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Internet, Media bias

3 simple reasons we believe misinformation

We use the internet as a therapeutic, and do so at the cost of truth

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Last week I came across a great article in the MIT Technology Review called, “Why Generation Z Falls for Online Misinformation.” The article highlights a handful of reasons why the youngest, most savvy purveyors of internet culture become victims of misinformation themselves. What makes the article such a good read is the sort of paradox it plumbs. The young people who make up Gen Z are supposed to be smarter about this kind of stuff than their Boomer parents or grandparents, right? How are these internet curators and trend-setters getting duped themselves? In many of the same ways that we all can get tricked by news or other information we see online. Here are three simple ways we can all fall prey to misinformation: 1) In our whirlwind world, we inherently trust people like us. This is highlighted in the MIT article I cite above. With faster, more pervasive communication and information transfer today than ever before in history, sifting through all of the data, news, commentary, and all the rest of the content we come into contact with on any given day can feel truly, and terrifyingly, overwhelming. It’s like we constantly exist within a hurricane of information, hot takes, and content somewhere in between. We aren’t meant to drink in all of the content we consume. As Neil Postman wrote in 1985, “How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television…causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken?” When we become overwhelmed by the content glut to which we are helplessly addicted our discernment is fractured and we begin to rely on less-than-reliable rationales for trusting people on the internet. Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death, “The credibility of the teller is the ultimate test of truth of a proposition.” He was bemoaning this sad reality, not endorsing it, and it has perhaps never been more true (like so much of what Postman wrote in Amusing). As Jennifer Neda John wrote for MIT Technology Review:

As young people participate in more political discussions online, we can expect those who have successfully cultivated this identity-based credibility to become de facto community leaders, attracting like-minded people and steering the conversation. While that has the potential to empower marginalized groups, it also exacerbates the threat of misinformation. People united by identity will find themselves vulnerable to misleading narratives that target precisely what brings them together.

When we have bound ourselves to constant content consumption we create a situation in which we are easily overwhelmed with information and opinions—this sense of overwhelm is scary and real and it reduces our standards of discernment and leaves us vulnerable to being led astray by people who look like us, live like us, or believe like us. 2) We consume content too quickly to fact-check sources. This idea is pretty straightforward, but it is perhaps the most common and endemic to social media. As Ms. John writes in that same MIT article:

election rumor appeared among dozens of other posts in teenagers’ TikTok feeds, leaving them with little time to think critically about each claim. Any efforts to challenge the rumor were relegated to the comments.

