Ever feel like we live in an environment where individuals are far too willing to believe the worst and far too unwilling to do the hard work of determining whether the story is true? Misinformation and disinformation may be to blame.
Misinformation is false or inaccurate information that is communicated regardless of an intention to deceive. Disinformation on the other hand is a type of misinformation that is deliberately deceptive.
I spend time most weeks looking into stories that put some of our Southern Baptist entities and their leaders in a bad light. These stories are often connected to a blogger who has written an article that is being disseminated on social media. Normally the story in consideration will end up being more opinion than fact. If the story turns out to be true, then appropriate action must be taken. If it turns out to be misinformation or disinformation, it can be disruptive and damaging to our cooperative work together as Southern Baptists.
According to a recent Lifeway research report, “Forty-nine percent of U.S. Protestant pastors say they frequently hear members of their congregation repeating conspiracy theories they have heard.” A recent Pew Research report states that 23% surveyed had shared fabricated stories either intentionally or unintentionally.
For Christians, especially those in ministry leadership, we must never allow ourselves to be those who spread false information. Why?
- Because to spread false information is a serious sin – Exodus 20:16
- Because spreading a falsehood can be deadly – Proverbs 18:21
- Because God hates the spreading of falsehood – Proverbs 6:16-19
- Because strife results from spreading false information – Proverbs 16:28
- Because a false witness will not go unpunished – Proverbs 19:5
- Because lying is an indication of depravity – Romans 1:29
- Because liars have no place in the Kingdom of God – Revelation 21:8
I am not speaking about legitimate claims of abuse or sexual misconduct. I am speaking about stories that are distributed widely that are called into question by even a modicum of research.
Given that there is so much information, how can a leader respond when misinformation comes his way?
- Gather the facts: Never share a story that includes accusations against another without finding out for certain that the story is factual. To intentionally spread false information is a defamation of character and is illegal.
- Discern between news and opinion: While news is a simple telling of the facts, opinion is stating a fact and then moving to conjecture and conclusions that may not be accurately supported by the facts.
- Engage with those who spread false information: When a Christian brother or sister brings a claim against another Christian leader, a claim that can be damaging to their reputation and ministry, ask the hard question. Ask them to validate the claim being made. The burden of proof is on those who spread the information.
- Block those who spread false information online: The Bible tells us to separate from divisive people. There will always be the need for brothers and sisters to speak the truth in love, confront wrong and expose the evil deeds of darkness. When a person, however, is bent on spreading destructive and non-substantiated claims they must be challenged.
Christians need to be people who know and share the truth. One way we can do to this is to pay close attention to misinformation and disinformation. Before you engage in spreading information, make sure it is true, helpful to others and pleasing to God.