Although the Internet makes spreading a false report easier to do, it is obviously not a new human problem. Moses address the problem over three millennia ago, “You shall not spread a false report” (Exodus 23:1, ESV).
And before the Internet, we still had photocopiers. I remember the first time someone handed me an article that this person wanted placed in the bulletin. My response was I would run the article if it was true, but I wanted to research it first. This person’s body language indicated surprise and maybe some impatience at the idea of research. After all, the article was so urgent.
Researching the article in the 1980s meant going to the public library. It was a more difficult and time-consuming process. But in this case, the article turned out to be a false report.
Since that first experience with a false report that someone wanted me to duplicate for others, I’ve come to realize that there are many of these false stories out there. And the false stories don’t seem to die. Once released to the public, they have a life of their own. The truth is out there too, but it never seems enough to rid us of the false report, because people don’t check the facts before repeating the report.
The Internet speeds up this process. We can spread a false report to hundreds of people in our news feeds on social media at the click of a few buttons. But the Internet also allows us to use a search engine and gather information on the report. Most of the time, you can tell quickly whether something is true or false.
False reports harm someone. The report may cause prejudice against an individual where people know the report but not the person. This prejudice may impact the person targeted in the false report financially and even in judicial settings. False reports can be divisive. Douglas K. Stuart observes, “False reports could also create factionalism as one group believed the report about a member of another group, and the person’s own group determined that the report had to have been started by the other group.”*
Before sharing a report on the Internet or conversing about it with others, ask these basic questions Is it true? How do I know that it is true? Have I confirmed the truthfulness of this by a reliable source (which from observation needs to be more than a friend posted this)? Don’t spread a false report.
*Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary, 524.