While in California, we visited the headquarters of Facebook in Menlo Park, California. It is the world’s most widely used social media platform. It is used by two and a half billion people, including other Facebook-owned services such as Instagram and WhatsApp. Most likely you are on one of them. More than 25,000 people work for Facebook. We were given a private tour by Michael McNally a director of engineering at Facebook, supporting the News Feed Integrity Team. His team of 70 engineers uses artificial intelligence to fight misinformation called “fake” or “false” news. His group also fights spam, fraud and abuse in the Facebook feed.
This experience gave me insight not only into cutting-edge technology, but into ever-present human nature in an interconnected world where we human beings come up close and personal to one another. On social networks there is the freedom to say what you please to the world with your viewpoints and biases.
How seriously do we take promoting what is true and accurate?
But, questions arose: Is true objectivity and neutrality really possible? How much bias is “acceptable” and at what point does content become deception and falsehood? And then the next step, how does that affect those consuming what may be manipulated content?
Misinformation is ever-present. Those who provide content on social media platforms are then forced into taking action by restricting or removing material that crosses a line of decency (by using complex algorithms developed by an exceedingly intelligent team of engineers).
A primary function for those of us in the work of God is to disseminate the truth. Jesus’ last heart-rending prayer for His disciples was that they would be set apart by the truth of God, because God’s Word only speaks what is true: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:17-19).
How seriously do we take promoting what is true and accurate? Do we take care to be true in our teaching of doctrine as we have come to a collective understanding and agreement? Are we discerning of information that comes at us as to its believability? An interesting fact expressed on this tour was that conservatives tended to believe conspiracy-type scenarios over liberals. This was also a trend of the older over the younger in believing extreme content.
When we speak, whether publicly or privately, we are confronted with the binary choice of telling the truth or telling a lie. It is living the Ninth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness.”
Two characteristics that define Satan are that he is a murderer and a liar: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).
Lies have inflamed people against one another. Wars begin with words that lead to conflict and destruction.
Not only must we be careful about carelessly believing what we hear, but we must also be careful what we pass on. We may be an unwitting carrier of false witness by what we share with others in person or online.
The Ninth Commandment is held up in multiple places in the Word of God. Here are but a few samples:
“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:9).
“Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25).
“These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19).
Indeed misinformation, misleading conduct, prevarication, fraud, deception and lies cause conflict, ill will and ultimately destruction. Be careful that you tell the truth consciously and that you don’t unknowingly mislead.
We are so thankful for a truthful God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2). So as we go forward, we need to rise to that same standard by the communications that come from us.