In 2015 Law Enforcement in Apex, NC, was alerted to a potential problem in a residential neighborhood. The caller suggested that there was a hostage situation, and shots had been fired. The local SWAT Team was called in.
When the SWAT Team arrived at the location, they surrounded the house. They noticed movement inside. As details filtered into the SWAT Team, they learned that the man inside had killed his wife and a child. Another child was being held hostage.
As the team breaches the door, with shielded members out front, a man appears at the top of the stairs leading to the upstairs bedroom. He’s holding a shotgun and visibly agitated.
The homeowner, Woody, had seen men dressed in dark clothes running around outside. He left his bedroom, grabbed his shotgun to stand his ground, and positioned himself with a good perspective of those below.
Woody hadn’t killed anyone. He had been asleep. His wife had seen the men at first and alerted him. His kids were safely sleeping in their rooms behind him. He wasn’t a murderer. He wasn’t holding anyone hostage.
Woody had been “swatted.”
Luckily, both Woody and the leadership of the SWAT Team that breached his door remained calm. Nobody was hurt, but it could have easily turned out differently.
Swatting is an intentional act of baiting police to react to a fake situation with a SWAT Team. The victims are often high-profile and are streaming live camera footage at the time. Twitch TV (which streams gamers while they play video games) has been a platform for these sorts of attacks.
You know, you can’t believe everything you’re told and see.
When we want to figure something out, we “google” it. The verb “to google” is relatively new, and it basically means to “look it up online.” Just a few years ago, we had to pull out encyclopedias to settle arguments. Today those same arguments can be resolved with an easy online search.
There’s more information that is available and accessible online than there has ever been before in the history of humanity. If you want to know how to boil eggs in your InstaPot, you can look it up online! If you want to learn how to give your kids a haircut, you can watch a YouTube tutorial.
You can literally find anything that you’re looking for online.
But… How reliable is that information?
Our kids are taught in school to screen the sources of their information carefully. They are trained to evaluate the source of the data, the academics used to produce it, and the data itself. They are not allowed to use resources or information for papers from crowdsourced sites, like Wikipedia.
Why? Because it’s easy to get something published online for the entire world to see. Self-published sites (like blogs) and crowdsources sites (like Wikipedia) do not require a factual basis for publication.
This is incredibly true of social media platforms.
In August of 2019, dozens of celebrities and politicians reposted an image on Instagram that supposedly affected a change in the Terms of Service agreement. It was a hoax, and the fake post was copied and reposted thousands of times.
Regardless of who you believe is behind it, we know that election cycles provoke a large stream of inaccurate information. We now call this “fake news.” These articles are malicious, and they intend to spread false information that benefits one particular candidate.
Our lives are filled with fake news.
Sometimes the fake news is what we read. Sometimes the fake news is what we think when we read it. Even more often, fake news is the story we tell ourselves.
TRIGGERED, PISSED OFF, AND JUST PLAIN MEAN
I know this has never happened to you, but it’s pretty standard for people to start online fights by saying things they’d never say to a person face to face.
It’s weird to admit this, but we live in a world where words, phrases, and ideas are not debated, they are now triggers. Some people see the word “Trump,” and their blood pressure rises. Some see the name “Kaepernick,” and it solicits a response.
About a year ago, one of my friends released a music video. It was a good song, and it’s been very successful for him. One of the first comments on video after it was posted to YouTube essentially said, “this song sucks because it’s too simple.”
My friend laughed because he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
This past year we had an incident involving local high school students that made national news because of its political nature. There was an extensive ideological debate about the politics of the event. People wanted to talk about the politicians involved. In their efforts to make an incident a political illustration, they put the students in the crosshairs.
As the online debate spiraled out of control, these kids received the angst associated with the polarized political perspectives. They were called names online by adults who had never met them. They were even threatened.
When you start to read the comments, by into the rumors and listen to everything everyone has to say, the conversation gets confusing.
If a Facebook post can piss you off to the point that you’re insulting others simply because differences in opinions, please reconsider how you approach social media.
As we’d teach our kids, if you wouldn’t say it to their face (in love), don’t post it online.
