Thursday, August 09, 2018
False Witness in the Age of Social Media
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’;
and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’
But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,
you will be liable to judgment;
and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council;
and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
There is a substantial tribe of angry media commentators in the United States, mostly white men and women. They are often racist, nativist, and distort Christianity to justify their gross mischaracterizations of other religions.
Perhaps the worst of the bunch (it's hard to choose) is Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist who is reaping his poisonous whirlwind at the moment. Jones has made a living out of claiming that the 911 attacks were the devious work of government and that the mass shooting of innocent schoolchildren in Connecticut in 2014 was an elaborate hoax. Not surprisingly, Jones and his Infowars website found a way to blame the victims of the Parkland Florida school shooting as well.
In the past few days, Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify booted from their platforms podcasts, pages, and channels. Those who regard Jones' rants and conspiracies as a form of hate speech are delighted. Those who support him -- and he has a disturbingly large following -- consider this an unconstitutional curtailing of free speech.
I can't figure out why it has taken so long for these platforms to rid themselves of Jones. It's hardly a moral victory to finally expunge someone who has fomented hatred and caused great pain to his victims for years. There are currently several defamation lawsuits against Jones and at the very least they will cost him money and expose his hatred even further. When he is pressed he claims he is an entertainer rather than a journalist. What a pathetic attempt to justify virulent rather than free speech.
One of the Ten Commandment forbids us from maligning our neighbours and "bearing false witness." Jesus goes a step further and says that false witness is a form of murder. I hope that this situation opens up a much-needed conversation about civil speech and in the case of Christians what it means to live according to his teaching. Truth to tell, I'm not holding my breath.