Twitter, Hoaxes, and the Power of our Words

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
– Mark Twain

The past couple of weeks have been a test of patience for the users of Twitter, the world’s third largest social network. First, there was the rapidly spread “news” that Michael Jordan had suffered a heart attack and was in critical condition. That proved to be a hoax (aka “a lie”), but not until it went around the world a few times, even picked up and repeated by some in the media. Jordan was actually out golfing, his daughter at home on Twitter trying to squelch the spread of the hoax.

This week, someone spoofed the Twitter account of the Russian Interior Minister, Vladimir Kolokoltsev, and tweeted that the Syrian president had either been killed or injured. This, too, was a lie, but it was not exposed as such until after Wall St., already on edge because of the civil war in Syria, had let it affect oil trades. The price of oil went up over a dollar/barrel in the 45 minutes that the hoax went unconfirmed.

All of this was the mischief of people who valued their fun over their integrity, and had no regard for the effects their words had on others. Now, it would be real easy for us to get out the pitchforks and torches, but we all know that this failure runs deep in humanity. It is not just a Twitter phenomenon, or a rare occurrence. Rather, it’s a reminder of James’s words in James 3:5-6 (NIV ’84):

Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Just as a couple of small tweets can set off worldwide oil shock and unnecessary sorrow, so can a few dishonest and hurtful words and rumors from our own lips.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
– Psalm 19:14, NIV’84

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