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Posts Tagged ‘hoaxes’

You’ve seen them. Plenty of them. They come in a number of categories:

  • Security alerts. Either terrorism related (suicide attack planned on Hotel X / don’t go to this mall tomorrow) or local crime (thugs have come up with a new way to mug you / if you see X don’t stop your car).
  • Health scares. Don’t reuse plastic bottles / your car aircon will give you cancer.
  • Warnings of occult activity or fulfilment of end time prophecy. Your Bible is an Illuminati translation / the government is going to implant us with a mark-of-the-beast microchip / if you answer phone calls from this number you will be kidnapped by Satanists and sacrificed. (I even saw a message warning you not to forward hoax messages because they are being used by occultists to distribute hidden messages #Ironic)

There are probably other categories but those are the most common I’m seeing at the moment and the first three are the ones I see forwarded the most in our context. An obvious thing to say is that we need to check the truth of something before we forward it. Often the fact that there is no source given or errors in spelling, punctuation or captialisation is a sign this is rubbish. Often a quick Google is enough to show that it is a hoax (e.g. on plastic bottles see the Cancer Research UK statement). But drilling down a bit further through this; what is really going on here? Why does this stuff just keep on spreading? What are the cultural and personal forces behind this? Well I’m not at all sure – please share your thoughts below – but a few suggestions:

  1. Love. There is often a genuine concern for our brothers and sisters. We want to warn and we would want to be warned. I don’t doubt this is a major motivation.
  2. Oral culture. We are an oral culture; which means that information is generally not derived from official written channels (systems) but from informal word-of-mouth (personal contacts). For example, if I need to know how to apply for a particular permit or license I will not go to the government website (which may not actually have all the necessary information uploaded there, which is telling) but rather I will go to a friend or contact in the relevant ministry or who has experience of dealing with them and ask his advice.
  3. Democratisation of journalism. In the new century everyone is a journalist. I can start a Twitter account or Youtube account and instantly become the key authority on what is going on in Syria or Somalia. Presence (or apparent presence) is everything. Instead of trusting the BBC or KBC to select and edit sources for me I want the raw feeds; I want to be my own news editor. Put this on top of a pre-existing oral culture and you have a powerful combination.
  4. Free-floating information. Sources don’t matter. Citation is not important. Information is information, right? At school I copy the teacher and you copy me. Everything is ripped or downloaded. I share, you share, someone else shares. Who cares where it came from? We swim in a postmodern soup of soundbites and hashtags and un/misattributed quotations. (with many notable exceptions)
  5. Distrust of institutions and authority. Postmodern philosophy teaches us that power creates its own truth; history is written by the victors; all official speak is propaganda; every government agency is running covert black opps. There is enough truth in this to make it a very potent idea. Years of impunity and corruption at the lowest to the highest levels inevitably breeds distrust and cynicism. So instead of government and police we trust the little people and the rebels. Urban legends, conspiracy theories and Voodoo Histories multiply.
  6. Fear. This is the big one. As Edward Welch reminds us, fear is a massive motivation behind many of our actions… and our fears whisper to us of deeper fears… and our deeper fears whisper about what we really value. As a friend was pointing out to me this morning, there is a huge amount of fear in our nation at the moment and much of it boils down to a fear of death. As those in Christ, do we fear everything the world fears or call conspiracy everything the world calls conspiracy? (Isaiah 8:12) Do we believe the world is out of control or that that the Lord with scars is on the throne and ruling all things? (Rev. 5-6) Can we say with Paul, “to live is Christ to die is gain”?

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