Today’s world constantly bombards us with information. The interconnectedness of the world through the internet (including social media) and the 24-hour news cycle bring us into contact with innumerable pieces of information and points of view. Most days, it’s hard to tell what’s true or false, opinion or fact. Some researchers call this phenomenon truth decay. It is defined as “the declining role of facts and analysis.” Researchers have seen this phenomenon in discussions of social issues, science, and politics, among other areas.
At its core, truth decay involves deception, whether intentional or unintentional. While there have always been people who attempt to hide the truth or present opinions as fact, there is a noticeable trend in the blurring between truth and falsehood, opinion and fact. No matter the intention, people are in danger of falling prey to this phenomenon. That includes members of the Body of Christ!
Protection from Truth Decay
Christ cautioned the disciples in Matthew 24: 23-24 that the elect would, at the very least, be targeted by deception from false prophets and false christs through Satan’s influence. Paul also admonishes us to prove all things in 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Knowing this, what can we do to help defend the greater Church of God from this phenomenon? I believe we can take four steps to help protect ourselves, and thus the Church, from truth decay: 1) understand the phenomenon; 2) know the influences; 3) understand yourself; and 4) stay close to God.
The purpose of this blog is to introduce these topics and their subsequent blogs. Each of these topics is crucial to understanding truth decay’s impact on each of us. I encourage everyone reading this, and the coming blogs, to use the information in this blog series to guide your thinking about what concrete steps you can take to help protect yourself from the dangers of truth decay!
Understand the Phenomenon
We all encounter misinformation on a semi-regular basis. Misinformation is false or misleading information that is spread unintentionally, by error or mistake. It may be a friend or family member who shares articles or posts from other friends or public figures without double checking the source or the content. Or maybe you do this. Either way, we may be giving people false information. The person may not intentionally do this. Maybe they believe in that gun control argument or argument against climate change. The topic doesn’t matter. What does matter is the choice: to help propagate or fight truth decay.
But what’s so bad about one measly article or video? How is that going to impact anyone? There are many studies on the speed at which false information travels. For example, a study on Twitter found that false stories traveled six times faster than true stories and were 70% more likely to be tweeted than truth. The study also determined this was a human phenomenon, not a robotic one, as Twitter bots diffused false and true information at the same rate.
There are many facets to how false information is spread. From the unintentional individual to hostile organizations and nation-state, the world of information is a complex one. In the next blog, we’ll go into more depth about this complex world.
Know the Influences
The topic of what influences people is an area of research that has been studied for years. While there’s a lot of thought about what exactly moves people to share or engage on a topic, it is ultimately very individual. I selected three influences to highlight because of their universal impact: 1) sensationalism; 2) cognitive biases; and 3) social media.
In recent years, many of us have seen the increasing trend in sensationalist news reporting. Currently, it seems as common place as “normal” news reporting. Sensationalism is the use of exciting or shocking stories or language at the expense of accuracy, in order to provoke public interest or excitement. But how does this trend impact us? Think about your experience watching the news: do you get overly excited, angry, judgmental, depressed, or proud when watching or reading the news? Does it take up time that should be used to grow closer to God? I’m not saying we shouldn’t watch the news; I’m saying that we may be expending too much time and care in the news. This can have a negative impact on us personally, professionally, and spiritually.
While sensationalism comes from without, cognitive biases come from within, developed throughout our lives. Cognitive biases are predictable mental errors caused by overly simplistic information processing. The danger in cognitive biases is they mold how people view and interact with the world. In many cases, these biases are unknown to us until something throws them into the spotlight. One example of a cognitive bias is “the curse of knowledge”: once a person comes to understand something, they presume it is obvious to everyone. For example, let’s say you find out that a friend is moving in with their significant other. Deep down, you may become disappointed with your friend because they decided to engage in such a big sin. Just because you think it’s “obvious” that living with someone you’re in a relationship with is wrong, it does not make it obvious to your friend. This bias can deceive us into thinking that people in the world are subject to God’s way of life, when, in fact, they are not (Romans 8: 7-8).
The one influence that has magnified the previous two influences is social media. Social media has helped increase the availability of information, which can leave people overwhelmed. This creates a challenge for people seeking to distinguish fact from opinion. In a 2004 report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the authors noted, “Quality news and information are more available than ever before, but in great amounts so are the trivial, the one-sided, and the false.” We’ll discuss these aspects at greater length in the blog on influences.
