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Do Not Bear False Witness (Online) — April 25th

by Dr. Stu Cocanougher

It seems that once a month I receive a text message or a Facebook message, or an email from a Christian friend who is outraged about something that is apparently happening in our world.  Here are some true examples of messages that have been forwarded to me.

  • A New U.S. Dollar coin has left off “In God We Trust.”
  • In-and-Out Burger is now printing the message “Hail Satan” on the bottom of its cups.
  • A Public Elementary School in Tennessee is forcing children to pray to “Allah.”
  • Please Pray for the 22 Missionaries sentenced to death tomorrow.”

Sometimes these “news articles” are accompanied with convincing photos.  For example, In-an-Out burger has been placing Bible verse references on it’s packaging for years.  The founder was a strong Christian, and his family keeps that tradition.  Yet, after someone online photoshopped “hail Satan” over one of the verses and shared it online, many well-meaning Christians fell for the prank hook, line, and sinker and began sharing their outrage online.

Sometimes the culprit is what is called a “clickbait” website.  These websites look like real news websites.  The stories are often sensational and based on half-truths.  These websites sell advertising based on the number of clicks they receive.  Their motivation is money.  When we share these website links, we help them cash in even more.

So how do you know what is true and what is fake online?  First of all, trust your gut.  Do you really think that the U.S. Government would take “In God We Trust” off of our money without one politician or one major news source knowing about it?  Is it reasonable to think that In-an-Out burger would print “hail satan” on their cups?  Next, go to google and write something like “Dollar In God We Trust Hoax.”  Or “Tennessee school children pray Allah hoax” or “In and out burger satan hoax."  Odds are that, if this article is false, many people have seen it and someone has disproved it.  Often times, websites like snopes.com or truthorfiction.com has investigated the hoax and will give detailed evidence. 

In the case of the “pray for the 22 missionaries sentenced to death tomorrow” alert.  As a missions pastor, I get this one a lot.  In fact, some research will show you that this message has been spread regularly online since 2009.   The reality is this, ministries like persecution.com and chinaaid.com chronicle legitimate prayer needs of well-documented cases of the persecution of Christians.  Christians are indeed being martyred in 2019.  Yet, as Christians, we should seek to be people of truth.  I believe that sharing something online that is not true is the modern-day equivalent of “bearing false witness.”  Our witness to the world is important.  If we regularly share half-truths online, why should we be believed in person?

I once saw a Christian friend post a salacious photo online along with a description of his utter outrage.  The photo was so unbelievable that I quickly fact-checked it and found that it was a photoshopped hoax.  It was clearly designed to make people angry.  I privately messaged this friend that it was a hoax. I was taken aback when my friend replied, “Even if this photo is altered, it’s probably still true.”  He refused to admit that he had been manipulated.

In journalism, a popular axion is “check your source.”  As Christians, we should be people of integrity(both online and off).  If we see something online that is shocking or hard to believe, we should probably not share it blindly without doing some research. Sharing false information online works against our goals of being people of integrity.