You can’t always believe the toxic, infuriating things you read online, and you’ll be better off when you accept that.
THE EDITED LIFE
Some of the most damaging fake news we see isn’t really news. It has nothing to do with a social idea, a politician, election, or even a perspective on religion.
The fake news it the edited lives of our not-so-close friends on social media.
Some people carefully guard what others think of them. They tailor and craft the lives that you see them live. Their photos are carefully selected. The stories they tell are guarded and postured to help them maintain appearances.
They are living an edited life.
The problem with an edited life is that it appears to be much better than it is in reality.
I have a friend who married young. His sister-in-law got married right after he and his wife did. The two couples were great friends. Often when they were spending time together, my friend would fight with his wife. His sister-in-law and her husband never fought. He told me one time, “I thought we had the worst marriage until they got divorced.”
Turns out, his sister-law-thought they had the worst marriage, too. But they were hiding their conflict, not only from others but from themselves.
Too often, those of us who live in the highly-connected world of social media compare our lives to others. You may not do this professionally, but maybe you do with your family. Perhaps it’s not family for you, perhaps it’s adventures. Most of us have SOMETHING that we’re comparing ourselves to.
We’re busying comparing the edited life of others to our behind the scenes.
“Behind the Scenes” is always messy. When you peek behind the curtain of life, there are always things in process, things that are far from perfect, and things that need to be worked on.
Don’t always believe the things you read online, especially when it’s causing you to downgrade your perception of the story you’re living.
THE FAKE NEWS I TELL MYSELF
What we read will eventually read us.
This is truly the beauty of the Scriptures. We don’t have authority over the Word of God. It has authority over us. As we read it, it read us. It will inform, correct, and give life.
This is also true of much of what we consume. What you’re consuming matches an appetite. That appetite will never be fully and finally satisfied. The more that you feed it, the more the appetite will grow.
If you consume the opinions of others, they will eventually become more important than they are right now. If you continue to consume division and hate, it will ultimately work its way into how you view yourself and the world.
Much of what we see begins to inform our opinion.
When you see someone being a great mom, does that make you doubt if you’re being a great mom? Are you adopting their accomplishments as a new standard of greatness?
When you see someone stepping out in faith, do you compare your story to theirs? Do you hijack their obedience, the progression of God’s faithfulness in their lives to create a standard by which you’ll judge your own story?
We do this all the time. It’s the fake news we tell ourselves.
I have some very freeing news to share with you…
You are never as good as you think you are. You are never as bad as you think you are, either.
The fake news we tell ourselves will tell you that you’re way better than you really are. When people around you seem to be struggling or making mistakes, it’ll be easy to let their perceived shortcomings create an overinflated sense of confidence.
The fake news we tell ourselves will also tell you that you’re way worse than you really are. When you start to see your friends achieve things that are far out of your reach, it’s easy to redefine success around their accomplishments.
LET’S DO BETTER
You don’t have to stop reading things online.
You might want to change HOW you read things online.
You probably need to stop using what you read online as navigational tools for your emotions, decisions, and life in general.
You most likely need to stop giving people you don’t know, who have an opinion about something that you’re passionate about, permission to invade your heart.
In the same way that we try to help our kids understand that they must screen their research and resources, we must also learn to test the voices in our lives.
Every voice can be heard. Some voices need to stop in your ears. Some voices need to stop in your head. Some voices need to get all the way into your heart.
We never need to eliminate the voices of others, especially those we know and love. We need the accountability that comes with dissenting opinions. We are better people, kinder, and more gracious when we engage in conversations with those we know and love who hold these different perspectives.
We must, now more than ever, fight to keep the voice of God loud in our lives.
You might have questions about that. Maybe you don’t hear God like others. Perhaps you’ve wanted God to shout and make His instruction clear.
God’s voice will always be a whisper that can only be heard when we’re close.
If you need to hear God, start with reading and listening to His Word. He’s left us a beautiful love letter in the Scriptures that most of us neglect, even while begging to hear from Him.
Though you may read the words of others online, let God’s Word become the defining voice in your life!