview. If a fact doesn’t suit their worldview, it can’t be a fact. If science doesn’t confirm their unsubstantiated conviction that God made the world 6,022 years ago (or even that the earth is flat!) they’re gonna refuse to believe in science. If the news reports the president did something evil, but they’re sure the president is the next best thing to the second coming, the news must be “fake news”—even when the president totally confesses to the evil he’s accused of, ’cause he doesn’t think it’s evil. Not even their favorite people can penetrate the thick wall they’ve built between their worldview and reality. Not even Jesus.

So yeah, I got no chance of getting through to them. I’ll try anyway, for a while. Some of them I gotta give up as lost causes. Pearls before swine and all that. Hopefully the Holy Spirit can crack that nut eventually.

The rest, who are receptive to correction, I gotta remind, and keep reminding: Stop bearing false witness! Check your facts.

Nobody’s infallible. Don’t let pride get in your way.

I admit I’ve totally fallen for fake news. So do lots of reporters. Something’ll get published, and legitimate news websites will pick it up ’cause it sounds plausible. I’ll read it, and because it’s a legit site I’ll assume the reporters did their due diligence. None of us are infallible, y’know. We’re all wrong. Which is not the same thing as saying we’re always wrong; not that fools know nor care there’s any difference. But enough about them.

When I find out I’m wrong, or the article I pointed people towards was wrong, I’ll correct myself.

When I find mistakes on TXAB, most of the time I’ll just fix the error. Most of the time they’re typos and poorly-phrased sentences. Usually typos aren’t a big deal, but if I got a verse reference wrong, people are gonna wonder why the links on the page keep going to wholly unrelated verses. (Or wonder whether my translations are really screwed up.) Every so often it’s a much bigger mistake, or I’ve changed my view on something, and now it means I gotta rewrite the piece… so I do, and delete the old piece. Blogs are flexible like that.

News sites are less so, because people use them as references. And some bloggers like to think of their sites as reference-worthy, so they hold themselves to the same standards. They do the same as I do; they rewrite their articles. Usually they include footnotes which state they had to rewrite their articles ’cause of their error, plus a reminder of what the error was. I don’t bother to do this. Not because I’m covering up the fact I make errors, but neither am I trying to archive them.

There are those who cover up the fact they make errors: They delete their Tweets, edit their Facebook posts, correct their blog posts, and pretend they were right all along. If we remember otherwise, we were wrong.

It’s a lot harder for public figures to do this, ’cause the stuff they deleted and edited is actually still out there. People took photos and screenshots, then made articles and videos about it. But if you’re not that famous, like a local celebrity or person with a lot of online followers, y’might get away with it up to a point. Do it enough times, and people may still follow your account, but they’ll know you’re a liar and stop trusting you.

Sometimes that’s what I’m dealing with when I point out someone posted fake news. The fake news vanishes from their feed—along with my correction—and they act as if they never posted a thing. Being wrong embarrasses them, so they hide their shame. I suppose it’s better than lashing out, but it’s still unhealthy behavior. Nobody expects anyone to never make mistakes! Relax, folks.

“No, you’re wrong.”

And then there are the people who double down on their errors.

These’d be the people who misspell a word, then say, “I don’t care how the dictionary spells it. The dictionary’s wrong.” The people who spread an internet rumor, and when you show ’em what Snopes.com had to say about it, dismiss it: “Oh you can’t trust Snopes.” And why’s that? Solely because Snopes doesn’t back them up. If it did, they‘d think it was the greatest website ever; on par with all the nutjob websites which also reinforce what they already believe.

I’ve found this fleshly lack of humility to be a pretty common phenomenon. It frequently has nothing to do with politics; these people can be completely non-political. It’s not a worldview thing either; their worldview is completely undeveloped. It’s simply their self-preservation instinct turned up to 11. However they developed their giant egos—their parents spoiled ’em rotten, or they banned everyone from their lives who would dare correct them—they can’t accept the idea they might be wrong. They’re never gonna back down. They’re unteachable.

They might be teachable if you can introduce them to something that’s an entirely new idea for them. But I’ve found such people also don’t like to admit they have gaps in their knowledge. (Unless it’s something they absolutely don’t care about, like soap opera characters or K-pop bands.) They’ll pretend they already know about it, and have informed opinions about it—even though when you get ’em talking about it, they quickly reveal they haven’t a clue.

Back before I quit doing this, one of my favorite less-than-Christian behaviors was to mess with such people. Like the student who pretended he’d read the book for his book report, and didn’t realize I was totally familiar with the book. Or the theology undergrad who had no idea I taught the subject. As soon as I realized they were pretending to know more than they did, I’d pretend to take their made-up rubbish seriously. Then invent new “facts”—which of course they’d claim they were totally familiar with. Then get ’em to say really stupid things—to the great amusement of everybody else in the room.

They saw the appearance of infallibility as strength. I saw it as a fun weakness to exploit. Y’know, just like Satan. (Told ya it was less-than-Christian.)

Such people are the very reason fake news spreads so far and wide. Not only can’t they admit they’re spreading rubbish: They’re gonna spread it all the more. They’ll never fact-check themselves; the idea will simply never occur to them. They’ll never doubt, never question, never investigate, never learn. Blind guides.

Learning from our mistakes.

Hopefully my readers aren’t so dense, and recognize we’ll all make mistakes from time to time. But the best way to keep ourselves from making these mistakes is healthy skepticism. Doubt everything. Test everything.

Healthy skepticism, as opposed to unhealthy skepticism. An unhealthy skeptic believes nothing and no one—because everybody has some kind of bias, some kind of angle. Yeah, it’s largely cynicism, pessimism, and nihilism, disguised as “I’m just being realistic.” No; these people got trust issues, and need to get saved.

Healthy skepticism simply asks, “Is that actually true?” and confirms stuff. If you read an article on one site, you see whether it’s also been reported on more reputable sites. If one person makes a scientific or medical or statistical claim, and it’s not backed up by serious studies and hard science, you reserve judgment. If anyone claims, “This is an absolute truth,” you don’t just take their word for it—there’s a lot of rubbish out there, disguised as absolutes. And you do check Snopes. Heck, sometimes Wikipedia will debunk stuff.

Healthy skepticism does this stuff before we stick internet rumors on our social media or blogs. And yeah, sometimes fake news will slip past us anyway. But a whole lot less fake news will slip past us.

Honesty, and the pursuit of truth no matter where it leads, will make us receptive when people correct us: “You know, that thing you posted isn’t accurate.” It’ll get us to ask, “Are they right?” and do a little research, and find out they are—or they’re not; either way. It’ll get us to admit when we’re wrong, apologize where necessary, and post something entirely new and humble on the internet: “I got scammed. Hey, everybody else: Watch out! They might get you too.”

It’ll get us to stop bearing false witness. You know, like obedient Christians are supposed to.