“Foolish is the man who never reads a newspaper; even more foolish is the man who believes what he reads just because it is in the newspaper.”—August von Schlözer, German historian and publicist (1735-1809).
IF A person could not trust everything that was written in a newspaper over 200 years ago, the same applies to much of what can be read on the Internet in the 21st century. A huge amount of information—true and false, useful and worthless, harmless and dangerous—is now available, thanks to modern technology. We must be very selective about what we consider worthy of our attention. Especially could those who are new to the Internet conclude that a report or a news item, however strange or sensational, is true simply because it is online or because a friend sent it via e-mail. For good reason, the Bible warns: “The naive person believes every word, but the shrewd one ponders each step.”—Prov. 14:15.
How can we become “shrewd” and identify hoaxes, urban legends, swindles, and other misinformation that may appear on our computer screens? First, ask yourself: ‘Is the item from an official, reliable website or from a blog or an unknown source? Has it already been exposed on anti-hoax websites?’a Then, use “good sense.” (Prov. 7:7) If a news item seems unbelievable, it probably is. Furthermore, when the information discredits others, think about who would benefit from such news being spread and whether the source has ulterior motives in spreading it.
Some—often in search of attention—are fixated on being the first to spread news and forward it to all their contacts without checking its authenticity or considering the consequences. (2 Sam. 13:28-33) However, if we are “shrewd,” we will think about the possible damage this could cause, perhaps to the reputation of a person or an organization.
It takes effort to verify news. That is why some decide simply to leave it up to the recipient to determine if it is credible. But how much time will it take for him to do that? Time is precious. (Eph. 5:15, 16) Instead of thinking, “If in doubt, send it out,” it would be better to adopt the motto, “If in doubt, throw it out!”
Ask yourself: ‘Have I become a compulsive forwarder of e-mails? Have I ever had to write my contacts to apologize for having sent them information that turned out to be incorrect or an outright lie? Has anyone ever asked me to stop forwarding e-mails?’ Remember that whoever is on your e-mail contact list also has access to the Internet and is therefore able to look for things of interest without your help. They do not need to be inundated with funny stories, video clips, or slide shows. It is also unwise to forward recordings or transcripts of Bible talks.b Furthermore, forwarding research material, verses extracted for Bible study, or answers to use at congregation meetings would detract from the value of each individual’s personal preparation.
And what should you do if you find slanderous news about Jehovah’s organization on the Internet? Such material should be firmly rejected. Some feel that they must bring it to the attention of others to get their opinion, but all that does is propagate the malicious information. If we feel troubled about something we see on the Internet, we should ask Jehovah for wisdom and speak to mature brothers about it. (Jas. 1:5, 6; Jude 22, 23) Jesus, who was the object of false accusations, warned his followers that enemies would persecute them and “lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against [them].” (Matt. 5:11; 11:19; John 10:19-21) We need to use “thinking ability” and “discernment” to identify “the man speaking perverse things” and those “whose entire course is devious.”—Prov. 2:10-16.
RESPECT THE RIGHT OF OTHERS
We also have to be careful about news or experiences of a spiritual nature that we receive secondhand. Even if a report is true, it does not necessarily mean that it should be spread. There may be times when it would be neither right nor loving to distribute true accounts to others. (Matt. 7:12) For example, it is neither loving nor upbuilding to spread gossip, even though the information may be true. (2 Thess. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13) Some news may be of a confidential nature, and we should respect the right of others to divulge the information at the proper time through the appropriate channels. Spreading information ahead of time can do much harm.
Today it is possible to spread news—true or false, useful or worthless, harmless or dangerous—at an incredible speed. Anyone who sends an e-mail or a text to even one person has to realize that whether it was intended or not, the content could travel all over the world in a flash. May we therefore resist the urge to forward information quickly and indiscriminately. When we read sensational news items, remember that love is not unduly suspicious; nor is it naive or gullible. Above all, love refuses to believe malevolent insinuations about Jehovah’s organization or lies about our brothers that are circulated by people who are slaves to “the father of the lie,” Satan the Devil. (John 8:44; 1 Cor. 13:7) Thinking ability and discernment will help us become “shrewd” and consider how to handle responsibly the increasing amount of information available to us on a daily basis. As the Bible says, “the naive will inherit foolishness, but the shrewd are crowned with knowledge.”—Prov. 14:18.
a Be aware that previously exposed hoaxes and urban legends resurface now and then, sometimes slightly altered to make them appear genuine.