In his Jack’s Winning Words post today, Pastor Freed used this quote from T E Lawrence – “The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armory of the modern commander.”
You may remember Lawrence as Lawrence of Arabia. From Wikipedia – Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence CB DSO (16 August 1888 – 19 May 1935) was a British archaeologist, army officer, diplomat, and writer, who became renowned for his role in the Arab Revolt (1916–1918) and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign (1915–1918) against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.
In Lawrence’s time the printing press was still the most powerful way to get a message out. Today Lawrence might reference the Internet, which has largely replaced printed material as the way to communicate to the masses.
One disturbing aspect of the “progress” of electronic communications, especially the rise of social media to get a message out, is the easy with which that media can be used to spread lies as well as the truth. In Lawrence’s day one could hardly buy a printing press and start cranking out papers full of lies. Today anyone can sign on to Facebook or Twitter and start spreading lies or misinformation (well not everyone, but enough about politicians).
I suppose that in Lawrence’s day one could have said, “I saw it in a pamphlet or paper, so it must be true”; however, I doubt that people were quite that naïve back then. Today a disturbingly large part of the population does believe that if they saw it on the Internet, it must be true.
Jack asked in his post, “How do you determine what is “fake” and “real” news?” I rely somewhat on evaluating the source of the news – where am I seeing or hearing this from? There is a noticeable difference in the choices of what to report and how to report it between the newscasts of NBC or CNN and that of Fox News. The biases of both sides in those “newscasts” are evident in the words that the talking heads chose as they report the news or in the questions that they may ask during an interview. I’m not sure that they are overtly aware of their biased reporting or just let it slip in. So, the “fact” is that news sources of both political persuasions let their biases creep into their reporting.
The huge amount of misinformation or disinformation being spewed forth on the Internet has led to the rise of so-called “fact checkers”, people who proport to verify the truthfulness of information by a variety of means, such as tracking down the “source”. Since the truth is a threat to the spreaders of disinformation, they have attempted to silence the fact checkers through a variety of means. What they really sort out is the difference between facts and opinions (the basis of lies). One can often tell who the biggest liars are by listening to who screams loudest about being fact checked.
So, perhaps we all need to follow the advice of Pliny the Elder in his 77 AD opus Naturalis Historia. Pliny the Elder translated an ancient text, which some have suggested was an antidote to poison, with the words ‘be taken fasting, plus a grain of salt’. The idea comes from the fact that food is more easily swallowed if taken with a small amount of salt. Today, the idea is to take everything with a grain of skepticism.
That grain of skepticism should not be allowed to turn into cynicism about everything but should just evoke enough of thoughtful evaluation of whatever is being said, so that the “truth” can be discerned. Some false Social Media posts to the Internet, like the “Big Lie” about the last election being stolen have no defensible basis in fact yet persist in bouncing around the Internet like an echo at the Grand Canyon. Fortunately, most of the fake news that is posted is quickly forgotten once it had been debunked by fact checkers.
So, seek the truth in all that you see and hear, especially on the Internet. We have been told in the Bible –
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
John was talking about the truth of everlasting life that is found one’s belief in Jesus; however, knowing the truth in our daily lives will set us free, too. Lies try to hold us captive to evil. Check the facts. Discern the truth and be set free.