Someone was wrong on the internet this week.
I will let you have a couple moments to calm down from that shocking realization before I tell you who it was. . .
It was a wonderful human being with a heart of gold. They were perusing their feed when they read something they found fascinating. The title probably made them laugh and they thought they could brighten your day by sharing it. They were probably in a hurry, having more important things to do than obsess over the facticity of Facebook memes. So in a moment of weakness they forgot to run the article’s title through Google or Snopes before posting it and now it is out there for everyone to see.
And you judged them! Or chances are you did. After all, I did. I read their dumb meme while thinking to myself, “I don’t see anyway on earth that that could be true.” Because I apparently have nothing better to do with my time than obsess over the facticity of Facebook memes, I took a minute or two or thirty to read the incredibly lengthy Snopes explanation of why this meme is mostly false.
After that I went back to Facebook, with the copied Snopes URL in hand (or in the cloud) ready to prove my superiority over that kindly but naive person who still has not learned to use the internet.
They won in the end on account of being a decent human being, albeit a less informed one.
None of that really happened to me this week but I have done it in days past and I see people doing it all the time.
And yes, we should be careful about what we retweet, repost or rehash for each other. A lie is a lie no matter what media we share it with. Yet at the end of the day there are greater sins than being wrong on the internet. Take for example, the sin of judging people who are wrong on the internet.
In fact the other day I was reading over that Matthew 7 passage about not judging people. I found that after Jesus’ rather blunt command, (Judge not!) he has a lot of fun with a plank of wood and a speck of sawdust. I am not quite sure what Jesus would have classified as “plank” and “sawdust” but I am pretty sure being wrong on the internet has more in common with the latter.
Therefore I am trying to get God to heal me of my incessant need to prove my Snopes surfing abilities to all those who are wrong on God’s good internet.
Here are some guidelines that might help us all out with that:
- Don’t correct people’s spelling or grammar. God did not invent the rules of language. They are not legalistic markers of holiness that when violated give Satan keys to your kingdom. They are just some silly but important rules we made up in order to communicate well with each other.
- Ask yourself if there is a legitimate debate to be had or just points to be scored for your pre-chosen side. This especially comes into play in political debates. Most of us are fact checking each other in order to prove our “side” was right all along. Instead we should be seriously tackling and debating the underlying issues. Yes, agreement on correct data is important for serious debate. However, if I am willing to correct your data but not willing to let mine be corrected, than that is sheer arrogance.
- Be gentle and private. If you feel you must really fact check someone, send them a private message. Or better yet, bring it up with them in a one on one meeting (if people still do those). It is much better to be rebuked privately than publicly.
- Don’t fight invincible ignorance. In Matthew 7, Jesus adds, “Don’t give to dogs what is sacred. Don’t throw pearls to pigs.” The traditional interpretation of this passage is don’t waste your time and energy arguing or judging those for whom it will do no good. I am not entirely sure I like that interpretation but I do like another oft quoted maxim. “Don’t argue with a 3 year old. In no time at all those watching will not be able to tell the difference.” Or even better, “Don’t argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with their experience.” No matter how I put it, there is much wisdom in choosing your battles and your opponents very carefully.
In closing. please use discretion and kindness when engaging your fellow internet travelers.
And remember another favorite cliche of mine, “You don’t have to show up to every fight you are invited too.”