true news

Earlier this month, the phrase 'fake news' was named by the Collins Dictionary as its Word of the Year in 2017. [Dictionaries are clearly specialists in words, not numbers - because 'fake news' is actually two words, not one!]. They define the phrase as 'false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of reporting.'

Two months ago, various newspapers in India carried a full page devoted to 'tips for spotting false news'. Here it is - from The Hindu on 26 September 2017 - and, sorry, I can't make it any bigger and so you may need to increase the size manually in order to read all the text.

I am wondering what your first reaction is to these words... ?

I found my mind wandering across to true news - ie the news that contrasts with these features because it is reliable and trustworthy. For me the truest news is the good news, or the gospel as it is found, primarily but not exclusively, in the Gospels. Matthew. Mark. Luke. John. I thought I'd give myself a little challenge, enlisting your help if you are so inclined, to try and demonstrate how this truest news is different from false news - one feature at a time.

1. Be sceptical about headlines
False news relies on 'catchy headlines in all caps with exclamation marks'. It shouts. It soap-boxes. Like the preacher who knows the point being made is weak and so writes in the margin of their notes, 'Point weak here - shout!'. Nah. The gospel in the Gospels, this truest news, commends itself quietly through unadorned language expressed in lower case with full stops.

2 & 3. Look closely at the URL and Investigate the source
False news sites 'mimic authentic news stories', often using sources that cannot be trusted as they lack 'a reputation for accuracy'. They deceive - and they do so by altering things at the source. It becomes a bit like the options on the 'automatic payments' page on my online banking site: 'add, delete, or alter'.  Nah. The gospel in the Gospels, this truest news, is trustworthy at the source. Adding, deleting, and altering are not possible, or necessary. Even-handed scholarship 'looks closely' at the Bible, together with the Christ to which it points, and finds it to be reliable news.

4. Watch for unusual formatting
False news has 'misspellings or awkward layouts'. It has errors in the little places. It has been tampered with - and it shows.  This lessens confidence and weakens authority. Nah. Jesus himself had confidence in the 'jots and tittles' (Matt 5.18) of Scripture. The gospel in the Gospels, the truest news, comes to us as part of a Scriptures which in their entirety carry a divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority because they are 'without error in all that they affirm and the only infallible rule of faith and practice' (Lausanne Covenant).

The International Federation of Library Associations
has a nice graphic on this one as well
5. Consider the photos
False news can contain 'manipulated images ... (often) taken out of context'. The cutting-and-pasting is a bit fast and furious as original contexts, and meanings, get lost. Nah. While there are no photos to be manipulated, the gospel in the Gospels, the truest news, is a collection of stories which fill the imagination of readers with imagery. To be true and free of manipulation, this imagery, together with its meaning, needs to be restrained by the context in which these stories are placed.

6. Inspect the dates
False news may contain 'timelines that make no sense, or event dates that have been altered'. Being careful with historical events is not something to be valued or targeted. Nah. The gospel in the Gospels, the truest news, holds up under the closest scrutiny by the most even-handed scholars as historical fact and therefore it is reliable.

7. Check the evidence
False news demonstrates a 'lack of evidence or a reliance on unnamed experts'. Fact-checking has become a growth industry. Social media multiplies the voices and dilutes the expertise. Nah. The gospel in the Gospels, the truest news, is 'carried along' (2 Peter 1.21) by experts with apostolic authority and credibility under the guidance of the Spirit. Any old Tom, Dick, Harriet or Jane cannot manoeuvre their way into being part of the evidence.

8. Look at other reports
'If no other news source is reporting the same story, it may indicate that the story is false. If the story is reported by multiple sources you trust, it's more likely to be true.' Yus. Couldn't have said it any better. The gospel in the Gospels, the truest news, is 'reported by multiple sources' which can be trusted. They are Matthew and Mark, Luke and John.

9. Is the story a joke?
False news can be 'hard to distinguish from humour or satire'. Aren't we wandering here into the area of genre and respecting the various types of literature, together with their purposes, which greet us? Yus. The gospel in the Gospels, the truest news, contains such a range of intriguing genre which if interpreted improperly will turn truth into error. Start with proverb and hyperbole - and travel to parable and apocalyptic.

Another analysis - this time from Claire Wardle of First Draft News.

10. Some stories are intentionally false
'Think critically about the stories you read and only share news that you know to be credible'. Yus. That is exactly what I intend to do with the gospel in the Gospels, that truest news. Far from being intentionally false, this news is redemptively true. It is 'true truth' (Francis Schaeffer). It is 'the true story of the whole world' (NT Wright). It is the 'power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes' (Apostle Paul). 'You shall know (this) truth and (this) truth will set you free' (Jesus).

The Spirit of God has a many-splendored role to play in all of this - from inspiring those who articulated the truest news in the first place way back then to illuminating those who read it in your place and mine today ... but let's not forget his authenticating role either. He is the one who takes this news and goes to work with the most sceptical and the most hostile and communicates to them in their inner and secret place that it is true. It is genuine. It is real. It is liberating.

It has been a tough ol' time for those who believe in this truest truth. Before 'fake news' was acclaimed Word of the Year in 2017 by the Collins Dictionary, it was 'post-truth' which won the accolade in 2016 from the Oxford Dictionary.

nice chatting



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