Don’t take the (click)bait

Today’s column explores how we can overcome the pull of sensationalized news through understanding that there’s a higher power we can rely on to inform our actions.

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“You didn’t hear? It’s all over the news!” a friend said to me.

I hadn’t. I found this disconcerting given my journalistic background. So after our conversation, I clicked around the web to find the shocking news. After locating it, I had to ask: Why on earth wasn’t it being reported in the other publications I read?

As I monitored various news outlets over the following days, I learned that the story had been sensationalized to the point of fabrication. In other words, it was fake news.

I alerted my friend to the revelation, but felt deeply disturbed – even angered – that we had been duped. It underscored the deeper societal issues our world has been roiled by: questions of trust and truth.

I was encouraged to learn that programs exist to educate people about what is real versus fake news. Tech moguls, for example, are designing tools to combat misinformation (see “Google rolls out new ‘Fact Check’ tool worldwide to combat fake news,” CSMonitor.com, April 7, 2017). But what these sources explained was that fake news and clickbait websites are fed by the attention we give them.

It’s clear that if we want fake news to stop, we can’t pay it any heed or reward it with page views and click-throughs. We can’t blindly click on or accept what we’re presented with – the same way we wouldn’t want to click on a computer virus or attachment in an email from an unknown sender.

Yet this goes beyond a mere exercise in self-control. What had a more lasting effect in my experience was a deeper understanding of where real impulses come from. Are we programmed to take the bait, or is there a higher driving force we can rely on to inform our actions?

I find it interesting that the Lord’s Prayer given in the Bible by Christ Jesus addresses this issue with the line “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). He says not only is there a higher power that is “Our Father,” as the first line of the prayer indicates, but that this power delivers us from temptation and evil. Clearly, a power that leads us away from evil must be evil’s opposite – good. And this good must then guide us to know what is right – what is good.

I found great comfort in the idea that we each have a God-given ability and right to overcome whatever negative influence would draw us in. We don’t have to be led into any deceitful activity. We don’t need to take the clickbait.

At first, it wasn’t easy not to click on friend-endorsed stories or links. But it became easier as I began to acknowledge that we have an innate, spiritual ability to be led rightly – to discern what’s true and what’s false.

Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote: “There is but one real attraction, that of Spirit. The pointing of the needle to the pole symbolizes this all-embracing power or the attraction of God, divine Mind” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 102). Her writings make plain that because God is good and all-powerful, a mesmeric pull away from good “is a mere negation, possessing neither intelligence, power, nor reality” (Science and Health, p. 102).

I have certainly felt something of that in my own experience. An outcome from this prayerful alertness is that sensational headlines no longer captivate me. It has become easier to detect their false claims the more I see that God cannot lead us into deception because God is divine Truth itself. Being inherently false, fake news and sensational half-truths have no legitimate legs to stand on and therefore no legitimate or lasting power.

While my experience may be modest, I feel it indicates a higher power; it goes to show that we each are inherently influenced toward what’s right – what’s good and true – because our true motives come from God, who is wholly good.

As we each individually grow in the understanding of this spiritual truth, the pull to be led astray will lessen until it can no longer divert or hold our attention. We’ll increasingly realize we have the power and authority to not take the bait. And truth will prevail.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

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