The whole idea of most social media platforms, especially quick-hit ones like TikTok or Instagram Stories, is to consume lots of short content for as long as possible. YouTube’s strategy tends to be built around keeping you on the platform to watch longer-form, minutes-long content. TikTok and other platforms deliver you content that is largely less than a minute long as quick bites to be consumed in large quantities. Let’s explore a hypothetical scenario. My wife and I have just finished dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, and are scrolling our phones while watching Netflix like any other self-respecting 30-year-old couple. I come across a TikTok that, in 45 seconds, explains why the moon landing may have been faked. I am intrigued so I tap over to the user’s profile and watch other videos he or she have created around other conspiracy theories—one on how LBJ actually had JFK killed, one on aliens, one on people disappearing near caves around the U.S. I’ve just trained the TikTok algorithm that conspiratorial content is of interest to me, and now I’m likely to get more. I flip back over to my For You Page. I see a funny video of a dog chasing a pet hamster around a living room obstacle course. I favorite a mac-and-cheese casserole recipe to try making next week. Then I see a video suggesting the American education system is designed to undermine rural children’s education to encourage them to stay on the farm and not go to college. Interesting. I swipe up again to see a highlight from last night’s Cubs game. I swipe again and hear a creepy voice explaining the secret family of Adolf Hitler, asking rhetorical questions designed to make one wonder about if Hitler’s family still has some sort of power today. Only three minutes have passed since I began scrolling. The seemingly random smattering of content that I consume in fewer than 200 seconds has left me no real margin to investigate the weird ideas that wiggled their way into my feed unless I decide to do a deep dive into Wikipedia or Google and investigate those claims. “Nah,” I think, “I’m scrolling to be entertained, not educated,” and I’ll always kinda wonder if Hitler’s family is secretly running some multinational dark government. Not really, but this is a general idea of this concept: many of the most popular social media apps in the world are designed for mass consumption of micro content in a short period of time, and this inhibits our ability to discern what is true or real. 3) Our relationship with the internet is meant to be therapeutic at the cost of being realistic. Though it often fails us in this regard, many of us come to the internet, and social media specifically, to feel good. We come to the internet to laugh at humorous content, cry at touching content, or otherwise be entertained and made to feel good. It should be noted that the most popular internet platforms in the world—Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, Google, Tiktok, etc.—know that our primary motivation to engage with the internet is to be made to feel good, even if maybe we don’t recognize it or wouldn’t admit it. Because these platforms know that we log on to the internet to feel good or otherwise have our needs fulfilled, they have designed their experiences to reinforce these feelings and make us feel good. When they make us feel good, we spend more time on their platforms. Because our primary value when using the internet is to feel good, any value that clashes with this value will lose, and the clash will affect how we use the internet moving forward. If we use the internet to feel good, but our daily interactions with people on Facebook make us feel bad, then we will likely stop using Facebook. If we use the internet to feel good, but we can never find a show we want to watch on Hulu, we may unsubscribe from Hulu. It follows, then, that if we use the internet to feel good, and the news we consume about the world makes us feel bad, we will either: a) stop consuming news altogether, or b) consume “news” or other facts that make us feel good whether or not they are real. We use the internet as a therapeutic at the cost of truth. Because of our therapeutic abuse of the internet, that which makes us feel good will always take precedence over that which is true. Christians are as guilty of finding their joy and their comfort in the internet as anyone else. To think we as a community of faith are somehow “above” this particular kind of brokenness is foolish. False until proven true Foundational to preventing ourselves from being tricked into believing and sharing that which is not true is not letting our engagement with the internet have the central role in our lives that it so often does. We should consume (and create) less internet content. We should not see the internet as a means of feeling better about our lives. Let me share what has helped me as I have spent the last six months auditing my relationship with the internet. As I have worked to live a more offline life, the most effective tool for me has been setting time limits for my favorite apps and limiting the times of day I can engage with these apps. When I restrict the duration and times of day I engage with content on the internet, I spend a lot less time looking at my screens and a lot more time looking at the world around me. This has helped me realize that the digital world is secondary to the physical world. Likewise, and this may sound a bit negative, but I just have sort of come to assume anything I read on the internet needs to be confirmed by multiple, diverse outlets before I consider it “true.” I think if we just go into our relationship with the internet with the understanding that much of what we see or hear or read is actually “false until proven true” then we may go a long way toward not being duped into believing untruths.

This originally appeared in Chris Martin’s “terms of service” Jul. 12, 2021 blog/newsletter and is reprinted with permission.  “Terms of service” looks at the social internet from a Christian perspective and comes in both a free and paid subscription, either of which you can sign up for at www.termsofservice.social.

