Christians and non-Christians, alike, are under attack from “Fake News.” For Christians these evil sources undermine the basis of trust and manipulate faith. For non-Christians, Fake News is used to polarize theory with fear, anger and mistrust.
News (stories) should always be evidence-based, but human knowledge and belief are such that social community can lead to the spread of falsity. Unfortunately, our leaders have exacerbated the environment of mistrust, as our national enemies have joined in the manipulation of our disagreements. Over the past two decades, influential figures in America and Britain public life have adopted an ever-more tenuous connection to the truth — a complete disregard for evidence, expert knowledge, or logical coherence — without reprimand or political consequence. If we are to survive as a national but diversified community, Christian and non-Christian, alike, we need to understand how our networks of social interaction have changed from what they once were, and why those changes have affected our ability as we participate in our respective groups, to form reliable beliefs.
We cannot understand changes in our political system by focusing only on individuals. We also need to understand how our networks of social and religious interaction have changed, and why those changes have affected our ability, as a group, to form reliable beliefs. People like to conform with those around them, and when they are surrounded by peers who hold identical beliefs, the forces of conformity become extremely strong. Interestingly, this tendency to conform can be weaponized — as evidenced by Russian interventions in the US and UK in 2016. The Russians have figured out that by appearing to be one of a certain group or thought, i.e., one of like mind, they can follow with a flow of Fake News to influence elections, faith-based decisions, or general disagreement and confusion in the populace.
On Sunday, December 4, 2016, a twenty-eight-year-old man named Edgar Maddison Welch told his wife and two daughters that he had some business to attend to and left the house. He got into his car and drove about six hours from his home in Salisbury, North Carolina, to a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. He carried with him an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, a handgun, and a shotgun, all loaded. When he arrived at the restaurant at about 3 p.m., he entered carrying the AR-15 and opened fire, unloading multiple rounds into a locked door inside the establishment.
Welch thought he was a hero. He believed the pizzeria, known as Comet Ping Pong, was the staging ground for an international child prostitution ring headed by none other than Hillary Clinton, the former Democratic nominee for president. Welch was there to investigate the pizza parlor, and if possible, save the children.
The ”Pizzagate” was developed by Fake News sources and enhanced by Fake News followers, some for ulterior motives, others just following along because they believed in the communicating source. These bizarre and evidence-free allegations about a pizzeria- based child pornography ring was produced and followed by a slew of emails such as 4chan, Drudge Report, and Infowars.
So, what do we have here? How does such Fake News attack Christian and non-Christian alike? Well, look at the experience of Edgar Maddison. Here is a Christian man who wants to protect the safety of children, his two girls, as well as all children. This horrible woman of power is using her position to profit from the destruction of children’s lives, and of all things, right from the capital of America. No one seemed to be doing anything about it, and the more time, the more destruction of children’s lives. Of course, God would call Edgar to act and protect! The trouble is it was all Fake.
The mechanisms for the spread of specific beliefs operate in the population by first relying upon a trusted source of information, without searching for that source’s evidence of what is being said. Before this period of reliance, the source has befriended through a friendly, like-minded, “I’m one of you,” period, so the source is trusted, no need to investigate for evidence or verify.
The American public is deeply divided on many issues, from matters of faith to national policies. Global climate change, Affordable Care act, multilateral treaty with Iran, free-trade agreements, lowering corporate tax rates, regulating guns, tax on high earners, accepting the Bible literally or through interpretation just to name a few issues that all citizens must work through. We do not need the pernicious interference of Fake News as we all search for truth in order to make rational opinions and decisions. How are we to protect ourselves from Fake News taking us down a manipulated path? Without true facts, there can be no reliable faith in decision making.