I must confess that I keep up with social media. And over the course of this lock-down I have observed phases of online content. There was the initial light-hearted phase where every other post had something to do with Corona Beer. Staying humorous, but getting more serious we went through the shopping and acquiring toilet paper phase. And then for a few weeks a phase I would call “sick of this” started with a more calm “when is this going to end?” and it crescendoed with “how can they do this to us!?”.
It only makes sense to me that this fed-up attitude would lead into a conspiracy theory phase. It now seems that two out of every three posts on my Facebook feed has something to tell me about what “they” are hiding from us! I do not want to get into the weeds of any details regarding specific conspiracy theories. They range from wacky and patently unscientific to outright dangerous to public health.
It is really tough to know what to believe. Intelligent people are stymied by the many voices. The mainstream media is hard to trust, but let me suggest that if you don’t trust CBS, NBC, ABC, or FOX, then should you trust a couple of random people with scrubs and an iPhone (or even a 4K camera) and an agenda of their own?
This conspiracy phase appeals to a couple of our more base instincts. We want to be in the know (because it makes us feel intelligent) and we want to break the story (because we want to be seen as important). When we forward an unverifiable conspiracy theory, we are “breaking a story” that we cannot possibly know is true and we do not know the consequences.
For weeks now, I have been trying to encourage my church, that if they must spread something on social media, let it be truth. And not just any truth, but the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need voices out there declaring what we KNOW is true and we KNOW can help. Before we retweet that latest conspiracy theory, consider what it is accomplishing. What does it mean for your testimony if you pass along a false and dangerous story only to try later to convey the truth of the gospel.
I understand some of where this phase comes from. Many of us in my community have not had ANY personal interaction with COVID-19. And so what we see takes precedence over what we are told. We are distrusting in general, and so we give our trust to the ones who come off as the most distrusting. Which is ironic, because those who would fool us know that the more they appear to be distrusting, the more they will gain our trust. We see a sole voice crying out their opinions alone against the establishment as credible. And we do this while never giving a doubtful thought to a conspiracy that asks us to believe that 435 members of the house of representative, 100 senators, the entire presidential administration, all the medical elites, all the leadership of the Bill Gates Foundation, the CDC, and many others, are all lying to make sure that we stay in danger of disease until Dr. Anthony Fauci gets his paycheck. Conspiracy theories play to our distrust of power and our trust in the underdog.
I would encourage anybody who has read this far to please take the time to read this much more eloquent and beneficial article from Ed Stetzer on the way that Christian should respond to conspiracy theory. Just his subtitle, “Gullibility is not a Spiritual Gift” is helpful to this current state of Christian social media involvement.
Passing along conspiracies does not show a commitment on our part to share the truth and it rarely is motivated out of love.