By Jack Wilkie

There was a time when two people could argue some trivial fact like “Who was the 14th U.S. President?” without reaching a conclusion to the argument unless some encyclopedia or history book was readily available. As you well know, those days are long gone. Any such minor dispute can be solved within seconds now. One person simply pulls out his smart phone, pulls up a web browser app, searches Google, and the debate is over. Though there are a number of arguments to be made both for and against smart phones (and we’re not going to explore those here), the ability to fact check and learn something new so quickly is most certainly a positive.

However, it also places a lot of responsibility on us that we might not have had years ago. We can’t just make up some claim or throw out some supposed fact that someone might be able to shoot down instantly. It’s suddenly incredibly easy to be discredited, and there are many who haven’t exactly come to that realization yet. We live in the era of “Fake News” and that means we have to be meticulously careful about both the things we believe and the things we share.

When we quote forwarded messages from our email inboxes or Facebook about how Albert Einstein proved God or how the newly minted American money will replace “God” with “Allah,” we’re only giving added ammunition to those who say the church is ignorant or out of touch. When we say things like “dinosaurs never existed,” or “if we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” to those who have already been told that the church doesn’t understand science, we begin to hinder our ability to ever reach them with truth. We make them skeptical as to whether they can believe anything we tell them about important truths.

The good news is that it’s just as easy for us to fact-check ourselves as it is for any skeptic.  We shouldn’t ever expect people to take our word without proof and we shouldn’t take anyone else’s word without proof, either. A few steps you should take before believing something and sharing it with your friends:

  1. Don’t believe everything you read. The massive amounts of “fake news” being put in front of us every day should cause us to have a critical eye aimed at discerning the truth and cutting through the lies.
  2. Avoid news sources you’ve never heard of. I understand the hesitancy to trust major news sources, but if the link comes from an obscure site you’ve never heard of with a name like patrioteaglenews, think twice about believing it and passing it on. Also, realize that if there’s some massive news about the government or a biblical archaeology discovery or something of the sort, you’ll be able to find confirmation of it on more than just one obscure site.
  3. Avoid websites with shocking headlines. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had articles shared into my Facebook timeline that had headlines like “Paul Ryan just DESTROYED Nancy Pelosi” or “You won’t believe what Barack Obama just said about the Bible.” Real, honest journalists don’t write like that.
  4. If you’re not sure, just Google it. Find more information before you believe what you read and especially before you tell someone else about it. Before you share that sermon illustration about Einstein, look it up. Before you try to refute evolution with claims evolutionists have never made, use the tools that are available to us online to find out which arguments are good and which ones we shouldn’t use.
  5. 99% of the time, just don’t post it. Most of these things come and go and are forgotten within a couple of days at most and nobody is going to be worse off if they don’t read it. But, if you do share it you risk losing credibility with your friends, and it’s just not worth it.
  6. If you do all that and later discover that you fell for a hoax, admit it and post a correction.

Sharing false information that misleads people and misrepresents the truth is just another form of lying. Make discovering truth your first priority, not finding things that align with your biases or confirm what you want to believe. And when you decide to pass something on, remember that you’re attaching your name to it and are responsible for what you’re endorsing. As Christians we should be highly concerned with the honesty of the things we say, because our words reflect on us and we should reflect our Savior.

(Oh, and the 14th President was Franklin Pierce.)