What is our obligation when sharing content on the Internet?

Thanks to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as blogging tools including WordPress and Tumblr, it is increasingly easy to share news articles, videos, and other pieces of online content with friends, families, and even complete strangers. But this is a double-edged sword, and even moreso in a divisive time such as ours: it’s increasingly easy to promote false and misleading content.

Which is why I’m appreciative of my Christ and Pop Culture comrade Alan Noble and his recent article, “Racists Pig Racing? Why Christians are Obligated to be Discerning on the Internet.”

As newspapers close down and people continue to move from television to the Internet to get their news, there has been a drastic increase in both the amount of news available to readers and the separation of individual news reports from other news and from developments of that news. In this case, I was sent a YouTube video of a clip from Fox News with no airing date, no way of knowing whether or not there was a follow-up story or a retraction, without knowing the political situation at the time, and (since this controversy happened many years ago) little chance of stumbling across a conflicting report from another news source. It has always been a challenge to discern whether a news source was accurately and fairly reporting on an issue, but now that it is common for us to share obscure news reports or opinion articles without any context that might situate the story within a larger social conversation, the chance for us to either share or accept a deceptive news report is incredibly high. And with a report like this, where people have very strong feelings, it is quite possible that if someone who was already deeply suspicious of Muslims in America saw the video, he might unquestioningly accept Fox’s version of the story, thus supporting his own presuppositions and perhaps fostering a potentially racist worldview.

At the same time, the tremendous increase of information on the Internet and the corresponding ease with which Google allows us to search has made it easier than ever to check our sources before we share them with the world. It only takes a few minutes of searching to get the back story of this controversy in Katy, TX, but in order to adequately do this research you do have to be willing to question what you see and read, even if it supports your presuppositions on the surface.

Noble offers three recommendations for sharing online content, or rather, for thinking about sharing online content. And while he’s particularly addressing Christians with his article, I think it’s advice that everyone would do well to keep in mind.