Tuesday, 22 November 2016


Take a bow Fake News.

I know you’ve been around since that darned snake whispered in Eve’s ear and she passed the false info to her hubby, but you are now possibly more famous than the Kardashians.

Admittedly, when you consider the fake stories even cynical journalists have fallen for, social media has given you wings that an Archangel would give her halo for. As the Trump dust settles and the pundits analyse the USA presidential election to death, you have emerged as the villain of a bitter campaign that kicked sand in pollster and commentator faces alike. 

A convenient scapegoat
Amidst wails of “information warfare”, warnings that “the first casualty of war is truth” and talk of “the collapse of world order”, you Fake News are the perfect scapegoat. 

It’s frightfully biblical my dear, and we must not forget the clever role you played in Pilate’s condemnation of Jesus. The baying mob who influenced his decision was as misinformed as so many electorates are today.

A global phenomenon
In modern time your undue influence spreads well beyond the good old US of A. 

Take, for instance, your story about Jacob Zuma’s presidential pardon of Oscar Pistorius. It made headlines in respected newspapers across the world. 

I can imagine your glee when you tricked the social media fraternity into believing that dear Pope Francis had endorsed The Donald. Then there’s the old, but often repeated, one about the pastor who is about to be crucified by Isis. We’ve gone through that dramatic countdown so many times I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t made the movie. Who knows how many shares and amens it’s had on Facebook. All the while fueling anti-Islamic hysteria.

 Feeling neglected?
There is one arena where you haven’t attracted the attention you probably think you deserve – the Anglican Church. While pundits pontificate and Google and Facebook threaten to shut your bogus news accounts, I’m wondering how many sermons you have featured in? It seems that, along with other insidious sins like racism, gender violence and cyber bullying, you are seldom taught in a Confirmation class. Nor are the adults in our pews reminded of our Christian responsibility in all this.

Words of a conservative
I must give the Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, his due. Eighteen months ago, Dr Ed Stetzer wrote about an ‘Embarrassing Week for Christians Sharing Fake News’.

Dr Ed Stetzer
His opening gambit was: “Don't believe everything you read on the Internet. You embarrass us all when you do.”  He has even written a series called "Faux Christian Controversy of the Week". 

As he says, “it just keeps happening”.

Two 'news' stories doing the rounds that week were: ‘Pastor Arrested for Refusing a Same-Sex Marriage’ and a report about a homosexual man who had filed a $70 million lawsuit against Bible publishers Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, alleging that their version of the Bible referred to homosexuality as a sin and violated his constitutional rights.

What to do
Essentially, Ed Stetzer’s message is: Stop it!  Importantly, he offers practical advice:

If something sounds crazy, check the URLThe lawsuit story was on NBC.com.co
Did you notice the extra .co on the end? That’s the giveaway. It’s a fake site. (I often Google the gist of the headline and add ‘Hoax? And http://www.snopes.com/,  which features trending false stories, is a great help.)

Dr Setzer reminds that it’s OUR job—yes OURS—to check the facts. Our websites should do that as well, but most are more concerned with gaining page views than earning credibility.

He adds, “There are real issues about religious liberty right now. Posting links to fake ones just make all of us look gullible.” (By implication we'd be easily fooled by theology as well.)

So, if you realise you have posted a fake story, here are a few things you can do:
1. Be humble and post a retraction. As he points out “Integrity is important for the Christian. The Scriptures are clear, especially in Proverbs 2:20-21 which says:
So, follow the way of good people,
and keep to the paths of the righteous.
For the upright will inhabit the land,
and those of integrity will remain in it;

Later, Proverbs 28:18 says:
The one who lives with integrity will be helped,
but one who distorts right and wrong
will suddenly fall.

We are duty bound to protect our friends from being tricked as we were.

2. Don’t excuse a falsehood by saying, “Well, it might be true.” Or, “Well, there is something like that." "Or, well, it will be true soon." Or even, “It should be true.”
No, if you were wrong, say it and move on.

