Dan Pezet

Avoiding eGossip

This post explores the problem of eGossip, or forwarding false information to others with services like Email and Facebook, and suggests a resource for confirming information before pressing “send.”

The digital age has made it easier than ever to share things with your friends, family, and acquaintances. See something that you think others should see? Just click share, and your interesting tidbit can be broadcast across email, Twitter, and Facebook with ease. While it might be easier than ever to share all this great infotainment, I believe there are some things Christians must consider before hitting the “like,” “share,” or “forward” buttons.

First, we recognize that Christians are taught that Gossip, slander, and spreading false reports is frowned upon in many places throughout the Old and New Testaments.

You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness.  Exodus 23:1 NRSV

We must practice restraint in sharing stories for its gossip value. In addition, Christians should take care not to spread false reports about people. These Biblical rules for right living apply to our conversations on the internet, too. When we pass on rumors or false information online, I call it eGossip. eGossip is running rampant on the internet, and much of it is spread by well-meaning Christians.

Here is how eGossip happens: You receive an email that has been forwarded to you from someone you know and trust, so you take it at face value, and pass it on. Unfortunately, your friend that sent you the email did the same thing, and the friend before that. With every forward, this unverified email keeps gaining more and more addressees and gains in popularity until it becomes part of our folklore. The result is that good meaning people end up spreading false reports. Let me give you some examples.

  1. The missing little girl. I have received several variations of emails saying that a little girl is missing and the parents need help finding her. So far, every email I’ve received like this has been a hoax. Some of these emails have been circulating for fifteen years or more, trying to find a non-existent girl.
  2. Cell phone numbers are being released to telemarketers, so you must put your cell phone on a do-not-call registry or be inundated with calls. When we get this forwarded to us, we want to warn everyone, but this is also a hoax. It is simply not true.
  3. Click here to see who has been following you on Facebook (or WoW I’m amazed at who has been looking at my Facebook, click here to see who has been looking at yours). This is not possible. Rather than helping you see who has been spying on you, clicking on this link will pass that invitation message on to all of your Facebook friends, adding to its growth.
  4. Pepsi took God out of the pledge, so don’t buy Pepsi products. Simply not true. Yet, we want to protect God in our pledge so much that we will forward it without verifying its accuracy. This only hurts the American families employed by Pepsi.
  5. President Obama is trying to sneak in a 1% transaction tax. False. A single congressman has been proposing this for years, but it has never had support of either party.

These items are all false. They all deal with something that we are passionate about, and would tempt us to forward them without pausing to verify their accuracy. If we do, though, we are spreading false reports. So, allow me to conclude by sharing a tool that I believe everyone should use before hitting the “forward” or “share” button: Snopes.

Snopes is a site that is dedicated to researching these forwarded communications and verifying them for us. I used Snopes to debunk all of the forwarded information in the list above. Just copy a descriptive line from whatever you want to research, and paste it into their search bar. Chances are that they have seen it, researched it, and written about it so that you may forward or discard it with confidence. With their help, we can avoid eGossip.

Update: Do you have a favorite fact-checking resource? Please list them in the comments. I would love to check it out!

Image courtesy of Nujalee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net