The expression “fake news” has entered the language and our thinking. Two years ago, before the advent of a certain D Trump, the expression wouldn’t have made much sense to anyone. Before that, it was usually called “disinformation”, and it has a long history.
Octavian used a campaign of disinformation to gain a victory over Mark Antony, accusing him of anti-Roman sentiments. In May 1803, as Britain was preparing to declare war on France, a forged letter was given to the Mayor of London suggesting that the dispute was amicably settled; the mayor took the letter to the Stock Exchange, and stocks immediately rose by 5 per cent, a situation quickly exploited before the hoax was exposed. Mark Twain famously said that “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated!”
Fake news is the deliberate dissemination of untruths, to wrongly undermine others or benefit the source of the fake news. This seems to be a particular problem on social media, but it applies to mainstream media too. If someone presents something as the truth, people will accept it as such. And its dangers are obvious, from the idea that there is no such a thing as objective truth to the undermining of democracy itself.
Jesus asked Pontius Pilate “what is truth?”, as if he was aware that this danger has always existed. Truth must be cherished and protected – we all have a duty here. And as Christians we believe that the deepest, most reliable truth is found in Christ, who described himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). St John wrote (1:17): “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”, and Jesus said (John 8:32) “the truth will set you free.”
We find the ultimate objective truth in Jesus Christ. It’s not fake news; it’s good news! The news that God loves the world and all of us in it. That’s the news that can truly set us free.