‘Fake news’ has received much media attention lately. The spread of disinformation, propaganda, and fabrication of fact is hardly new: humans have been spreading mistruths through trusted sources for years. What has taken it to a new level, however, is the way it is now spread: social media.
Fake news items can pop up on our social media stream at any time and, being one of myriad other pieces of information passing before our eyes, they are easily read without care for checking the source. Add to this the fact that they are usually sensational in content, can be shared or liked in just one click, and you have the ingredients for gossip and lies on a global scale.
Some media organisations are taking measures to fight back by hiring companies to check facts or design algorithms to stop the spread of fake stories. Yet even the best software is never 100% successful. Human wisdom, or just basic common sense, will always need to be applied.
In this age of information overload and ‘like’ buttons, it can be so easy to accept things without proper thought, to forward or ‘like’ things that may be inaccurate or heavily biased. I know I’ve been guilty of this.
Even beyond social media, though, news has become increasingly concise, presented in bite-sized portions for us to easily digest as we rush from one task to another. The communication norms of our culture make it ever easier to share information, and even to relate, in a superficial way. Nuances and truths get lost in the sound-bites of news headlines and our personal updates.
So how are we to respond to this as Christians seeking to engage with contemporary culture? How do we maintain integrity, authenticity and honesty in our speech and relationships both online and offline? And what ‘false news’ might we be presenting about our own lives?
Switching off, both metaphorically and literally, is tempting and even necessary at times but cannot be a long-term solution. We’re called to be salt and light, to be wise as serpents but innocent as doves. When reading the news, whatever form that takes, how often do we check the source, find out what other news sites are saying, and critically weigh up agendas?
Looking at ourselves, it’s good to consider how much space we give to genuine, honest and open relationships in our own lives that go beyond the sound bite.
Siobhan O’Reilly Calthrop
Siobhan writes, blogs, and tutors in St Albans when she’s not walking the dog or feeding her family. You can find her blog at www.everyoneelseisnormal.com