Internet, Media bias

Wikipedia: reader beware

I recently assigned a group of Grade 7-10 church history students a research project. I observed them as they began their work on their personal computers and for many their first stop was Wikipedia. On an average day, I would probably check something on Wikipedia myself at least two or three times. But who can guarantee that all the information on Wikipedia is accurate and unbiased? As it turns out, bias is also a problem on this website. And that’s particularly evident in the realm of controversial subjects like creationism and Intelligent Design (ID). A recent example involved Dr. Günter Bechly, a paleontologist and entomologist affiliated with the Discovery Institute, an organization promoting ID. He is notable for his groundbreaking research on fossil insects. Wikipedia used to include an article about Dr. Bechly. However, it was deleted after prejudiced pro-Darwin editors decided he was not notable enough to be included anymore. Wikipedia is unreliable in terms of what it withholds from the public eye. It’s also unreliable in terms of how it presents the material that it does include on ID. For example, the main article on ID (as of Nov. 13) asserts in the opening paragraph that ID is a “pseudoscience” and “a religious argument for the existence of God.” So Wikipedia prejudicially discounts any scientific basis for ID. Though pro-ID contributors have tried to edit the article (as anyone can normally do), the volunteer Wiki editors always switch it back or lock the article down. Wikipedia can be helpful for checking basic facts like dates. But once one gets into areas of controversy or opinion, its usefulness and objectivity begin to diminish. The problem is that human beings edit it. And human beings all have that heart condition: notoriously prone to deceive and be deceived. While editors of the print encyclopedias of the past were not immune to this condition, because there was a monetary incentive involved there were more checks and balances. Today, more than ever, we have to do our own checking. Apply the wisdom of Proverbs 18:17, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Just because you read it on Wikipedia doesn’t make it true! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqiXgtDdEwM Dr. Bredenhof is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church in Launceston, Tasmania, and he blogs at Yinkahdinay....

Internet

Facebook…to God’s glory

Recently a colleague commented on the fear that some have about social media, and their resulting reluctance to open Facebook accounts. She said it reminded her of controversy that occurred in the mid 1970’s, when television first became common amongst our church families. I thought it an interesting point, and wanted to take a brief look at Facebook, in light of how our churches dealt with TV those decades ago. Where’s the discussion? Back then, church members debated the pros and cons of having a television. It was a hot issue. People were concerned that television viewing would pose a serious threat to the spiritual wellbeing of the congregation. Consistories even hesitated to nominate for office those brothers who had purchased a TV. Today, most families do have a TV or watch its programs via the Internet. We’ve come to understand the need for good stewardship – what matters is how we use the TV, not whether or not we have one. And in a similar way, we today realize that the world of social media is not inherently evil. And it is already as common as TV; an estimated 1.94 billion people used its services in March. Checking Facebook is just a part of our regular daily activities for many, it’s not a hot issue. An addiction But maybe it should be. Following the introduction of television, problems with TV addiction also soon appeared. Families discovered that it wasn’t easy to turn the TV off. Programs were smartly sequenced to keep the viewers tuned-in. And, church members also fell victim to too much TV viewing. Who knows how many church meetings were missed, and how much time was wasted, due to a TV addiction? Whilst seemingly less concerning than, for example, an addiction to drugs, the spiritual harm caused by a TV addiction is real and troublesome. “Facebook Addiction” is a new reality. A quick Google search of this topic will uncover a host of websites aimed at helping those who have been caught-up in the fury of Facebook. As blogger Michael Poh notes in a post titled, 7 Telltale Signs of Facebook Addiction: As you get used to communicating on Facebook via messaging, sharing photos and posts, commenting and “liking” others etc., it may come to a point when you get more comfortable socializing online than offline. You become over-reliant on Facebook to fulfill your social needs and may start sacrificing the time spent on real-life meet-ups for coffee with your friends.” How ironic, that something which is intended to improve our social world, can actually lead to increased loneliness. The disconnect When television ownership became possible within our churches, initially it resulted in a sort of disconnect between the members. There were members who readily accepted and welcomed a television into their homes. But, there were also members who strongly opposed television ownership. This latter group often spoke about TV’s negative influence and their concern for the spiritual wellbeing of others. Some parents even prevented their children from visiting friends with homes that had a TV. There were two groups. It was a time of “disconnect” between the members of one church. Fast forward to today’s world of social media, and consider how Facebook has influenced our churches. Unlike the debates surrounding TV, little has been said about having a Facebook account. Rather, it seems like it is just assumed that an active church member should have an active Facebook account, if only to keep in touch with others. Nevertheless, what about the members who are reluctant to join Facebook? We know spending too many hours reading and posting messages can lead to problems, so we know Facebook is not for everyone. So what of invites that happen only via Facebook? Or events that are only advertised there? If some members don’t have an account, for whatever reason, won’t they feel left out, disadvantaged and disconnected? Although the disconnect caused by Facebook might seem trivial, whatever threatens to breakdown the communion of saints should not be ignored. Fellowship The point here isn’t to argue that Facebook – or TV – are inherently bad. Just consider, when TV first became available in our homes, it wasn’t uncommon for families or friends to get together and enjoy an evening of TV viewing. Whether it was an exciting sports event, a special documentary or perhaps an important news report, these were times of fellowship amongst church members. Although such evenings might be rare today, it shows that TV can be used to bring people together. So is the same possible with Facebook? And if so, what does Facebook fellowship look like? One member told me, “Each day, on Facebook, I look forward to Rev. V’s meditations!” Another member said, “It’s such a good way to share each other’s joys and sorrows.” It is a way to stay in contact when living far away from loved ones, or when shut in. As someone told me, “Without Facebook, I would probably be quite lonely.” Clearly, the enhancement of fellowship is also possible through Facebook. Of course, we realize that what is viewed and put on Facebook will be crucial, just as it with the kinds of TV programs watched. Angry Facebook messages and inappropriate TV programs will endanger true fellowship. Conclusion It’s interesting to note how both the TV and Facebook have impacted our churches. At times we struggle to adapt our lives to the changes that confront us. Making the right decision isn’t always simple or easy! Yet, the Lord guides us through His Word. Colossians 3:17 states, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” In the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we’re instructed to “hallow” the name of God. Therefore, we must not post anything on Facebook, nor allow our eyes to see TV programs, that will lead us away from God. Lord’s Day 47 concludes with these words: Grant us also that we may so direct our whole life – our thoughts, words and actions – that your name is not blasphemed because of us, but always honored and praised. As the communion of saints, we remain duty-bound to use the TV and Facebook (and other social media) for the benefit and wellbeing of the other members. Such a duty might cause us to join Facebook, or help us to be patience with others who are reluctant to enter into the world of social media. Ultimately, our discussions about social media (including Facebook) must serve to God’s glory! A version of this article first appeared in the August 2017 issue of Una Sancta and it is reprinted here with permission....

