How many Internet Trolls does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Forty-seven. One to screw in the lightbulb and forty-six to opine about the various conspiracy theories that explain the lightbulb. (Yeah, I just made that up. Sue me.)
A few days ago, I mentioned, in passing, the old Chevy Nova story, about how the cars apparently didn’t sell in Spanish-speaking countries because the name means “Doesn’t go.” I also mentioned that this story, although reproduced in any number of places, is a complete fabrication, probably an invention of disgruntled Ford executives.
It has shown up in marketing texts to emphasize the perils of not knowing your audience. It has been used to underscore the hubris of American corporate types. It has been used to show the danger of cultural ignorance. Finally, it pops up as a joke without any motivation beyond laughter. Probably no vehicle ever built has gotten better mileage than this false story. Like the old Energizer Bunny, it just keeps going and going.
I don’t believe that the original motivation behind the Nova Conspiracy can be known, but I can point to a host of people who have helped to keep it alive and spreading, most of them not people who wanted to attack Chevrolet. How many untrue stories (or true but unhelpful ones) circulate in our churches with the vigor of dandelions in an untended lawn?
People start rumors for various reasons. They might want to seem more important or to inflict harm on someone else. We can’t stop people from starting the next Nova Conspiracy; however, we don’t have to help the story to spread.
In Exodus 23:1, we read
You must not spread a false report. Do not join the wicked to be a malicious witness.
It’s the first half of this that I want to zoom in on. The second half suggests that a person might spread a lie for potential gain, but the first half is absolute. Do not spread a false report, regardless of your motivation.
“But I didn’t know it wasn’t true!” you protest. If we’re taking Exodus seriously, then ignorance is no excuse. If you don’t know it to be true, then you don’t spread the thing. The more potentially hurtful that the story might be, the more we need to cling to this prohibition on spreading false reports. If the report is “I think Laney likes cats,” then it is probably not too important, but if the report is “I think Laney eats cats . . .” You get the difference. And of course, which sorts of questionable stories do we like to repeat?
In the long run, I don’t think the Nova Conspiracy did any harm to anybody, but the spread of false reports–of Fake News–can cause harm within families, within communities, within churches, and within the nation.
Loose lips sink ships, the old posters said. They can sink relationships and trust and organizations just as readily. That’s why we need to determine that regardless of where the story began, it will not go beyond us. ¡No va!