Today, you have access to more information than ever, including the kind that can help you stay safe and healthy. But in your search, you need to beware of misinformation, such as:
For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the secretary-general of the United Nations warned of a dangerous epidemic of misinformation. “Harmful health advice and snake-oil solutions are proliferating,” he stated. “Falsehoods are filling the airwaves. Wild conspiracy theories are infecting the Internet. Hatred is going viral, stigmatizing and vilifying people and groups.”
Of course, misinformation is not new. However, the Bible foretold that in our day, “wicked men and impostors [would] advance from bad to worse, misleading and being misled.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 13) And the Internet now allows us to receive—and unintentionally spread—false news more easily and quickly than ever. As a result, our email, social media, and news feeds can become filled with distorted facts and half-truths.
How can you protect yourself from misleading information and conspiracy theories? Consider some Bible principles that can help.
Do not believe everything you see or hear
What the Bible says: “The naive person believes every word, but the shrewd one ponders each step.”—Proverbs 14:15.
We can easily be deceived if we are not careful. Consider, for example, captioned images or brief videos that are widely spread online, especially through social media. Such items, commonly called memes, are often meant to be humorous. However, images and video clips can easily be altered or taken out of context. People can even create videos of real people doing or saying things they never did or said.
“Most of the misinformation researchers encounter on social platforms features media that manipulates context, like memes.”—Axios Media.
Ask yourself: ‘Is the content legitimate news or just a meme?’
Evaluate the source and content
What the Bible says: “Make sure of all things.”—1 Thessalonians 5:21.
Before believing or forwarding a story, even one that is popular or repeated in the news, verify that it is true. How?
Evaluate the reliability of the source. News media companies and other organizations may slant a story because of their commercial or political bias. Compare what you see in one news outlet with other sources. At times, friends may inadvertently pass on misinformation through email messages or social media posts. Therefore, do not trust a news item unless you can check the original source.
Make sure that the content is current and accurate. Look for dates, verifiable facts, and strong evidence to support what is being said. Be especially cautious if complex information seems to be oversimplified or if the report is designed to evoke an emotional reaction.
“Fact-checking now is probably becoming as important as hand washing.”—Sridhar Dharmapuri, a Senior Food Safety and Nutrition Officer for the U.N.
Ask yourself: ‘Does this news report blur the line between fact and opinion or present only one side of the story?’
Be guided by facts, not personal preferences
What the Bible says: “Whoever trusts in his own heart is stupid.”—Proverbs 28:26.
We tend to trust information that confirms what we want to believe. And Internet companies often customize our news and social media feeds to offer us information based on our interests and browsing history. However, what we like to hear is not always what we need to hear.
“People are capable of being thoughtful and rational, but our wishes, hopes, fears, and motivations often tip the scales to make us more likely to accept something as true if it supports what we want to believe.”—Peter Ditto, social psychologist.
Ask yourself: ‘Do I trust this information just because it is what I want to believe?’
Stop the spread of misinformation
What the Bible says: “You must not spread a report that is not true.”—Exodus 23:1.
Remember that the information you share with others has the power to affect their thoughts and actions. Even if you unintentionally pass on wrong information, the consequences can be harmful.
“The No. 1 rule is to slow down, pause and ask yourself, ʻAm I sure enough about this that I should share it?’ If everybody did that, we’d see a dramatic reduction of misinformation online.”— Peter Adams, a senior vice president of the News Literacy Project.
Ask yourself: ‘Am I sharing this information because I know it is true?’