Adult non-fiction, Internet, Parenting

13 quick thoughts on "Screen-Smart Parenting"

Parenting is _________.  You fill in the blank.  It is so many things.  It is an adventure with no shortage of ups and downs.  I am sure we have felt at times proud and accomplished and then just as quickly felt embarrassed and insecure. These beautiful children God has entrusted to our care lead lives that are also filled with adventure and with healthy doses of curiosity. Screen time: less is more This year, we have been reading Screen-Smart Parenting in our homes and coming together to discuss its content together as parents. Our children have access to so much now and the book is encouraging us all to be good gatekeepers so that our children do not develop unhealthy habits and behaviors that the Devil longs to exploit. The digital devises in our homes and that many of our children possess provide opportunities for growth, learning and connection. Here are some tips that the book gives for healthy homes and habits: 1. No TV in the bedroom. 2. No background TV in the home. 3. Turn off devices at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. 4. Teach your children to ask permission to use technology. Make technology a privilege, not a right. 5. Download/buy games and apps yourself, don't let children do so. 6. Oversee YouTube.  Tell your children to report any inappropriate games/sites/social networks to you. 7.Keep family computers/devices in as public a space as possible. 8. Don't permit technology use during meals. 9. Designate screen-free times for the entire family. Smartphones: you need complete access Our children need help with time management online and offline.  They need protected study and sleep time.  They need coaching on how to use good judgment online, with sticky and uncomfortable situations online.If your child has a smartphone: 10. Parents, you should know all their passwords. 11. Start with having all texts come to your devices. 12. Hold the phone when your child is sleeping (set up a nighttime charging station in a common room). 13. Encourage selfies in moderation. Most of all, our children need for us as their parents to be good digital role models for them.  Model that we can be engaged and present with our children without digital technology. We are now reading the last section of the book, Part 3.  In it, the author Dr. Jodi Gold walks readers through the development of a Family Digital Technology Agreement.  Each will look different but it will help shape the healthy practices you commit to as a family.  I am really looking forward to completing this for our own home! Technology: the Devil wants it for his ends Ultimately, we understand that this world is God's and He made it good.  We believe that there is not one square inch of God's world that doesn't have his mark and stamp as creator - and ultimate redeemer.  Satan is not a creator.  He is merely creative in how he has distorted and twisted what God has made.   Technology is a gift.  It is good - and we see and experience its benefits all around us.  But it is also something that needs boundaries and limits in order for us not to fall into traps of unhealthy habits and behaviors that the Devil has set up to exploit. This is good, hard work, parents.  But it is important.  And you are not alone! May God continue to give us courage and grace and wisdom as we raise up a generation of young people to know, love and serve Him.  To His glory!  Randy Moes is a high school principal at Calvin Christian School in South Holland, Illinois ...

