One of the most frequently quoted excuses for someone rejecting factual information is to claim it is fake news.Not everything called fake news actually is. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of people believing fake news. In January, protestors following a fake news story disrupted a mass COVID vaccination site in Los Angeles, preventing hundreds of people from getting the vaccine. A fake news story started by QAnon got a lot of attention, claiming that Satan worshippers controlled politics and the media.
People spreading fake news often use social media to present their deliberate or ignorant lies. Health information is the most dangerous area of concern. Frequently a claim is based on a single case which may be one in millions of other cases. The problem with any health scare is that you never know what other health problems the person may have had. The number of deaths of people in nursing homes in COVID was massively greater than the deaths of school-age children. By cherry-picking data, one can make convincing statements about the danger of health issues when the actual risk is very low.
We suggest that all of us need to understand a few basic points about news reporting. News outlets in today’s world are heavily biased and don’t report the news–they interpret it. Getting unbiased information in today’s world is very difficult. Even government organizations frequently state their findings in a way designed to promote political positions. Listen critically to any news program.
Christians must avoid becoming some of the people believing fake news.Even scientific material is affected by vested interests in whatever the scientist is promoting. Even some Nobel Laureates have supported some very bad science, and sometimes they take on destructive causes both socially and politically.
We have frequently mentioned that Jesus Christ repeatedly steered his followers away from getting overly entwined in politics, government, or secular causes. He paid taxes but made it clear that we should render to Caesar the things that are Caesar and to God the things that are God’s. Don’t get entangled in the affairs of this world to the exclusion of your labors for Christ. It is your service to God and the things Jesus discusses in Matthew 25:34-40 that really count.
Jesus told Pilate that everyone who follows the way of truth listens to His voice. Pilate replied, “What is truth?” That was a rhetorical question. He said it because he didn’t think there was such a thing as ultimate truth, and his worldview was like that of many moderns. What is truth today? “Truth is what you make it.” “Your truth is not my truth.” “I don’t believe anyone has ultimate truth.”
In today’s world, people are confused by many contradictory “truths” presented by politicians, religious leaders, and social media. It is amazing how two people can look at the same fact and reach opposite conclusions. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb, He told His disciples that He would soon be crucified. Jesus said, “Now my soul is troubled. What should I say—Father, save me from this hour? But that is why I came to this hour. Father, glorify our name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (See John 12:27-29.) The crowd of people who heard it reached different conclusions. Some said it was thunder, and some said it was the voice of an angel. When Peter and the apostles spoke to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, some said they were drunk while others repented of the grave injustice they had done to Jesus. (See Acts 2:5-13, 38-41.)
It has always been possible for people to reach completely different conclusions while looking at the same evidence. In our posts and publications, we often show design in living things, on planet Earth, and in the universe. We see that design as evidence of a Designer. Others see it as a pattern of accidental coincidence created by random chance. Paul said we can know there is a God by the things He has made. (See Romans 1:20.) He explained the inability of many to see that truth by saying, “In their case, the god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers…” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
What is truth today, and why is it often difficult to tell from lies? Experience has shown that when a lie is told repeatedly and often, people will eventually believe it. In our post-modern age, we have social media spreading lies. We also have “fact checkers” who have their own agendas and biases, which slant the way they look at “What is truth?” It can be hard to know whom to believe.
The term “fake news” has entered our vocabulary in a big way. We have seen news reports of “peaceful protests” while behind the reporter, fires are burning. In cases like that, we can see that the facts don’t fit the description. However, modern technology has created ways to fool our senses. We have posted examples of various kinds of fakery HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
The fakery is only getting worse to the point where we can’t always believe our eyes and ears. Artificial intelligence has made it possible to create very convincing fake videos. You won’t believe your eyes if you watch THIS FAKE VIDEO of president Richard Nixon eulogizing the Apollo astronauts who died on the Moon. Of course, we remember that it did not happen, but the video can almost bring tears to your eyes. The creators of this fantastic fake video were not trying to fool us but to show us how dangerous video fakery has become.
So what is truth today? Jesus is truth. The Bible is truth. The point we are making is that we must be skeptical when it comes to history or politics, or religion. Make sure your sources for faith topics are reliable and test them against God’s word. Fake news can be dangerous, but false religious teaching is the most dangerous of all.
The October 2018 issue of Scientific American (page 39) contains an article by Brooke Borel titled “Clicks, Lies and Video Tape.” The article begins by stating, “Artificial Intelligence is making it possible for anyone to manipulate audio and video. The biggest threat is that we stop trusting anything at all.” Then what can we trust?
