Editorial: The Fallout of Fake News

Millions of dollars are made every day on fake news. The tabloids in the supermarket checkout line remind us that fake news is an industry, and a very lucrative one. Even somewhat reputable television networks are accused of spreading and profiting from fake news.

Flooding our inboxes are emails containing bombshell articles about important political or religious figures, stories so good (or bad) that we are tempted (and instructed) to forward along to everyone we know. We take a few minutes (hopefully) to check our sources and discover that no trustworthy news agency is reporting any of it. Or perhaps a story circulated years ago and, although now debunked, is resurfacing again. Some recipients check no sources and prefer instead to carelessly forward the story. And thus begins the fallout of disseminating fake news.

Credible Sources

How do we respond when the news isn’t about some high-ranking official but a brother or sister in Christ? Is the person who shared this news with us a credible source? Are we certain that they have no agenda or personal vendetta? Are they spinning the story to their advantage? Do we take the time to do the appropriate amount of fact-checking or do we unhesitatingly circulate what could very well be fake news? As “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Pro 18:21), the fallout of spreading fake news can be devastating. Reputations can be ruined in a moment and take years to rebuild. Not only is the subject of the story susceptible to a ruined reputation but also the person circulating it. While we may enjoy spreading gossip in order to enhance our reputations as those “in the know” and those who are close to “important people,” our reputations are not being enhanced. Eventually, others will fail to trust us as credible sources and the reputation most harmed will be our own.

We Interrupt This Broadcast …

When we are tuned in to a negative report about a fellow believer, are we willing to interrupt? Do we stand up for one another, assuming the best rather than the worst? If you challenge the accuracy of the report, the flame of fake news just might flicker away. “Without wood, the fire goes out. Without a gossip, contention stops” (Pro 26:20 ISV). We should refuse to give gossip an audience either by challenging it or, if that fails, removing ourselves from its presence. Additionally, be ready to respond with accurate, positive news about the person being discussed. Your interjection may change the atmosphere of the conversation and steer it into a more healthy direction.

The Hard and Humble Task of Retraction

It’s always a humbling experience to admit that we were wrong. But if we’ve allowed ourselves to be the mediums of harmful fake news, the task of retracting what was said is not only humbling but incredibly hard work. It is almost impossible to track down every person who heard and spread the false reports but we should be willing to make the effort. Above all, we should confess this sin to the person maligned and humbly seek their forgiveness.

The Lord Jesus said that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Mat 12:36 ESV). Fake news, though financially profitable as an earthly industry, will incur heavy heavenly losses when we stand before the Lord.