Internet

Facebook censorship?

In a post on November 9, 2016, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg outlined how he was going to tackle the “fake news” occurring on his massive social media site. He stated: The problems here are complex, both technically and philosophically. We believe in giving people a voice, which means erring on the side of letting people share what they want whenever possible. So far so good. But he then went on to outline a 7-point plan that will rely on users, technical means, and third parties, to identify and flag fake news. Why could that be a problem? Because the third parties they intend to use – Snopes.com has been mentioned among others – have their own biases. As do all Facebook users; one person’s must trusted source can viewed by someone else as unreliable. So is Facebook going to censor posts based on the advice of biased sources? Let’s fast-forward to Dec. 27, 2016. Brendan Larsen of the GodOrAbsurdity.com website reported that he was now on his 4th Facebook page – the three previous edition having been shut down by Facebook for violating their Community Standards – and that he’d had a total of 35 posts banned by Facebook. According to Larsen: The original page had about 13,000 likes and was reaching millions of people until atheists got it shut down. I'm taking a new approach now where we avoid posting anything that might get us banned – it's just too difficult trying to rebuild followers from zero each time they shut us down. While some of Larsen’s posts were graphic – he showed the brutalized bodies of aborted children – Facebook says it removes “graphic images when they are shared for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate or glorify violence.” That was certainly not the case here. Facebook also says they will remove: …content that directly attacks people based on their: Race, Ethnicity, National origin, Religious affiliation, Sexual orientation, Sex, gender, or gender identity... This seems the most likely reason Larsen was banned (Facebook didn’t provide an explanation) since he has shared posts about Islamic terrorism – to link terrorism and Islam is, in some circles, automatically “hate speech.” This is the problem with biased users policing speech on Facebook – instead of censoring what’s fake, they may simply censor what they don’t like. On February 20, LifeSiteNews.com reported that Christian “vlogger” (video blogger) Elizabeth Johnston was having similar troubles for posting Biblical commentary on homosexuality. Johnston said: They are muzzling me and my biblical message while Mark Zuckerberg claims that FB is unbiased…. The post Facebook deleted included no name-calling, no threats, and no harassment. It was intellectual discussion and commentary on the Bible. This has a happier ending – on February 24, after LifeSiteNews.com brought publicity to her situation, Facebook apologized for this “error” and restored her post. What’s the takeaway? In asking Facebook to eliminate “fake news” we are also asking them to become the arbitrator of truth for their users. But do we really want them “policing” the news we read? God tells us that it is the presence of multiple counselors (Prov. 11:14) and access to the other side of the story (Prov. 18:17) that helps us find the truth. This is why Christians, overall, oppose censorship – we don’t want someone limiting who we can hear from. We shouldn’t trust Facebook or anyone with such enormous power. Of course there is a time and place for censorship, but it is a blunt tool, and should only be used for clear and pressing problems. So, for example, Facebook should ban posts that promote pornography and human trafficking – these are, on the one hand, enormous evils, and on the other, clear evils. To confront this sort of wickedness requires very little in the way of judgment or discernment on the part of Facebook – it would be hard for them to mess up here. But when it comes to “fake news” the problem simply isn’t big enough or clear enough to turn to censorship as the solution. Instead we should simply test what we read, and pass along only that which we know to be true. If in doubt, don’t pass it on – a simple but effective solution if ever there was one!...