How should we report about Justin Bieber, Kanye West and other cases of well-known personalities who are considering the Christian faith?
False informative articles that are able to hit a nerve have great success on the media and social networks. It’s an old way of manipulation into which Christians fall with surprising ease.
If you are on Facebook or Twitter, read websites on the Internet or watch the news, it’s nearly impossible that you did not see the video of the “Syrian hero boy”.
It appeared on YouTube some months ago and it knew how to captivate the viewers thanks to its realism and the incredible great deed shown in it.
In the video, a Syrian boy manages to rescue a girl from the rain of gunshots between the fighters in Syria. The deed is really heroic: the little one is able to save his life and the other girl’s thanks to his wit.
However, it is not an informative recording of the conflict, but a short fiction film by Lars Klevberg, a Norwegian filmmaker that wrote the script after watching the news on the Syrian conflict, with the goal to raise awareness.
The film, as the BBC mentioned in a report, was filmed in Malta in 2013. It appeared in YouTube for the first time a few months ago but it wasn’t getting enough attention.
For this reason, the producers took it away, waited some weeks and introduced in the title of the film the word “hero”, which made them more popular straight away. The “boom” arrived after a Twitter account specialized in giving information about the Middle East, followed by a wide range of media and journalists, mentioned it.
Since the film was uploaded in YouTube, it was viewed more than five million times and inspired thousands of comments. “We are very pleased with the reaction”, said Klevberg, “because it started a debate” about the suffering that children in Syria experience.
Since the film was found out to be false, the social networks were invaded with many comments full of outrage from users that felt lied to. But many asked, with good reason, how this could be reproduced by media around the world: The Independent, USA Today and many more, that shared the film, without verifying the information to know whether it was true or fictitious.
“Is it bad to manipulate a piece of news when we have a good reason?” Bloomberg journalist Kirsten Salyer asks in an article. “The truth is that these viral messages lose all their power when the truth is known, and they even provoke violent reactions, which is the opposite that was intended”, she says.
BELIEVERS OR GULLIBLE?
The Christian audience is not alien to the false news phenomenon. In fact, it is one of the audiences that fall more easily into the spreading of such news.
Last October, there was an article going around social networks about an alleged discovery of carriages and weapons belonging to the Egyptian army in the Red Sea.
This news was published in the World News Daily Report website, where it stated that the “Egyptian Authority of Antiques” had discovered remnants of “a big army” from 14th century BC at the bottom of the Suez Gulf. Some of the data, however, should raise suspicions in any reader, like for instance “nearly 400 skeletons have been recovered”.
According to the report, the investigation had been carried out by “Abdel Mohamed Gader”, from the Archaeology department in Cairo, which would confirm the Exodus story in the Bible.
This information was made up by the writer and it was easy to figure this out: there was no archaeologist with that name, which is something that can be confirmed by a search on Google; or you can tell this is a website dedicated to the invention of news by simply having a look at it.
The Christian magazine Relevant created a list of websites dedicated to make up false news, like National Report, Empire News, The Onion, or the already mentioned World News Daily Report amongst others.
Curiously enough, one of them, Christwire, creates specific content about the Christian faith. Its editors say that they do it “in order to see how far people can go believing our absurdities. People believe everything they read on the internet”.
LIES ASSUMED AS TRUE
More worrying is the lacking of filters to spread these “jokes” on the media. Even though some comments were warning others that everything false, these websites didn’t take the content away nor amended it. Is it because they don’t care, as the news have a “favourable” tinge towards Christians?
In the same way, we usually find false news about facts that “would make the foundations of the Christian faith wobble”. Often, we can read on the internet that Jesus was not crucified, or that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had two children. Some publications go even further and publish that Jesus didn’t exist, obviously with no historic or scientific support that is trustworthy.
It’s in the field of archaeology and biblical history where Christians tend to be carried along by triumphalism, which makes us an “easy target” to fall into these lies. Other similar examples are the Noah’s Ark or the Ark of the Covenant.
Todd Bolen, specialist in biblical archaeology, created a list of the most common “traps”: “Is it too good to be true? It probably is. Does the article mention Ron Wyatt, Robert Cornuke or Indiana Jones? If that’s the case, it is probably false. Does it use sentences like ‘this is an irrefutable evidence’ or a ‘final’ evidence? It’s very likely to be false”.
As Protestante Digital published in an editorial about the credibility of Christian media. “God doesn’t need our help or that we support our beliefs with unreal, or false, facts. The truth is the best and only way. It’s very important to know which sources we use or which ones can be trusted (Don’t trust completely any media, not even us! Examine everything, keep what is good, what is true!)”.
In the midst of the informative avalanche that we live in, where social networks get more and more prominence, as users, we need to be even more cautious.
We will work hard reviewing our sources and being alert, applying the right criteria to keep us away from spreading news that only bring confusion and deception.