We all get emails or other Internet postings sent to us about something sensational or horrifying or something that just motivated the sender to repost it or forward it on to you. Most of us just ignore them and shake our heads at the gullibility of the sender. You know the kind I’m talking about. Here are a few of the famous ones that are still making the rounds after years of circulation and recirculation:
- The Blue Star temporary tattoo for kids laced with LSD!
- The FCC petition started by atheists to ban all religious broadcasting!
- Proctor and Gamble has Satanist ties!
The average Internet user’s willingness to pass on emails and other postings about fictitious events like these without verifying whether they are true has always perplexed me. It is one of the rarely identified but most common downsides of the Internet. There is a famous tongue-in-cheek barb– “I know it’s true because I saw it in the Internet”– that still rings true for far too many of us. Receiving something forwarded from a trusted friend immediately gives it an air of credibility. Many people will pass it on in the heat of the moment, often with barely a pause to consider its veracity. You know what I’m talking about, because you’ve undoubtedly received many such postings. If you are also an enthusiastic forwarder of such things, then please continue reading as I highlight several aspects regarding the consequences of such actions.
A troubling trend
I have grown increasingly alarmed over this tendency to share without checking, because I hold truth in very high regard and the problem shows no sign of letting up. The willingness to pass on things that are not true undermines the credibility of both the recipient and the sender like few other things can. Please forgive me if this sounds like a rant, because it is not. My sole intent is to inspire us to pause and think about what we are doing before we act. I view the ideal of being a person whose wisdom drives their actions as one of the core tenets of SurvivalBlog’s mission.
I’m not talking about spam messages we get by the hundreds daily, but I’m rather referring to things like an email forward I just received from a dear and trusted friend. The email had a heading that read “Urgent prayer request” and included four consecutive “FW:’s” in the subject line of this email they sent me. In the body were “facts” like this– “over 20 churches in the Olisabang province in India were burned down overnight and 200 more have been targeted”. I discovered it was a hoax in about 30 seconds by googling “Olisabang province”. One of the first things I learned is that there is no ‘Olisabang province’ in India or anywhere. It also led me to postings by these legitimate ministry organizations– all informing their readers about the danger of forwarding this particular message because it was clearly a hoax. This hoax posting first appeared in 2010 and has been making the rounds ever since, only to recently land in my email inbox.
The thing about this and other similar hoaxes is that they blend a mix of truth and lies and often sound very credible. The ironic thing about this one is that there is evidence to support that the creators may have written it in the hopes it would be spread and bring about the very thing it claims has already happened. One of these articles indicates how someone can become an unwitting part of the problem by forwarding it as they risk actually inspiring the very thing to happen they are trying to stop? Read the links for yourself:
- Ministry reveals discord attempt behind “20 India Churches Burning” email – Mission Network News
- Churches Burned Down And Christians Targeted In India?
So why are we so quick to believe these things as true and forward them so willingly? For one thing, it immediately captures the hearts of those who are concerned about injustice. In this case, it is Christian people facing religious persecution worldwide, and there have been recorded acts of churches being burned in India. But it also pushes our buttons of:
- “See, I knew something like this would happen!”
- “Why isn’t the media talking about this?”
- “I better tell someone else so we can pray!”
…and as soon as we react out of emotion we’re off.
I will be the first one to admit that persecution of the church today is at unprecedented levels and is a real source of concern for me. The atrocities dealt to Christians at the hands of Islamic and Hindu extremists have been well-publicized and need to be stopped. So too, even the similar official acts of the governments of China, North Korea, and, sadly, the United States must be called into account. But we fight injustice of all kinds with prayer, steadfast action, and truth. This is why each and every article I pass on gets confirmed using the biblical standard of confirmation “except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (I Timothy 5:19). Checking the confirmation is where the truth of this “urgent prayer request” email was quickly revealed as a hoax.
Well-researched news articles with their facts confirmed have long been a hallmark of credible journalism. There is something about human nature that easily accepts truth from trusted sources without believing it needs to be verified. However, it’s easy to see that the Internet has changed all of that. Hoax articles are posted right beside solid journalism, and they look almost identical. News of impending disasters of all sorts is one of the strongest draws to the human psyche. Discernment and wisdom become critically important to the mindset of responsible preppers. We already realize that the stakes of upcoming events are very high to us, our loved ones, and our nation. There is so much misinformation mixed in with the facts that the line between fact and factoid is rapidly blurring. Here is an interesting short article from the Washington Post that lends some insight into why people are taken in by such things and choose to pass them on instead of confirming for themselves.
If you decide not to read the article, at least consider this list of six reasons cited by the author. You could probably add one or two more reasons of your own.
- People don’t actually read the content they’re sharing.
- People don’t consider the legitimacy of specific news sources.
- People are vulnerable to confirmation bias.
- People infer legitimacy from “related content”.
- People see a piece of content as more legitimate the more they see of it. This is how unsubstantiated factoids come to be widely spread.
- People confuse satire and hoax.
Credibility Movement- Steps
So today is a watershed day for me. I have officially decided to start repeatedly raising my voice for reason and truth. I am starting with this submission to SurvivalBlog in the hope that readers will send it to everyone who sends them this stuff. Hopefully, we can become an example to model for others how to boost their credibility by filtering their postings and emails through the lens of truth before they forward or repost. This is how we upgrade our ability to be better critical thinkers and responsible conveyors of truth.
Do these two things when you come across such an article or receive an email you are tempted to forward or repost:
- Verify that it is true. Do a Google or other search on key facts or phrases to confirm. Check with a few of the dozens of Internet hoax sites. Don’t just stick with a single source, like snopes.com. Even they have their well-known biases.
- If you find out it’s a fake or a hoax or just plain wrong, respectfully reply to the sender what you found, explain why you are not forwarding it, and ask them to confirm it themselves. Send them a copy of this message to help them understand why it’s important. If they agree, ask them to send an update to the dozens of people they sent it to with an apology and a request that they forward the same clarification to the friends they sent it to.
Save this information in one of your folders or files. Even if we don’t start a movement, at least we can raise the standard and help people stop embarrassing themselves. I also hope some prominent journalists (especially Christian journalists) will also draw attention to this problem. As preppers, we are clearly people who often choose to do things that others sometimes consider extreme. Make sure your choices and actions are founded on solid intel. The stakes have never been higher. Thanks for reading. Let’s take a stand together for spreading truth.