“Foolish is the man who never reads a newspaper; even more foolish is the man who believes what he reads just because it is in the newspaper.”
—August von Schlözer, German historian and writer (1735-1809).
PEOPLE over 200 years ago could not trust everything written in the newspapers. Today we cannot believe everything we read or see on the Internet. There is a huge amount of information online, and modern technology makes it easy for us to find it. Much information is true, useful, and harmless, but much is false, worthless, and dangerous. That is why we must choose carefully what we read. When some begin using the Internet, they may think that a news report must be true just because it is online or because a friend sent it to them in an e-mail. They may believe a story even if it is very unusual. But the Bible warns us: “The naive person believes every word, but the shrewd one ponders each step.”
The opposite of being naive, or foolishly believing everything we hear, is being shrewd. When we are shrewd, we are careful and only believe what we know to be true. We will not be tricked and believe a false story we read on the Internet, no matter how popular it may be. What can help you to be shrewd? First, ask yourself: ‘Is the story from an official, reliable website? Or is it from a website that allows anybody to write his opinion, or even from an unknown source? Has a trusted website already shown that the story is false?’ * (See footnote.) Then, use “good sense.” (Proverbs 7:7) If a news item seems unbelievable, it probably is. Also, when you read negative news about others, think about who would benefit if the story spreads and why someone might want to spread it.
DO YOU ALWAYS FORWARD E-MAILS?
Some people may forward news to all their contacts without checking whether the story is true or without thinking about what might happen after they send it. Perhaps it is because they constantly want people’s attention and want to be the first to spread news. (2 Samuel 13:28-33) But a shrewd person thinks about the damage that this could cause. For example, it could damage the reputation of a person or an organization.
The person sending the news may not check whether it is true because doing so takes time and effort. He simply thinks that those who receive his message can do that. But their time is precious too. (Ephesians 5:15, 16) So instead of sending things that we are not sure of, it would be better to think, “If I am in doubt, I should throw it out!”
Ask yourself: ‘Do I always forward e-mails? Have I ever had to apologize to my contacts for sending them wrong information or even lies? Has anyone ever asked me to stop forwarding e-mails?’ Remember that if your friends have e-mail, they can also use the Internet and do not need your help to look for things that interest them. They do not want to receive a huge number of e-mails that include funny stories, videos, or pictures. It is also unwise to forward recordings or detailed notes of Bible talks. * (See footnote.) And remember that if a person does his own research, looks up Bible verses, or prepares his own answers for the meetings, he will benefit more than if you had sent him any of this information.
What should you do if you see something on the Internet that tells vicious lies about Jehovah’s organization? Reject those lies immediately! Do not believe them. It would not be wise to share what you read with others and ask for their opinion because that would only spread the harmful information even more. If something you have seen on the Internet worries you, ask Jehovah for wisdom and speak to mature brothers. (James 1:5, 6; Jude 22, 23) We should not be surprised that people tell lies about us. People told lies about Jesus, and he warned his disciples that their enemies would persecute them and “lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against” them. (Matthew 5:11; 11:19; John 10:19-21) So if you are wise and think carefully, you will be able to recognize when someone is telling lies and trying to deceive others.
SHOW RESPECT FOR OTHERS
We also have to be careful about sharing news about our brothers or sharing experiences we have heard. There are times that it would not be right or loving to spread information even if it is true. (Matthew 7:12) For example, it is not loving or encouraging to forward negative information about others. (2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:13) And some news might be confidential. People may want to reveal this information later or in a specific way. So we should respect their right to decide when and how to reveal it. In fact, if we tell this information to others ahead of time, we can do a lot of harm.
Today, news can spread very quickly, whether it is true or false, useful or worthless, harmless or dangerous. Even if you send a message to one person, that person can forward it to people all over the world in just a few seconds. So resist the temptation to forward information quickly and to everyone you know. Even though love “believes all things” and is not suspicious, we should not be naive and believe every new and exciting story. (1 Corinthians 13:7) And we would never believe lies or hateful things about Jehovah’s organization and our brothers, whom we love. Remember that those who start and spread these lies are pleasing Satan the Devil, “the father of the lie.” (John 8:44) So may we be shrewd and always think carefully about how we use the huge amount of information available to us every day. As the Bible says, “the naive will inherit foolishness, but the shrewd are crowned with knowledge.”