The article tells us that in April 2018 a new video of Barack Obama appeared on the internet in which he spoke looking exactly as he did when he was president of the United States. The image we could all see was Obama facing the camera, and with outstretched hands, he said, “President Trump is a total and complete XXXXX.”
In reality, it wasn’t Obama at all, but an actor named Jordan Peele who used BuzzFeed News to produce a fake video. The technology is now available to make realistic-looking fake videos. They can contain what appears to be known political characters spreading disinformation. In fact, this is already being done.
The first example of fakery was the serpent in Genesis 3, and Satan has continued to use this tool throughout time. In 2 Corinthians 11:13-14 Paul writes, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” The truth is that we cannot trust anything in the physical world. The evening news is full of falsehoods and agents of Satan.
As Christians, we would encourage others to understand that while humans can be bribed, bullied, and deceived. What can we trust? The word of Jesus Christ is true and testable. It can be trusted 100%. What a joy it is to know that we have a rock that is God’s word. If we trust God, all of the deceit and lying of men and of Satan himself cannot mislead us.
One of the frustrations of politics for us common folk is not knowing what is factual and what is fake. Any fact that a politician doesn’t want to hear can be labeled and discarded as “fake news.” The same problem exists on popular television in what we would call fake documentaries.
People seem to feel that if they see something on television called a documentary that it is true and has been verified by a reputable source. Religious groups, atheist groups, and food fad groups produce fake documentaries. They are also created by promoters of ESP, people who advocate alien visitations to Earth both now and in the past, and people who just want to make money with a fake documentary.
In the November issue of Astronomy magazine (page 64), Jeff Hester tells of being asked to comment on a bogus show about UFOs. The show was called a documentary and Hester, who is an astrophysicist, was interviewed as part of the program. The claims were totally false, and Hester said so in the interview and assumed the documentary would be scrapped.
The show was eventually broadcast as a documentary and given broad exposure. Hester called the producers and pointed out that he had shown that the story they were presenting was false. The producers admitted that they knew it was false. Then they stated something which Hester quoted in his column:
“Documentaries on stuff like this aren’t meant to educate people. They’re meant to sell soap. My job is to tell the intended audience exactly what it wants to hear. If people want to see miracles and space aliens, I show them miracles and space aliens. That way they tune in, watch to the end, leave happy, and buy the sponsors’ products.”
Remember that this was a television show called a documentary which many people will quote and believe. Yet the person who produced the fake documentary freely admits it was fake. Hester concludes “..they’re just plain old-fashioned carnival hucksters, picking the pockets of gullible people they play for rubes.”
In the last two years, the word “fake” has shown up so many times in the media and political arena that people are now well aware of the fact that not everything is as it appears. Fake news is nothing new, and the early Christians had to deal with fake apostles, fake witnesses, and scams of all kinds. (See Acts 6:13 and Acts 8 for examples.)
In the scientific area, there have been so many fakes in every field that there are some people who make a living just exposing fakes. This is a constant problem in the field of paleontology where fake fossils have confused the theories of evolution and earth history. In The Week magazine for August 10, 2018, carried an interesting story about “The Great Chinese Dinosaur Boom.” Scientists have found rich fossil beds in northeastern China. Local farmers have discovered that they can make good money by selling fossils to collectors who are not scientists. The result is that they have glued pieces together to make it look like a new form of life. This reminds us of the fake human tracks that were promoted in Glen Rose, Texas, in past years by people trying to sell the religious position that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time.
There are several lessons for all of us here. One is not to trust any human without checking out their claim. That is true of every endeavor in our lives. Few of us would buy a used car without investigating the claim of the salesman about what an excellent deal we are getting. Why would we accept religious or secular claims without giving the same spirit of investigation to the story?
On January 13, 2018, something happened that reminds us of the importance of faith during a crisis. At 8:07 AM Hawaii’s Emergency Management System sent out an alert telling the people of Hawaii that there was a ballistic missile threat and they should seek shelter immediately. The New York Times reported that “people flocked to shelters, crowding highways in scenes of terror and helplessness.”
This is not the first time this kind of panic has taken place in America. On October 30, 1938, a radio drama about a Martian invasion was broadcast saying that ground zero was in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. The nearby city of Trenton was completely crippled with phone calls to the police for three hours. Similar incidents have happened in 1944, 1968, 1974, 1983, and 1998.
On February 12, 1949, a radio broadcast in Quito, Ecuador reported that Martians were launching gas attacks and people flocked to the streets. When they realized that the broadcast was a fake, a mob stormed the radio station setting it on fire, killing 20 and injuring 15. Now the media and the politicians are promoting “fake news” in one form or another.