How Misinformation Harms the Lives of Those Who Are Affected by It

South American Division

How Misinformation Harms the Lives of Those Who Are Affected by It

Preconceived judgments and attacks on social media are contrary to what is expected of Christian behavior

Commentary | Brazil | Anne Seixas

"What do you think about that person?" asks José. 

"I don't know him, but I've heard terrible things", answers Henrique. 

The previous dialogue did not actually take place, but it is likely you have already found yourself in a similar situation. It is common, especially in a period marked by the rise of social networks, for a multitude of information about public people or even your classmate or workmate to be disseminated. However, in addition to the fact that many of these alleged facts are not necessarily true, they can cause irreparable damage. 

Krislane Matias, Master in Anthropology from the University of Brasília, says, "We see the world from our own culture, which works as a lens through which we make sense [of] and understand the world, and therefore we tend to value our own customs." According to her, however, it is necessary to live with diversity without wanting to impose one's own values ​​and norms as a rule of life. 

Reality or Assumption 

It can be difficult to separate personal views from real facts. In the internet age, everything spreads at the speed of a click, forwarding to a group of friends. However, this can be a habit capable of destroying an individual's image and mental health. 

João José Forni, journalist and specialist in reputation management, explains the following: "There is no doubt that we live today in a world in which the liberality, I would say, of writing posts on social networks with a minimum of care and without filters allows people to spread 'fake news' very easily, which is always a reputational threat." 

With that said, it's not just on the internet that gossip and comments can be harmful. In the offline world, spreading a private fact, true or false, can bring great suffering to those exposed. 

Luisa* was going to be a major life changer, but she wasn't ready to share it with people outside her inner circle. She took all possible precautions to keep the fact private, but even so, information was leaked. "I felt my intimacy was violated. I was going through many challenges, and seeing my life exposed so abruptly was a blow to my emotional health. In addition, decisions about my life were up to me and not to third parties", she vented. 

Irreparable Damage 

The consequences of situations like this can be many. For public people, it can damage their image and, depending on the case, their professional, personal, and financial lives. For Forni, "Untrue news can permanently tarnish a person's reputation, and it is sometimes difficult to repair this damage or blemish on the image, even if the person has a good reputation." 

Behind every profile on a social network, there is also a human being with vulnerabilities and sufferings. Digital advertising agency Mutato published research that shows that between 2019 and 2020 alone, the word "cancellation" was mentioned 20,000 times. In 2021, the number rose to 60,000. 

For the average person, without media exposure, the damage is no less serious. “I started to distrust everything and everyone. After that, I started having recurring bouts of anxiety. Only with therapy did I understand that the person's attitude spoke more about them than about me. I released the forgiveness and walked away. Today, I already remember the fact without feeling anger or pain—just mercy for the person's immature attitude”, says Luisa.

Krislane recalls, "In order not to fall into generic and stereotyped representations of 'the other', which tend to harm groups and individuals in more vulnerable situations, it is important to know the context in which the person is inserted, their social environment, in addition to the person's personality." 

This means it is important that the one who receives isolated information understands the nuances that involve human behavior and also observes his or her own life, since everyone is subject to failure. 

Judgment, Respect, and Christian Love 

From the point of view of Christian behavior and character, Pastor Lucas Alves, ministerial secretary for the South American headquarters of the Adventist Church, is emphatic. "Assumptions are speculative means that do not guarantee any fact. The values ​​we possess as followers of Christ demand integrity, respect, honesty, and transparency with the people with whom we interact." 

Ellen G. White also warned about these issues: “We need to cherish love in our hearts. We should not be ready to think evil of our brethren. We must put the least construction on what they do or what they say. We must be Bible Christians. 'Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently'" (This Day with God, p. 81). 

*Fictitious name to protect the interviewee's identity.

This article was originally published on the South American Division’s Portuguese news site