Our 4-part series on living as Christians in a political world was written in response to questions I have been receiving on knowing how to separate truth from lies, when to engage in our political system, and the most effective way to stay informed. In Part 1 we learned the biblical formula for seeking truth. In Part 2 we discussed the importance of knowing your foundation. In this post, Part 3, I will provide you with 7 practical tips I use to find truth in our news driven world.
1. Turn Off the National 24-hour News: The majority of the daily news you need to know can be consumed in 30-45 minutes. Why do we need 24 hours of it? We do not! Most cable media repeat, over and over, what has already been said, and it is filled with opinions. Does this mean all national news is bad? No, but for the purpose of seeking truth and eliminating the “noise,” I am counseling you to turn off the national, 24-hour news cycle.
2. Do Not Get News from Social Media: If you read something that piques your interest, make a note of it, but go to the source to verify the facts. I check social media twice a day. I use it only for social reasons. I see what friends are doing and respond to fun posts. I skip over anything that is political. I will not get my news through social media. (By social media I am not referring to news apps. I am referring to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.)
As a recap of what we said in the two previous posts: It is a common practice by media sources to write bait-and-switch headlines. You read a headline, it grabs your attention, you click on the story only to find out the story is the opposite of the headline. But you will only learn the headline was misleading if you read the entire story, because often the truth is buried in the last paragraph (a term called “bury the lede”). This becomes a problem when we learn 60% of people “acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week.” (Study by Media Insight Project/reported by The Washington Post). Many readers form opinions based on misleading headlines and then take to social media to relay what they just read as “fact.” Add to this that 55% of U.S. adults get their news from social media “often” or “sometimes,” and we have a serious problem (Pew Research Center). “Those who rely on social media for news are less likely to get the facts right about…politics and more likely to hear some unproven claims,” states journalism.org (report from Pew Research Center).
I want to illustrate what happens when we get our news through social media. Look at life through the eyes of these three animals.
I stay in a pack with a leader. This is best.
I sniff around to hunt. Is there any other way?
Everyone I know has dull claws.
I bark. It is the only language I hear so it MUST be right.
I am a loner. This is best.
I jump and climb to hunt. Is there any other way?
Everyone I know has sharp claws.
I meow. It is the only language I hear so it MUST be right.
I live in a flock where we all lead and follow. This is best.
I use my vision to hunt. Is there any other way?
Everyone I know has talons.
I chirp. It is the only language I hear so it MUST be right.
If we use social media for our only source of news, we will remain ignorant to the truth of our world. Yes, those are harsh words I just used, but I hope the shock value will open our eyes. Social media works through algorithms. We go to one site, click on one link, and we are now stuck in a silo, just like our animals above. The further we go down that silo, the more blind we are to other viewpoints, and the louder the echo chamber becomes from those in the silo with us. “I bark. It is the only language I hear so it MUST be right,” we say innocently.
We are trapped in a rabbit hole and do not even know it. These silos on social media occur on both sides of the political aisle. I can hop into a far left or an extreme right echo chamber. We are surrounded by them. I do not care where you fall on the political spectrum. If you get your news from social media, you are often being fed half-truths, opinions, and in many cases, flat out lies.
These silos are difficult to escape. In fact, we may not want to escape. We will live in a matrix that is not reality. And the sad truth? We will be content. Who would not be content to live in groups where everyone validates what you believe? Even if our reality is a lie, we will stay there, because to climb out of this silo will require work. We have become lazy and too comfortable. We like our echo chamber.
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV). Getting our news from social media is unwise. It keeps us in our silos and open dialogue with other points of view becomes a thing of the past.
3. Read the News: As mentioned in #1, do not watch the national 24-hour news, read it. By doing this, you cut out a lot of noise. I put this into practice each day. I skim headlines on both sides of the aisle. I find what the main topic is of the day and then read several articles on that topic from both the left and right point of view. If I see something that does not sound correct (knowing the real so you can spot a lie as we learned in Part 1), then I dig deeper. Reading the news, as opposed to watching the news, can cut out a great deal of confusion. You have a greater chance of recognizing bias in reporting when you read vs. watch.
4. Stay with Local News: If you hear about a story through the national news, find out where the story originated, and then gather the information from the local news sources (I am fine with print or TV at the local level). A national story you are interested in that occurred in Shaver Lake, California? Then go to the local Shaver Lake news sources. These media outlets are usually less biased than 24-hour national news, and you have a greater likelihood of obtaining a more accurate representation of the events.
5. Go to the Source: If you read an article about a bill, next, read the bill! If you read a quote reported by a journalist, look up the original quote. If a poll is referenced in a story that is favorable to one side or the other, review the actual poll (and take note of who was surveyed in the poll because both sides skew this). This takes work. It takes time, but the more you put these tips into practice, the easier it will become. As mentioned, I spend about 30-45 minutes gathering my news each day. That is all I need. As Christians, it is our responsibility to seek truth. The bigger question is, once we find the truth will we follow that truth? Especially when it does not fit our own narrative? I know God has challenged me in my search!
6. Wise Counsel: Seek mentors you know who research policy issues and will tell you the truth. If you do not have time to implement some of the above suggestions, then find Godly counsel you know who does. We do not all have time to be accountants, lawyers, doctors. We rely on experts in these fields we can trust. Find people you know who have your foundation and seek truth based on God’s Word. This does not exempt you from doing your own research (as the pastor taught his congregation in Part 1, we are all held responsible for knowing God’s Word), but having a close consultant in this arena can greatly help.
7. Read All Party Platforms: This simple tip is the most obvious, but many people do not do this. If you want to know what a certain political party believes, go straight to the source. Did you know each party puts out a written summary that tells you exactly what they support? This applies to all organizations, by the way. If you wonder how a group believes on certain issues, do not rely on news stories to interpret this for you. Go to that organization’s website. Go to the source. Reading a political party’s platform is an easy way to see if the issues they promote line up with your foundation. Do not discount this step. In fact, I would say this should be the first thing you do when you begin your search. Read their own words. Read the platform!
(I have only listed the top two political parties. If you wish to read a different platform, a simple internet search will provide you with what you want.)
In our first 3 posts, we learned God’s formula for finding truth: read His Word, pray, seek Godly counsel. We understand to engage others we must first seek to understand and learn the biblical foundation on which we stand. We have discussed 7 tips to apply in our daily world when seeking truth in the news. In our next, and last, post we will discuss God’s view on leaders, and how we are to use His teachings to choose our candidates. My prayer for all of us this week is that we will earnestly seek God’s truth, and when we find it, we will have the courage to follow.
Together with you,