Does “fake news” ever fool you? Or do you count yourself among the discriminating folks who know the difference between fake and real?
I hope so, but what if you were unable to discern the difference? What if your thinking was impaired?
What if you were like my brother?
My older sibling lives in Las Vegas and suffers from a lifelong, undiagnosed social disorder, perhaps a high-functioning autism. His condition draws him toward conspiracy theories. He distrusts mainstream media, modern medicine and even NASA since he believes the Earth is flat.
Two years ago, I attended his wife’s funeral and found my brother living in squalid conditions. Worse yet, he was what medical folk describe as “non-compliant” with his medications. His failure to take his medicine left him nearly blind. Compounding his problems was his constant consumption of fake news.
The majority of us digest our daily news in a thoughtful way, finding the path of truth, often somewhere close to the middle. But my flesh-and-blood brother isn’t like most people; he followed the crazies right down coo-coo lane. He gets most of his information from a far-right radio host named Alex Jones.
If you assume Jones is an obscure, harmless nut, think again.
Thousands listen to his radio and online show called InfoWars. Most listeners are entertained by his outlandish portrayal of conspiracy theories. But it’s not entertaining when this fake news hurts real people, like my brother.
My brother absolutely swallows Jones’s bizarre contention that the government staged the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in order to promote nationwide gun control. He’s an outright evangelist for Jones’ claim that the government enlisted 20 children and six adults to portray a “fake massacre” in 2012.
My older sibling, by 15 months, has been following Jones since the radio celebrity began claiming that the government staged the 9/11 attacks. Sadly, because of fake newsies like Jones, my brother, a Vegas resident, denies the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history when Steven Paddock killed 58 people on the Strip in 2016.
Yet Jones continues to cast a shadow over legitimate news. He’s interviewed both candidate and President Donald Trump. The twitter-in-chief has even legitimized Jones by re-tweeting his words.
Perhaps we saw a step in the right direction this past week when Jones was permanently banned from Twitter and Apple, while Facebook and YouTube have so far only suspended his accounts. While some might argue a violation of First Amendment rights, most of you likely understand that social media barred Jones because he violated their policies, not the Constitution.
Gratefully, Jones will soon answer for the irrefutable harm he’s done in spreading his fake news. A Sandy Hook family is suing him for defamation because they claim Jones’s followers have mercilessly harassed and threatened them.
As people of faith, we only have one weapon against fake news: the truth. So I implore you that when you’re tempted to repost a story on Facebook or email a tired urban rumor, take a breath and practice due diligence. You owe it to people like my brother to verify the story by consulting some of the multiple sources I am listing below.
The good news about my brother — the real news — is that I have placed him in a senior care facility where he gets round-the-clock help with his medication. He’s much happier but not altogether clear. He’s abandoned Mr. Jones but only because he’s discovered that Jones believes that the Earth is indeed round.
Jesus promised that the truth would set us free. Help me free people like my brother. Avoid becoming a carrier of fake news. Check the story, corroborate it, verify it and don't gossip, because I assure you that fake news hurts real people.
To verify stories and claims, check these sites: