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Without wood, the fire goes out. Without a gossip, contention stops. Charcoal is to hot coals as wood is to fire; so also a quarrelsome man fuels strife. The words of a gossip are like delicate morsels; they sink down deep within. A clay vessel plated with a thin veneer of silver — that’s what smooth lips with a wicked heart are.
— Proverbs 26:20–23, ISV
A new information technology term coming into vogue is the “Internet of Things.” Another term that could be used to describe current Internet activity is the “Internet of Lies.
Imagine trying to put out a forest fire with a squirt gun. Gerber Products could identify with the analogy. The baby-food company felt they were doing just that in 1997. Someone somewhere started a false rumor about the company that spread like wildfire.
In a 1997 article written by John Schmeltzer in the Chicago Tribune, there was a rumor Gerber had been involved in a class-action lawsuit and would give a $500 gift certificate to families with children to settle the suit. According to the rumor, all the parents had to do to get the money was to send a claim form along with copies of their children’s birth certificate and Social Security number to a post office box in Minneapolis.
Once the rumor caught fire, it began to spread along channels that gave it an air of legitimacy. Notices were posted in hospitals and sent home with children by schoolteachers. One corporation even put the false notification in the envelope with their employees’ paychecks.
Gerber Products tried to stamp out the bogus story, putting an announcement on several Internet websites, tracking down sources of the rumor, and informing the media. Even so, they received over 18,000 phone calls to their toll-free telephone number in the three-week period before October 1 from people requesting the bogus claim form.
According to Schmeltzer, the cost to Gerber Products of fighting this rumor amounted to millions of dollars.

Rumors are not Harmless
Passing along a rumor may seem harmless, but the victim of the tale pays an undeserved price if we are not careful about the truth. Never underestimate the power of the tongue to do others harm.
Facebook has been a great facilitator for spreading false rumors. Someone will read an article on a blog or a satire site and pass the link on as true. The post gets picked up by their Facebook “friends” and before long the post is perceived as being true and goes viral.

Examples of false rumors on the Internet abound:
Costco moved the Bible to its fiction section;
A pastor was arrested for refusing to perform a same-sex “wedding”;
A homosexual group is suing Bible publishers to remove verses condemning homosexuality;
A woman is marrying her two cats.

Anyone Can Fall Victim to Internet Rumors
This author, who should know better, has even fallen victim to spreading a false Internet rumor.

A recent picture was floating around the Internet attributing a quote to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that was not true. Given the senator’s position on certain issues, it seemed to fall within the realm of possibility.
This was a good example of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.

Consider the Source
One needs to be careful about their sources of information. The story about pastors being arrested for turning down a same-sex “wedding” came from a website designed to look like NBC.com, but was actually NBC.com.co which is a satire site.
And the homosexual couple suing Zondervan to remove verses about homosexuality from the Bible? While the story is true, the case was not the result of President Obama’s policies or the Supreme Court’s ruling. This happened while President Bush was in office and before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.
What about the woman who wants to marry her cats? There’s no way it’s happening legally, at least not anytime soon. It falls into the same category as the stories of women who “married” a dolphin, a dog, or herself. (The last story was the source of a story arc for several prime-time American TV shows.)
The rash of fake news stories prompted commentator Ed Stetzer to write, “There are real issues about religious liberty right now (and more coming). Posting links to fake ones just makes all of us look (rightly) gullible.” Stetzer is an author, pastor and the Executive Director of LifeWay Research. He has spent so much time debunking these Christian fish stories that he half-jokingly started a series titled “Faux Christian Controversy of the Week”. The debunking business has kept him busy.
Given the seismic changes that have occurred in recent months, it is easy to believe almost anything the enemies of Christ would do. We have been blasted with headlines about sex-changes, the Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) spinning new law out of thin air, and Planned Parenthood selling aborted baby body parts. Ideas that used to be seen as ridiculous, are now being declared “mainstream.” The SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage has opened the flood gates for people suing in courts for a raft of new “rights.” The court will now have to take up the issue of polygamy, polyamory, incest and even pedophilia in cases that are sure to be filed.
However, as followers of a Savior Who called Himself “the Truth,” we need to stop spreading rumors. The real news is outrageous and heartbreaking enough without needing exaggeration.
We should be careful with reports about people we do not like, for our tendency is to believe the worst about such people and to enjoy reporting anything that puts them in a bad light. Even when there is no malice, there is danger in taking so much delight in “telling the news” that we hurt people, sometimes even strangers. This is one of the reasons this ministry goes to great lengths not to speak ill of other ministries.

Our Responsibility
What responsibility do we as Christians have in promoting the truth of the news permeating social media?
The first thing we need to do is check the facts. Is a fact being promoted on just one site? Is it on several sites but all with exactly the same wording? Have you checked the sites to see if they are reputable, or are they satire sites?

Don’t Post What You Can’t Confirm
Posting an incorrect story not only can lead others astray, but also hurts your credibility. Inaccuracies provide fodder for those who want to cast Christians as uneducated automatons who will blindly follow whatever path they are told to take. It plays into the stereotype of a “typical” Christian.
Transgression is at work where people talk too much, but anyone who holds his tongue is prudent.
— Proverbs 10:19, ISV
What should we do if we inadvertently spread a false story?
Ed Stetzer has this advice:
Post a retraction. Just something like this would suffice: “Hey friends, I posted a story about _______ this weekend, and it turns out it wasn’t true! Be on guard and don’t believe everything you read out there! I’ll be more careful next time.”
Don’t excuse yourself by saying, “Well, it might be true.” Or, “Well, there is something like that.” “Or, well, it will be true soon.” No, you were wrong. You fell for a hoax. Say so and move on.
Be less gullible next time. “But,” you may think, “I’m not wise. I get fooled by this stuff all the time.” That’s OK, Scripture accounts for people like us. James 1:5 says: “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to everyone generously without a rebuke, and it will be given to him.” (ISV)
If our friends and families cannot trust us with this type of news, many will not listen when we seek to share the good news of the Gospel.
“As Christians,” concludes Stetzer, “we have a higher standard than even the journalist. We aren’t protecting the reputation of an organization or a website; we bear the name of our King.”

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