OPINION – Social media has its advantages. For instance, it’s astonishing to reconnect and stay in touch with friends I’ve known since kindergarten who are currently scattered all across the country.
When an unexpected need arises, it’s becoming common to see a call distributed throughout social media to rally family, friends, and acquaintances for help moving, a ride somewhere, or picking up or dropping off a package in another city. Good and bad news travels faster than ever thanks to our interconnectedness.
Of course, the downsides of social media are also a reality.
Cyber-bullying and gossip are two of the more visible symptoms of how our social networks can be abused. A less obvious but highly destructive trend is the sharing of misinformation or disinformation through social media.
This is where folks who are well-intentioned but lazy when it comes to fact-checking can unwittingly spread lies and deception by being a little too trigger happy when they click the “share” button. They further the efforts of fear mongers and hate-peddlers who define themselves purely by their enemies.
A prominent example of this can be seen in attempts to use the conflicts in the Iraq, Israel, and Syria to stir up anti-Muslim hysteria. One of the more horrific accusations featured a photo of a smiling bearded man in Iraq with his arm around a crying seven year old girl.
The story that accompanied the photo claimed that the distraught child was the man’s new bride and intimated that he, and by extension, other Muslim men were eager child molesters. This accusation was being used as a rallying cry to condemn and destroy an entire religion.
I watched as this story was shared over and over again on Facebook with predictable arias of outrage accompanying each posting. But the story being told was a lie as can be seen by watching the video from which the photo was lifted.
The little girl was simply reciting a passage from the Koran and became embarrassed when she faltered. The man with his arm around her was offering comfort to a child who felt self conscious after making a mistake in front of a crowd. How desperate must a person be to concoct a perverted lie in order to advance their own twisted agenda?
Perhaps there’s a reason that they cannot sell their propaganda on its own merits.
To paraphrase Milton: Since when does truth need propping up when put to an honest comparison with falsehood?
I wonder how many of those who shared the original distortion went back and posted a correction when the real video surfaced to set the record straight. This is where a true test of our personal character can be found.
It’s one thing to unknowingly spread false or misleading information when our passions have been inflamed. It’s quite another to be faced with proof that we have engaged in bearing false witness and then allowing the falsehood we spread to stand.
It shows that we are more willing to cling to false beliefs than we are to embrace truth when presented with it.
C.S. Lewis warned of the dangers of this kind of moral relativity in “Mere Christianity” when he wrote:
Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, `Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything – God and our friends and ourselves included – as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
At any given moment, there are enough factual examples of man’s inhumanity to one another without compounding the problem by allowing others to maliciously direct us into despising others based upon lies and misinformation. Those wrongs cannot be fixed by allowing ourselves to participate in spreading deception.
A good rule of thumb when we feel our ire start to rise is to ask ourselves what we know for ourselves about the particular person or situation that didn’t come from someone else.
When we honestly assess what we know versus what we’ve been told, it becomes much tougher for charlatans to use fear-based propaganda to stampede us in a predictable direction.
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