It takes truth six times longer to make its way through social media than false claims. That is the conclusion of a study done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Robinson Meyer writes,
The massive new study analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence—some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, over more than 10 years—and finds that the truth simply cannot compete with hoax and rumor. By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.The researchers draw three conclusion as to why falsehoods spread so much faster than truth. First, our attention is captured by what is novel. “A baby has been born" is not nearly as interesting as “a baby has been born with three heads.”
Second, spreading novel information makes the one sharing appear to be “in the know,” having access to information no one else has. It’s like the reporter getting the exclusive story.
And third, and perhaps most important, people share falsehoods without fact-checking when such stories or quotes line up with their view of the world, their politics, and their religious beliefs. So people are quick to share quotes falsely attributed to the politician they dislike, and share pseudo-facts that give credence to their negative views on another religion. Psychologists refer to this as confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is something we all struggle with from time to time. We are drawn to sources of information that confirm what we already believe and tend to ignore those sources that challenge our convictions. It's easier to exist in the echo chamber where everyone we talk to and everything we read just confirm us instead of challenge us. It seems as if social media is the place where truth dies a death by a thousand cuts.
In this last reading from 1 John on the last Sunday of Easter season, the writer comes back full circle in our passage to the question of truth and those who give testimony to the truth. In these words John reminds us of what he wrote at the beginning of the letter.
John is an eyewitness. It matters what our eyes have seen, what our ears have heard, what our hands and fingers have touched, because a flesh-and-blood world needs a flesh-and-blood savior. Listen to how the New English Bible translates the beginning of 1 John: "It was there from the beginning; we have heard it; we have seen it with our own eyes; we looked upon it, and felt it with our own hands; and it is of this we tell" (1:1).
John responds to those who deny the Incarnation of Jesus--that God has come in the flesh of Jesus-- that he and others were there with Jesus from the beginning, unlike those who proffer false teaching. Eyewitness testimony is important in establishing truth. So often our legal system relies on it. Anyone who witnesses a crime will be called to testify. In his letter, John is refuting the false teachers by saying, “We were there; they weren’t. In fact, we were with Jesus right from the beginning of his ministry to its completion. Now whom do you want to believe? Those of us who actually experienced Jesus in the flesh, or those who now twist the Gospel for their own selfish ends?
The truth matters. And for Christians it must centrally matter to us. All truth is God's truth and God's truth has come to us in embodied form in Jesus Christ. We bear witness to the Good News of God's truth in Jesus. And a huge part of that truth is that in Jesus we encounter the incredible love of God for us and for the world. Truth and love exist together and they need each other. Truth without love can quickly degenerate into harsh legalism. Love without truth results in shallow sentimentality. Perhaps the most important reason that love and truth must go together is because both are necessary to develop trust.
Our testimony to the Good News can only be trustworthy when it speaks truthfully in the context of our love for God and for the world. It is not an accident that John's letter begins with the importance of testimony and ends with the importance of testimony, and sandwiched in between is a whole lot of talk about truth and love.
And that truthful testimony is passed on to each new generation