When we know what influences people to gravitate towards false information, the best thing we can do is better understand ourselves. I believe there are two things we all should reflect on to better understand ourselves: 1) how influences impact our thoughts and reactions; and 2) know when and when not to engage.
The key to the influences is knowing how they impact our thoughts and reactions. Most people know how they affect others, but they usually don’t know how they affect themselves. They may know they’re reacting to something – especially in the case of sensationalism and social media – but many times, they don’t know why their drawn to it. That’s why it is important to understand what affects us. Do you see yourself gravitating to things that confirm your beliefs? Do you see yourself getting into arguments with people who think differently? Do you make excuses for those arguments? For your feelings of anger? Frustration? Judgment? This is not an exhaustive list of questions to reveal your influences. In any case, answer these questions honestly. It may be best to have a close friend or spouse answer these questions with you. Depending on your answer to the questions you ask yourself, begin to reflect on the potential biases you may have based on your answers. This won’t be an easy 15-minute meditation session; it may take a lifetime to identify our thought patterns.
After we know how these influences impact our thoughts and reactions, we need to know when and when not to engage with the information. You may find yourself wanting to get involved in every little thing on social media or at a Church event, but some things are not worth the trouble. When you do find a topic that is worth knowing about, it’s harder than most people think to find factual information on that topic. Because the world we live in is flooded with information, it’s hard to search through all of the falsehood and opinion and find the material you need to learn. Everyone has a blog nowadays on everything from “what natural herbs to take” to “the real reason behind climate change” to “why Congress is actually controlled by Big Oil”. That’s not a reason to forgo educating yourself. But it is a reason to know when and when not to engage. We’ll touch more on this and other concrete examples in subsequent blogs.
Stay Close to God
Even if we do all of the things mentioned above, we may still fall prey to truth decay and its outgrowths. Sometimes, we get lazy; we trust someone who didn’t do their homework; or we were lied to. There are countless possible reasons. Yet, if we stay close to God, He will never fail us.
Many of us may remember the words of Mr. Armstrong: “Don’t believe me, believe your Bible!” A similar sentiment was echoed by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, which was mentioned at the beginning: prove all things. We are to be a people not reliant on the words of other men but on the words of God and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Paul was preparing the Church – and us, today – to be ready for the time when the Church would have to defend its beliefs. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul says the following:
13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3: 13 – 17)
As part of staying close to God, there are a few things to keep in mind: When and in what way is it appropriate to question the things we have learned? What is the purpose of our training today? What do we spend our energy, time, and care on? If we don’t spend energy, time, and care on God’s Word, we’re not going to spend time thinking about it. This may lead us astray. Not only doctrinally, but it will also entrench us in the world’s grasp; in Satan’s grasp. We don’t want the ways of this world to impact our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ. That’s why we need hold fast to what is good! We’re going to expand on these ideas and topics through the scripture in the subsequent blogs.
The Campaign Against Truth
As our world becomes more information-oriented, our struggles with the world move in that direction. There is a campaign against truth being waged right now. We see it frequently in the sciences (social and physical), in religion, and in many other places. While interacting with this world, our goal is not to combat every dissenter but to be prepared for them.
But what many of us may not see is this campaign being waged in the Church. Satan knows that God is preparing us for the upcoming spiritual battle. That’s why his tactics may be more subtle and cunning. Knowing that, we must continue to be vigilant and prepare for spiritual battle. Our very salvation relies on how we prepare! I want to finish with Ephesians 6:11 – 20. We must heed Paul’s call to action:
11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— 19 and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
 For the full definition, see the full report:
Kavanagh, Jennifer, and Michael D. Rich. Truth Decay: a Threat to Policymaking and Democracy. RAND Coorporation. Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2018.
 MerriamWebster Online Dictionary
 Mazarr, Michael J., Ryan Michael Bauer, Abigail Casey, Sarah Anita Heintz, and Luke J. Matthews. The Emerging Risk of Virtual Societal Warfare: Social Manipulation in a Changing Information Environment. RAND Coorporation. Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2019.
 Oxford Online English Dictionary
 Heuer, Richards J. Psychology of Intelligence Analysis. Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1999.
 Project for Excellence in Journalism, “The State of the News Media Report: 2004,” Pew Research Center, undated.