Trust, but Verify

***Guest Column***

In the New Testament of the Bible, there’s a passage in Acts in which Paul describes the new believers in Thessalonica. These converts were good people, and the Bible says they were of “noble character.” But perhaps the highest praise that was said of the Bereans was that they diligently searched the scriptures daily. When the Apostle Paul preached, they verified everything he said by doing their own research.

We live in an age where information is literally at our fingertips. Give me thirty seconds, and I could tell you the capitol of any country in the world; give me a minute and I can translate any phrase from any language into English. That’s how far technology has advanced. In a world where there is more information available to us than at any time in the earth’s history, are we making good use of this gift?

Chuck Sweeney recently had a great column entitled: “Kids Aren’t Looking up Dictionary Words on Smartphones.” Mr. Sweeney laments the news that a Rockford charity will no longer be giving away free dictionaries to third graders in the Rockford school system. This ends a twenty year period of giving thousands and thousands of young kids a free resource which they may not have otherwise had. He goes on to say that this was brought about because most school-aged kids now have access to the internet, and therefore hard copy dictionaries are no longer deemed a necessity.
So this begs the obvious question – are we taking full advantage of the resources afforded us by the World Wide Web? Let’s take social media as our case study. Facebook has given us one major advent that has changed the world as we know it – the meme. For those of you who may not know, a meme is a picture or graphic with text attached to it. The meme has become one of the most prevalent sources of entertainment on social media, and recently it has also become one of the major sources of information.

If I have noticed one thing in this crazy election cycle, it has been the rise of political memes. Whereas people use to discuss politics on social media, they now just post memes. That’s right, pictures with words are now the preferred medium of political discourse. As sad as that may be, here’s the worst part: most of these memes have no sources attached, and oftentimes they aren’t even grounded in truth.

This startling phenomenon isn’t just limited to social media. Those who do not do their own due diligence will take these oftentimes baseless tidbits as fact, and that’s extremely dangerous. Misinformation is harmful to all of us – whether we utilize social media or not – because those who are misinformed have the same amount of votes as you or I do.

In a democracy, it is imperative that truth is cherished and lies are chastised. I’m not calling for anyone to be punished for disseminating false information, but I am calling for all of us to individually seek truth and to refute falsehoods. Perhaps if we do more to pursue the truth in everything that we say, then we can have better discourse in this country.

We shouldn’t take anything we hear for granted. When our brains hear only that which reinforces our way of thinking, we are not challenged. And when we are not challenged, we are not growing and learning. As a society, I would like to see us do more to research for ourselves that which is true and that which is false. Don’t rely on anyone else to do that job for you.

I know I quoted Ronald Reagan just last week, but a quote of his came to mind that is too fitting for this week’s column to not mention: “Trust, but verify.”

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.