Mark Twain is credited with saying that “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on,” and a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study confirmed this is still the case today. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “fake news” as “false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke.” While this kind of falsification has been going on for many years, there is a general consensus that “fake news” is a growing phenomenon. The MIT study found that fake news stories are posted on social media faster, farther and more thoroughly than true news stories. According to the research, lies do travel faster than the truth and the chief reason for this is… human.
The researchers studied how information and news stories about politics, terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, and finances were disseminated on social media from 2006 to 2017. Regardless of topic, false stories were more popular and more widely shared than true stories: “False claims were 70 percent more likely than the truth to be shared on Twitter. True stories were rarely retweeted by more than 1,000 people, but the top 1 percent of false stories were routinely shared by 1,000 to 100,000 people. And it took true stories about six times as long as false ones to reach 1,500 people.” Worse yet, the catalysts for this phenomenon were not automated “bots” or fake accounts. Real people were to blame. One researcher, after discovering this, admitted, “It’s sort of disheartening at first to realize how much we humans are responsible.”
Secular researchers are often surprised to find that human beings are so innately capable of this kind of bad behavior. Philosophers and psychologists have been asking the question, “Are humans good or bad?” for a very long time, and many believe that we are, by nature, inherently good. Some have even argued that each baby “arrives in the world provisioned with rich, broadly pro-social tendencies and seems predisposed to care about other people.”
My experience as a homicide detective makes me skeptical of this claim. After nearly three decades as an investigator, I am no longer surprised at the level of depravity I encounter in suspects who have committed the most horrific crimes imaginable. Most of the cold-case killers in my cases went on to live apparently “regular” lives following their unsolved crimes. Friends and family members were eventually shocked to discover what these killers had done, given their seemingly ordinary behavior after the fact. But, these killers are just like the rest of us: puzzling creatures, capable of both kindness and ruthlessness.
You don’t have to be a homicide detective to understand this. If you’re a parent, you already understand the problem with the claim that humans are innately good. Infants don’t need to be taught impatience, selfishness, rudeness or anger. These are attributes they possess at birth. Instead, as their parents, we spend years teaching them how to control and redirect the impulses that come to them so naturally. The MIT study simply corroborates what we already know: given the choice between a simple truth and a sordid lie, we will almost always choose the lie. That impulse resides in our nature.
While secular scientists continue to argue for our innate goodness, Christianity describes the world the way it really is: Humans are complex creatures. We are created in the image of God, and, therefore, capable of great goodness. At the same time, however, we are fallen and rebellious by our nature. Our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and we are far more interested in satisfying our own passions and desires (Ephesians 2:3) than selflessly serving others. No one does good consistently (Ecclesiastes 7:20), and most of us are willing to exchange the truth about God (or anything else) for a lie, especially if it allows us to satisfy our selfish desires (Romans 1:25).
That’s why we favor lies over the truth, and why we’re obsessed with “fake news.” This human inclination toward misbehavior and falsity can be found in our nature and on the pages of the Bible. The Divine author of Scripture, unlike the MIT researchers, wasn’t surprised to find that humans prefer lies. And lucky for us, He did more than accurately describe the problem; He also provided the solution.
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Apologetics at Biola University, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith.
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Publication date: April 2, 2018