The internet is chock full of “valuable” advice. It’s a good thing, too. How else would I know that for the past half-century, I’ve been showering all wrong? And apparently, many of the activities I enjoy are included in the list of atrocious faux pas that baby boomers are guilty of. (Not that this is surprising—after all, I am a baby boomer). If I didn’t have the internet, how would I know how to scramble eggs, how to vote, or how to decorate my home?
Of course, most of this is click bait. The purveyors of these advice posts don’t care if you agree with them or not. They just want people to click or, even better, comment. The fact that most of the comments are negative doesn’t bother them a bit. In fact, if they can be blatantly incendiary, more people will respond. The more clicks, the more they make from their advertisers, and that’s the goal.
What bothers me isn’t the abundance of click bait sites. I figure they’re footing the bill so I can enjoy the rest of the online content for free, and they’re easy to skip over—kind of like commercials in the days of broadcast TV. No, what bothers me is how much of this misinformation is actually believed. We’re sooo gullible!
Witness the fact that this past week, several of my Facebook friends messaged me with the viral nonsense about cloned Facebook accounts. I won’t name names, but I hope they learned a lesson. Within hours, I was also seeing some pretty creative spoof posts (and those went viral too).
That particular scam was pretty much harmless, but what about all the times people act on misinformation without bothering to verify it first? We know otherwise intelligent and sensible people who have shelled out big bucks for quack medical “treatments.” A simple Google search would have revealed that the “medical” equipment in question had been banned by the FDA and was the basis for a criminal fraud investigation. Thankfully, the treatments caused no physical harm, but they did create a delay that could have been tragic.
Why do we believe things that are easily disproved? It seems there are two reasons. First, we don’t bother to check. Maybe we don’t want to spend the time and effort—or maybe we simply don’t know how. And granted, sometimes uncovering the facts takes a bit of diligence.
This is particularly difficult if the facts we’re believing are political. It’s simply human to create a bubble around ourselves, only keeping friends and reading articles we already agree with. I admit to getting riled when I read opinions from the other side of the aisle—but I do it anyway. Read liberal websites. Read conservative websites. If possible, instead of relying on quotes, dig up the original speech and listen to the speaker’s words in context. You’ll be surprised at how phrases can be misinterpreted to reach an opposite conclusion. You don’t have to agree with everything, but try to place yourself in their shoes and listen from a new perspective. It’s always good to know why people believe what they do.
Researching a scientific claim is harder, because we may not understand either the vocabulary or the methodology. Pete and I both have science-y educations, so we’re able to read the original studies being reported on and draw our own conclusions. We’re astonished at the number of times the headlines report the exact opposite of what a study concluded. Even more often, the article’s claims are much broader than what was supported by the research.
To attract our attention, headlines have a tendency to proclaim a “new finding” as if it has been proven. But first of all, science doesn’t “prove” anything. (That’s a lengthy topic for another day.) And second, the results of more than half of all studies can’t even be duplicated. That should instill some humility into the researchers—and the reporters!
The second reason we believe things that are easily disproved is more insidious, because we’re basically fooling ourselves. Sometimes, we don’t want to know. We want something to be true, and no amount of evidence can convince us otherwise. And if we’ve already invested in our belief—time, money, a public commitment—it gets even harder to admit that we’ve been had.
Think about all the comments on various controversial articles. Have you ever seen one that says, “Gee, I never looked at it that way—I’ll have to reconsider my position”? No, me neither. Rather, we dig in our heels and argue away.
How do we avoid being deceived? How can we overcome our very human nature and come to the truth? We can do our homework. We can pray for an open mind, asking for God’s perspective on the issue. And we can cling to the One who claimed, not to have the truth, but to be the Truth.