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Living in the Era of Fake News

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

Yesterday someone attached my name to text that I did not compose. The text was a frightening scenario of what could happen in Israel due to the coronavirus. This text was sent to me more than 100 times with reactions that ranged from "Powerful!" to "You really wrote this?".

It's a strange feeling. You know you didn't write it but you have no control over it and there is nothing you can do about it. You only know that at this very moment it is being shared in more and more groups and every moment brings another greeting from someone who saw it. It says that someone who quotes the words of another in that person's name brings redemption to the world. What do we say about someone who does exactly the opposite?

This was not serious fake news, no real damage was done, but I thought about more problematic fake news that's running around these days. How many recommendations from "doctors", how many letters from "experts", how many alarming and unverified reports are being broadcast over media networks without anyone stopping to check their reliability? These reports are copied and shared with the words "No way!" or "Is this true?" added on. But if you don't know if something is true, why copy and share it just to put other people under stress?

The Chafetz Chaim said that speaking Lashon Hara is like tearing a pillow in the town square when the feathers fly in every direction. How much more perilous is speech that is utterly false yet flies much further than feathers thanks to instantaneous communication to every corner of the earth in the digital new media era.

Reality is confusing enough. Don't make it even more confusing.


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