Following the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage, I was stunned as soon as I opened my Facebook page. Many Christian news outlets were sharing information about the Zondervan lawsuit. Apparently, after the ruling, a homosexual man filed a $70 million lawsuit against Thomas Nelson and Zondervan for publishing the Bible, claiming its statements against homosexuality (per 1 Corinthians 6:9) are unconstitutional and caused him emotional distress. The end, it seemed, was growing near. I couldn't believe this had happened.
And I didn't.
This case was filed in 2008, years before the Supreme Court's decision, and dismissed just as quickly. It seems Christians had again been duped with a social media hoax.
A lie is a lie
Sharing social media hoaxes is simply a high-tech form of lying. Posting information that isn't true breaks God's commandment to "not bear false witness" (Exodus 20:16). This is made clearer in Exodus 23:1: "You shall not circulate a false report." When we post or email out material that is an "unrighteous witness," we fall short of the high standard God has set. It's a widespread problem, and something I am guilty of as well.
There are several reasons why God says He hates lying (Proverbs 6:16-17). This form of lying can create unnecessary fear or anxiety among God's children, stirring up controversy where there is none. Depending on the circumstances it can also constitute gossip, which displeases God (Leviticus 19:16). Additionally, perpetuating social media hoaxes perverts and distracts from the truth, making it muddied rather than clear.
Perhaps most importantly, God wants us to have integrity (Proverbs 10:9, Titus 2:7). He wants His people to be credible as an example to others. How can others have confidence in us when we preach the gospel of the Kingdom if we can't even handle a simple news story? Ultimately, it is our responsibility—yours and mine—to ensure we are sharing fact, not fiction, over social media.
Patching up the cracks
What can you do when you realize you have been fooled by a social media hoax? Simply remember these four steps to repair the damage you may have caused and maintain credibility online:
1. Take it down
There is no sense in leaving falsehoods out there for the world to see. Many social media sites allow you to delete posts that you regret making; take advantage of this opportunity! However, don't think that you can "slide under the radar" by just taking down the post.
2. Issue a retraction
In simplest terms, admit you were wrong. Create another post to give your friends and followers a heads up that what you shared wasn't true. Tell them what you posted wasn't true, and stress the importance of being on guard against hoaxes in the future. By humbling yourself in this way, you actually preserve a great deal of your integrity.
3. Don't make excuses
Statements like, "It's not that far from the truth," "It'll be true soon enough," or "It might as well be true" don't give urgency to your message or somehow qualify your story as acceptable—they exacerbate the problem and reveal that you are clinging to a lie. We have all been fooled before. It's best to simply admit it and move on.
4. Be more careful
God directs His people to grow in wisdom (Proverbs 4:5, Proverbs 8:11). The wise learn from their mistakes. Don't be gullible when sharing news stories and the like. Instead, follow God's instruction to "test all things" and work to confirm a story before you share it (1 Thessalonians 5:21). If you can't or won't do this, it would be wise to not post the material. Don't fall for another social media hoax. Be more careful in the future. Your integrity is at stake!