3. Be less gullible next time.
Wisdom is valuable:
Get wisdom—
how much better it is than gold!
And get understanding—
it is preferable to silver. (Prov 16:16)

"But," you may think, "I'm not wise. I get fooled by this stuff all the time." That's okay, Scripture accounts for people like us. James 1:5 says:“Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.”, Thanksgiving

Finally, the Bible makes it clear: Lying is wrong. Don't lie, even if you don't mean to. And make it right if you do.

Thank-you Dr Ed.

Talking turkey:

This weekend an emotional Brian Stelter, CNN’s host of ‘Reliable Sources’, predicted that many Thanksgiving dinners would be ruined by people whipping out their iPhones to prove a fake point. He urged viewers to be more discerning and to help each other to resist you Fake News. Facebook users, he said, should refuse to be used, journalists must be more vigilant.

A South African pundit was saying much the same on Aljazeera and President Obama was warning European heads of state of the dire consequences of social media propaganda.

Better than real news?
Interestingly, in the last weeks of the US election campaign revealed that you – whether claiming that the Pope had endorsed Trump, or that Clinton sold weapons to Isis – actually outperformed real news, with more shares, reactions and comments.

Another widely shared story used a young picture of Donald Trump with variations on a quote he reportedly gave People magazine in 1998:  “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.”

It’s a serious situation and we can’t just tweet about it or angst on Facebook. Social media has enabled you, Fake News, to assume pandemic proportions but it’s far from a new phenomenon and I believe it’s time for all of us to take ownership of the situation to fend you off.

Not my fault.

We can’t afford to do the Garden of Eden thing, where Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake and we blame you. Because just as countries across the globe are experiencing a swing to conservatism and populist leaders the Anglican Church could be sharing that experience.

The KISS principle (keep it simple stupid)
According to Harry Farley, a Junior Staff Writer for Christian Today, conservative Anglican churches have bucked the trend of decline to show an increase in attendance over the past five years.

He claims the Church of England, as a whole, has seen a seven percent drop in the number of people at weekly services since 2010. But those churches with stricter teaching on issues such as the infallibility of the Bible, women priests and same-sex marriage report a dramatic increase in regular attendance.

If he is right, it means people don’t want reasoned religion. They don’t want to unpack the Bible by taking author, history and culture into consideration. They want their Christianity packaged as a no-nonsense brand.

Just checking
I’m waiting for the outcome of a global conference that is exploring the growth and decline of our Anglican communion. 

The key resource being a published study prepared by an international team of researchers across the five continents. There are 12 detailed case studies of Anglican churches in Australia, Congo, England, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, South America, South India, South Korea, and the US.

Grace Davie, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Exeter, describes the book as “a veritable goldmine”, adding: “it contains a huge amount of mostly numerical information on the Anglican Communion in all its fullness.

“Quite rightly it eschews easy generalisations, probing instead the complex and evolving mosaic that constitutes modern Anglicanism. Almost every reader will be surprised about something.”

Guilty as charged
Not sure whether you’ve noticed but I have quoted conservative Christians to make this blog’s point. Yet I have previously slammed their stance on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Have I cherry picked to suit myself?  We all do it, determined to stay in the corners of our diversity unless it suits us.

It’s time to break that cycle.

I’d like to suggest that the starting point in the task of eradicating the Fake News pandemic is for religions to renew its focus on teaching about the importance of truth.  We must stretch across the raging river of diversity.

We also need to stop using the Scriptures like a hoax site or a literal dictation from heaven. From an Anglican perspective, good theological education comes to mind. It should also be compulsory for our priests to follow news in order to identify relevant issues.

Let us remember that Anglicanism rests on the pillars of Faith, Scripture and Reason. Fortunately, or unfortunately, this makes it complex and not for the faint hearted. It’s why the Anglican Church always seems to be teetering on the edge of schism.

I also think it’s high time education curricula included social media and aspects such as cyber bullying and soft porn. To be sandwiched between ethics and how to fact check information.

So much for us to do, so little time.  I think I’ll pop outside and smell a rose or two if the drought hasn’t killed them off. 

Besides, I need to meditate on a comment regarding Fake News in South Africa. William Bird of Media Monitoring Africa, says, "Much of our news is so bizarre that it could actually be fake." 

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