The web: last bastion of free speech – but also full of unverified nonsense. Here’s how to sort out what to believe. By Alan Franklin.
05/12/2012

I enjoy using the web, and was telling people about Google in the early 2000s when most people hadn’t heard of the new company, founded in 1998 - source: http://www.google.com/about/company/history/

I insert that for a reason. Much of the material that arrives in my inbox, sometimes full of unverified claims, is unchecked and unsigned. It is often sent in large, multi-colored typefaces, full of contentious claims and demands that you send it on to all your friends. Please don’t. This is folly.

When Pat and I were editing we used to get odd letters in from cranks, often written in green ink. They went in the bin. If you get the electronic version of such communications, please push the delete button and do not circulate it. You are doing your cause no favors, merely proving that you are gullible and believe things too easily.

Before I became a Believer, I was critical of Christians, thinking that they believed the unprovable. My favorite one liner was: “You prove it and I’ll believe it.” I still think that way, although now I know, having done 30 years of research, that the Bible is provably, demonstrably true, that Creation is not a myth - (see http://creation.com/)  and that the fulfillment of hundreds of specific Bible prophecies proves with mathematical certainty that the Creator of the Universe knew the future and is therefore outside time.

However, there is a problem. Well meaning folk, with whom I would be in broad agreement, sometimes send me the said multicolored missives, which are widely circulated round the web. They make the cause they propound a laughing stock as they are often:

  • Full of wild, unsubstantiated statements, a mixture of truth and fiction.
  • Without verification, without a source, without a time, date and place where a speech was made and without proof that this happened.
  • Amateurishly edited to make a point, with inconvenient remarks deleted. This fools nobody, especially those of us familiar with Photoshop.
  • Unsigned - and therefore worthless.

One classic piece of widely circulated propaganda – sent to me tedious numbers of times by Christians who should know better – concerns alleged statements made by successive Australian Prime Ministers, of different political persuasions, purporting to pronounce on Muslims in Australia.

The general theme is: “This is Oz, love it or leave it, Muslims go home etc.” The fact that it has been attributed to at least three different people should ring alarm bells in even the most trusting soul. In such cases I look at truthorfiction.com, and here is their take on the story, which is wrongly attributed. “The remarks by the Australian Finance Minister Peter Costello were made in a speech on February 23, 2006 to the Sydney Institute. 

“The article quoted in the eRumor was written by Phil Mercer of the BBC and published in February, 2006, when this eRumor began circulating.

“In late 2010 versions of this eRumor began circulating attributing these comments to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.   We have found no evidence of this being true. In 2009, another altered version began circulating saying that this was said by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, which is also fiction. “

No such speech was ever made by an Australian Prime Minister. By using this link to the website’s well researched debunking of this myth you can find out what Mr. Costello said: http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/c/australian-costello-shari.htm

I was recently sent a story about Republican plans to cut government spending, something which is well overdue, although Republican presidents spent almost as recklessly as Obama, which is why America is, to all intents and purposes, bankrupt.

There were problems with this luridly illustrated piece of propaganda and this is part of a reply I sent to friends who forwarded it: I liked this one, assuming the figures are accurate. Pity they don’t give a source, which would validate it and enable me to put it on our website. Without a source it might just be made up, you see. You also need to know who is sending it, as he/she is quoted without identification. So any editor would just chuck it in the bin, or delete, on those two grounds.

“Sorry if this sounds fussy, but to be taken seriously you need the source and many other details, like exactly where these figures come from and where they can be checked. I spent many years running newsdesks and editing and publishing newspapers and this is what I always taught new reporters.”

I added: “ I know there are a lot of cuts proposed. The point is, that the format used for that circular was useless. Without verification it was a waste of time, because it didn't prove any of its points.

“For example: ‘Cut number one blah blah. This was proposed by (the imaginary) Rep Steve Bunnings on Sept 1, 2012, in the House, as reported in the House Daily or whatever. Rep Bunnings stated that this planned cut would form part of he Republican program this fall.’ That is verification.

“Any story or alleged story sent round the web - and about 99 per cent of them are not entirely factual - must be backed up. Further, if it is stating opinion we need to know whose and what sources they have. Without these it is about as relevant as Micky Mouse Monthly.

“On newspapers we always used to say that the nutcases wrote letters to us in green ink. This was surprisingly often the case. Doesn't it strike you that the format of these large type diatribes, written in oddly colored typefaces, is the mark of someone without much of a grasp on normality?

“Anyway, they seem distinctly odd to my eyes. I think if people are sending propaganda round the web they should learn how to do it properly. Then they might be taken seriously.”

I once wrote the PR/communications manual for a major political party, so understand propaganda and how to credibly get a point across.

I insert the following paragraph to show that I know what I am talking about and not to boast. I was an editor for 21 years and a chief reporter for about ten years. Pat and I were also publishers of different titles for a (coincidental) total of 21 years and edited and produced numerous newspapers and magazines. I also worked for several years as a full time freelance journalist, selling stories to all major media, TV, radio . newswires and the main daily newspapers, all day and every day. So I had to get my facts right or I was out of work. If a major newspaper printed an incorrect statement provided by you,  that would be the last time you were hired!

Dr. David Reagan, who is a great inspiration to me and the best broadcaster on "Christian" TV (see links on our website -http://www.lamblion.com/) once demonstrated exactly how a good editor should operate. He had asked me to write several articles about the EU (European Union) for his Lamplighter magazine. In one I mentioned a speech by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I quoted her. Dave asked me how I knew what she said and I replied that I was there. He then asked me the circumstances. I replied that it was a small, private gathering of editors. He then asked me the location. I replied that it was Stationers Hall, Avenue Maria Lane, City of London, London, EC4M 7DD, home to The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers. He then asked me a date, to which I gave a reasonably accurate response to the best of my memory. I knew the month and year.

People sometimes seek anonymity as they are scared of what might happen to them. These fears are foolish, for the most part. I printed controversial columns for 21 years, with my name, photograph, address and telephone number alongside. I was never physically attacked, although I did go ex-directory on our home phone, because of the need to get away from work. In 2006 Pat and I published a newspaper circulating 80,000 copies containing a full page of criticisms of Islam. They were factual, fair and contained no personal hostility nor any unneccesary rudeness. However, we told the truth, from our Christian perspective. You ARE still allowed to do this in a reasonable, rational way.

So, if you think you are some kind of web journalist, act as if you were a real, paid, trained journalist. Make sure your facts are right before sending stories around. That way we may take you seriously.


 
 
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Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. (This refers to the coming one world church.)
Revelation 18:4

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