“I (still) don’t believe it!” Thoughts on truth and social media, Part III

I have written elsewhere: “set aside videos of cute kittens or adolescents cracking up their skateboards. Let’s focus on those other things – political, social, religious, etc. – which get posted on social media and spread like wildfire!” I invite you to read the first two parts of this series before reading Part III:

“I don’t believe it!” Thoughts on Truth and Social Media – Part I

“I don’t believe it!” Thoughts on Truth and Social Media – Part II

Now I would like to update these with a Part III, with several other sources of doubtful “facts.”

ANONYMOUS INSIDERS

There is a whole genre of exposé literature that follows this formula: “I am an ex-[whatever] and I am going to reveal the shocking inside secrets.” Ex-Communist. Ex-Mormon. Ex-Satanist. Ex-Jesuit (Jack Chick’s man, “Alberto,” made a whole career with that claim). Ex-nun. Ex-physicist working for CERN. Ex-CIA operative. Ex-NASA scientist. Ex-Muslim. Ex-Freemason. In 2011 the internet was abuzz with “I was in the Illuminati: I’m Going to Tell you Everything, Shocking Expose.”

Of course, sometimes these revelations are legitimate: (more…)

“I don’t believe it!” Thoughts on truth and social media, Part II

In Part I I began an extended-play rant against internet disinformation. I’m against it for two reasons: I don’t like false information; I don’t like to look foolish when I fall for it.

Here are other areas where we need to show some healthy skepticism:

ECHO CHAMBER EFFECT

In 2015 the social media were packed with people reporting that Pope Francis had announced that Islam and Christianity were equally valid and that the Koran and the Bible were basically the same message: “Jesus Christ, Jehovah, Allah. These are all names employed to describe an entity that is distinctly the same across the world.”

“I’m the pope, but I’m broadminded!”

People were outraged! The Vatican denied it which, for some of us, was evidence that it must have really happened. It appeared on the bogus Washingtonpost.com.co, conservativebyte.com, also civictribune.com (which altered the story, so that the pope supposedly said this at the White House). So, I have seen the same exact story, usually quoted verbatim, on four websites. Does this mean there are four “sources”? No, only one, and that original source (National Report again!) said they were just joking! But the echo effect means that the reader senses that, “It must be so, because everybody is talking about it!” The National Report was also responsible for the spoof that the Pope wants everyone to be micro-chipped by 2017.

For the Christian there is a special sort of news source, the Prophetic Site. If one blogger says he, I don’t know, saw four grim horsemen riding around in the field ‘back of his farm, then the story will spread far and wide within days, if not hours.

TABLOIDS

Ah, for the days when tabloids were clearly labeled and placed at the supermarket checkout. Then you could give a quick glance and find out when Elvis was spotted with what Venusian or how a Wolf-Boy was loose in the Maine woods.

Here’s one you won’t soon forget:

wtf tabloid headline

Now you just have to click on and find tabloids online, for example, WorldNewsDailyReport.com. Read all about it! “Man who spend 57 Years Counting the Bricks in the Great Wall of China.”

Of course, (more…)

“I don’t believe it!” Thoughts on truth and social media, Part I

Capture

“You must not pass along false rumors.” Exodus 23:1

My friends know what a skeptical soul I am. Whenever I see a post on the social media, my first reaction is to shake my head and say, “Yes, but, how do you know this to be so?”

And they know me as the one who annoyingly responds on Facebook, “Is this true??”

I really, really, don’t like to be “had”. They “got” me badly, once, when I saw an announcement that MTV was going to start putting operas into their mix of music. MTV!! Twenty years ago, and it still burns me. Later I realized that the announcement came out on April 1.

Set aside videos of cute kittens or adolescents cracking up their skateboards. Let’s focus on those other things – political, social, religious, etc. – which get posted on social media and spread like wildfire. They go viral because of a factor in the human mind called “cognitive bias”. Everyone has cognitive bias = that when I hear things from certain sources, or which resonate with what I already “know” to be true, I more easily assume it’s true, at least until someone proves otherwise.

Let’s take an example: ISIS

In December, after the San Bernadino shootings, these two pictures circulated the internet. If someone put them on Facebook, you and I would probably be more likely to accept one as “real” and the other as faked or at least less important information. The first looks like a pro-ISIS rally, the second something else:

Photo 1

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 2

Answer: Both were taken in Dearborn, Michigan. Photo 1 was a march on Dec 5, 2015, by Muslims against ISIS. The other picture in front of “City Hall” is, I was able to confirm, Dearborn City Hall, located at 13615 Michigan Avenue; it was a march by Muslims again, against ISIS, in August 25, 2014. And I learned that there have been a number of these marches by Muslims in Dearborn. (more…)

So I guess theology IS relevant

The World according to Facebook

I’m in touch with a lot of people, mostly around North and Latin America. Here’s what I learned from FaceBook and other media this week. It was an eye-opener to read postings from various friends, and to see what we write about. Please, no intended criticism intended for anyone, since my FB postings too are sometimes trivial.

From North American friends: remarks about the weather; purchases we need to make; sports; food, and its partner, exercise; movies and TV; political issues; family news; spiritual issues. Nothing particularly sinister, mind you, it’s all good wholesome stuff.

From outside of North America I’ve received in the last 48 hours: a note from a former student; she’s working with an isolated group of people in Guatemala, and a boy who uses a prosthetic leg has outgrown it and needs another – there are no resources to get one; another friend, in Africa: “spent the afternoon on bumpy dirt roads in 90+ degree heat with a ministry partner trying to follow up on the status of a former victim of human trafficking [enforced prostitution, I imagine]; another friend who works with “children at risk,” working through issues of street children in India; another friend, a new transcultural worker, fighting through sleep deprivation as she tries to learn a second language; a student from ESEPA, where I teach, is just now organizing a trip to Honduras (18 hours in the bus each way) to help several isolated villages. The cost for each person who takes the trip is a mere $200, but there are a number of people who would like to go for whom that figure will be a lot of money.

What’s striking is that this is a normal day of FB postings and emails.

As I believe, there is One who sees the 7 billion of us all at one time. For me, I’ve got a list of about 550 FB friends, plus emails and other media – I get a very tiny glimpse of what people around the world are doing. But it’s plain that I’m looking at two worlds – one world where a person can live more or less anticipating that he/she will be able to eat, find a doctor, achieve literacy, buy a book, enjoy freedom of speech, conscience, religion, and so forth. In the other world, the people who cannot count on those privileges.

Far be it from me to tell one person that he/she has trivial concerns in comparison with others. Yet, I hope that my FB friends in North America will take a broad view of the globe; pledge themselves to be grateful to be where they are; seek to focus on the crippling issues that others in the world face, problems not of their own making; put their resources to the benefit of those who cannot crawl out of their situation by their own effort or creativity.

I would also like to recommend to American Christians that they read an essay on how Christians in other countries are suffering (this month, particularly in Egypt). See “Martyrdom Fantasy Camp” at https://openoureyeslord.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/martyrdom-fantasy-camp/