Recently I had a conversation with my kids about the internet. I let them know that not every picture they see there is necessarily real. Even if it looks real, it's important to question things, to be observant and to seek the truth.
We looked at a couple examples of fake pictures like the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and Abraham Lincoln holding a cell phone. Even at 5 and 8 years old, they had no problem understanding how these things can be manipulated to look real. I told them the same thing goes for videos. People can edit videos to tell a story that isn't actually true.
I showed them a video called “Danny Daycare” that features a professional mountain biker named Danny Macaskil. Danny is asked to babysit and gets bored being in the house, so he asks the little girl named Daisy, “Want to ride the bikes?” She enthusiastically agrees and off they go. But it isn’t a gentle ride through the trees. Danny and Daisy do flips, balance along steep precipices and bounce jarringly along the path. Would someone really do those tricks with a baby in tow? The video cuts to the baby happily giggling. I asked my kids if it was real, but they said with a grin, "No way, Dad!"
I told them they were right, but it was funny, wasn't it? I let them know that the video was made by shooting some real scenes with Daisy riding behind Danny and shooting some scenes with a doll that simply looked like Daisy. I told them that Danny is a professional mountain biker, and he really did those jumps but he wasn't doing them with Daisy because that wouldn't be safe.
Then I showed them the behind-the-scenes making of the video with all the crashes. I showed them where the producers explicitly state that "no children were used in any of the stunts only a doll, either way, don't try this at home."
When the video first came out, there were many comments from people who were aghast at the irresponsibility of placing a child in harm's way. The video was edited so well that they simply assumed it was true. Technology is advancing so fast that discerning fact from fiction is getting increasingly difficult.
In 2018, former President Barack Obama issued a warning in a video announcement that said, “We’re entering an era in which our enemies can make it look like anyone is saying anything at any point in time.” It looked like Obama and sounded like Obama, but it wasn’t actually Obama.
The video was made by Jordan Peele using sophisticated technology that mirrored Obama's voice and image to coincide with Peele's speech. This is what is now known as a deep fake. Peele was using the technology to make an ironic point: Don’t believe everything you see and read on the internet.
I have been at meetings with adults who don't seem to understand this concept. Just because you see something on the internet doesn't make it true. If something looks unbelievable, maybe it shouldn’t be believed. Even if it looks believable, it’s important to question our biases and assumptions.
Sometimes fake stories can be funny, like when the satirical website Barely Adventist had an article about Doug Batchelor being kicked off a plane. They said that he was ushered off Newark-bound United Flight 1844 after casually telling a seatmate before takeoff that he was carrying the “Sword of the Spirit.” When I posted that on Facebook, 42 people shared that story. Most of them thought it was funny. But some people actually believed it!
What is not so funny is the way so many of us can be manipulated by the internet. There are companies like Cambridge Analytica that profit off public naivety. They weaponize fear, hatred and fake news. And they are really good at what they do.
So be careful about what you believe and then choose to share. Not every meme, news story and video clip is worth passing on. Sometimes we actually may contribute to tribalism by spreading such things.
Fake news is rampant and has become a money-making industry powerful enough to impact elections, confirm our biases and add fuel to our worst fears. Who cares if a story is accurate, it's the message that counts, right? But what does it say about the message if it relies on sensationalism and slander to penetrate?
In reaction to this, Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are now determined to take on fake news. But this is a little ominous as well. Do we really want these companies to be the arbitrators of truth? How do we determine true truth in the age of post-truth?
Humility is key, it’s a willingness to admit we may get things wrong and a willingness to be corrected when we are wrong. No person, political party, religious denomination or educational institution possesses the whole truth. If we think we possess the whole truth, we can become arrogant, which makes us treat people with disrespect. True truth doesn't do that.
True truth is grounded in the principles of true love. It is patient and it is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast and it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered and it keeps no record of wrongs. True truth (love) does not delight in evil, but rejoices when love wins. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. True truth (love) never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8).
So where does this leave us in the age of fake news? If the apostle Paul was alive today, he may give this checklist for sharing and consuming things on the internet:
Is it true? Is it noble? Is it right? Is it pure? Is it lovely? Is it admirable? If anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about and share such things (Phil. 4:8).
In the age of post-truth, we need a commitment to true truth. We need more blessing and less cursing. Test all things and hold fast to what is good. True truth brings freedom. Jesus explains it like this, "You may know the truth, and the truth will set you free."