A few months ago, a friend posted on his Facebook page an image of a Twitter exchange in which Donald Trump congratulated Serena Williams on winning a tennis tournament. Williams responded by taking Trump to task for some of his comments on race and gender. I became engaged in a Facebook conversation about Williams’s responses, which went on for a number of comments, and finally I wanted to see Trump’s and Williams’s exchange on Twitter itself. After searching both Trump’s and Williams’s Twitter feeds, I concluded that we had been talking about an exchange which had never occurred: Trump did not tweet about Williams’s win, and Williams had nothing to say about Trump then.
Since the election, a lot has been written about the proliferation of fake news. Some reports about these sites suggest that their content makers benefit from advertisement revenues. Other reports suggest that the fake news writers, many of them from other countries, were trying to sway votes in the election. A recent Stanford University study has concluded that 80 to 90 percent of young people, including college students, had trouble identifying biased and fake news stories. One fake story alleging that an FBI agent investigating Hillary Clinton’s email was found dead in an apparent murder-suicide was shared on Facebook 500,000 times.
When I teach Academic Writing and Research, one of my firmest expectations is that my students will strive for accuracy. Careless or intentional misrepresentation of another person’s ideas or story is a violation of the ninth commandment: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). This is more than just lying. People who post falsehoods about a political candidate or any other person are doing so to cause harm to that person.
This doesn’t mean that we should be Pollyanna about a person, but our judgments should be based upon demonstrable, verifiable information.
In the past, when I posted a fake news story on my Facebook page, I have gone back, deleted the post, and admitted having passed along bad information. We may not always know when we make a mistake, but as Christians, we are obligated to be honest, even about our opponents. We should expect this at least of ourselves.