How Much Harm is in a Status Update, Anyway?

I admitted something to my wife the other day that took me a long time to be able to admit to myself:

Facebook isn’t fun anymore.

It used to be a place for you to re-connect with old classmates, network with current connections, and paint a picture for the world to see how cool you are. But now, amidst the sea of parental overshare and the seemingly unfettered onslaught of unsolicited opinions, nobody seems to walk away from a newsfeed reading without at least a slight increase in blood pressure.

As a pastor, the number one source of my frustration on the social networks is when I see Christians posting wild, untrue, or otherwise misleading information for others to see. I’ve already written posts regarding my feelings about Christians posting insensitive and judgmental material, but today I want to talk about something that doesn’t get addressed often: Christians spreading ridiculous falsehoods about anything and everything under the sun.

Let me be clear about what I’m talking about. Just in the last year, I’ve read that Jackie Chan has died (more than once), Obamacare is now taxing archery equipment at Cabella’s, KFC is no longer legally allowed to call their product “chicken”, and the artificial sweetener aspartame causes cancer and MS. Here’s what these claims all have in common: I read them all from Christian sources (friends, articles, etc), they’re all false and/or misleading, and they can all be easily dispelled by a simple internet search.

What’s more important about these claims is what it says about the person delivering them. Take the Power Balance bracelet for example. I first became aware of these pieces of scientific wonder when attending a health expo for the Two Cities Marathon in Fresno back in 2010. The snake oil peddlers from Power Balance had paid for a booth there, and were selling these “negative ion hologram bracelets” like hotcakes for $30 (as if the majority of amateur marathon runners aren’t already over-accessorized), claiming  that they “resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body” in order to improve balance, flexibility, and strength. It wasn’t long before several independent studies disproved the product, and the company ran into several legal and financial problems.

phiten-athletes

And yet, people still bought and continue to buy the bracelets. Multiple companies have since sprung up selling similar products, and it is not uncommon to see professional athletes wearing them. But what does it say about the person who insists on wearing/using a product that can easily be scientifically disproven? For the average layperson, it says “you can sell me anything.” For the professional athlete, it says “I’ll wear anything for the right price.” To be frank (and I apologize if you are reading this and are currently enjoying a wave of negative ions via silicone bracelet with a hologram sticker), nobody looks at a person wearing a scientifically disproven athletic accessory and says “Now THERE’S a person who knows his/her stuff!”

And there’s the problem.

When a Christian gets on the internet and irresponsibly peddles information that is false or misleading (whether he/she knows it or not), it damages the credibility of the faith held by that person. 

nativityHere’s a purely hypothetical situation that I did NOT pull from my newsfeed: let’s say you have a coworker who doesn’t know Jesus, and you would love to invite him to church. One day, you finally get an opportunity to invite him and his family to a church outreach event, but he has no interest. Why? Because yesterday, you re-posted a claim that Facebook is barring users from posting images of nativity scenes. Your coworker finds the post to be irrational and slightly paranoid, and so he does a simple Google search and finds that the claim is, in fact, completely false. The result, of course, is that he believes that this post is the result of your involvement in your church, and therefore doesn’t want to drink that Kool-Aid.

In a court of law, witnesses are discredited when they are proven to be unreliable in other areas. If you lie about X, you are probably lying about Y as well. Likewise, your credibility as an information source goes in the toilet if the things you put out there are easily proven to be false. Why should I or anyone else believe what you have to say about Jesus if you also hold true that Bill Gates wants to give you $5,000 to help him test Microsoft’s new e-mail tracking program? Or that McDonald’s shakes are made with instant potatoes?  Or that we should ban Fanta soda because it was created by Nazis? (These are all actual folklore.)

As a Christian, everything you do in a public forum is like a bank transaction. Your credibility as an evangelist is your account. When you put information out there, you are either making a deposit or a withdrawal. The problem is that you never know which false statement could bankrupt you. The good news is that we can always restore our credit by being thorough and cautious with the information we choose to dispense.

Wisdom lives where insightful words are spoken,
but harsh punishment awaits the senseless.
The wise store up knowledge as a safeguard,
but the meaningless chatter of fools means that chaos is near.
(Proverbs 10:13-14 The Voice Translation. Emphasis belongs to the publication)

Proverbs 15:14 tells us that the discerning heart seeks knowledge and that the mouth of a fool feeds on recklessness. The Bible is clear: discernment breeds intelligence. Intelligence breeds wisdom, confidence, and strength. Foolishness only succeeds in bringing trouble. The wise, according to Scripture, reserve what they have to say for the right time, place, and people.

Watch what you say. Do your homework before reposting. Once you’ve done your homework, by all means: inform us. But be careful. Misinformation can cause more harm than you may think.

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2 comments

  1. InAllYouDo

    GREAT article and OH SO TRUE, Joel!!! I have always tried to be overly cautious about what I post and re-post or retweet. I’m even careful about the people I follow on Twitter because of how it might reflect on me. It is important that we do not get sucked into “the world”. Thanks for this!! I’ve shared it on several social medias. 🙂

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