What is your perspective on life? Most would agree that if you see life as half full, your interpretation of reality is in a positive context. Those who might see life as half-empty are associated with the interpretation of reality in a negative context. But there is a subtle trick being played on us. Our interpretation of the world is heavily influenced by what we see and hear every day. People aged 16 to 24 spend the most time on social media, over 3 hours daily (Source: Digital Information World). Adults spend more than 2 hours daily on social media and cable news. This fact should lead us to ask a very important question:
(1 Corinthians 15:33)1NIV New International Version Translations – “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’”
Paul was quite specific about his concerns over where the information came from, how it was presented, and how it influenced us. Humans are most impacted by something called negative bias. It comes to us early in life. As very young children, we are constantly told “NO” over and over and given warnings about the dangers attributed to the world around us. Through education and then as working adults, people will hear and remember the negative more than the positive. Our media, our news, the books we read, the movies we watch, and our chats with our friends are unfortunately dominated by negativity. Why? It sells, sells, sells. Think this is too bold a statement? If one considers just a single social media program, Twitter (now called X), the 140 million tweets posted daily would fill a 10-million-page book. Yes, that is daily! Have you read some of those tweets yourself? There is a definite negative bias written into the messages. That is why people love it so much. Remember, it sells. It sells so well that people are willing to give away their privacy and personal information to get Twitter for free. A caution here, however: nothing is ever free except for God’s grace!
As humans, we remember traumatic experiences better than positive ones. Our memories recall insults quicker than praises. Thoughts are generally about negative events, brought forward by emotions such as envy, greed, anger, lust, or fear. Nobel Prize-winning researchers Kahneman and Tversky found that when making decisions, people consistently place greater weight on negative aspects of an event than they do on positive ones. Why do people use negative bias? It works! By overemphasizing the negative, the choices you make and the risks you are willing to take can be influenced. That is why social media is free! It is all about the influence!
(Titus 3:10) – “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.”
The Letter to Titus, written by the Apostle Paul, is saying if there is division because of the influence or if it is causing you to hate, change channels, and cancel the social media app! We have already witnessed in our world that a single event quickly dominated the news and then accelerated into rioting in our streets. This psychological phenomenon explains why bad first impressions can be so difficult to overcome and why past traumas can have such long-lasting effects. In almost any interaction, we are more likely to notice negative things and later remember them more vividly. Satan has our number, and we don’t even see him lurking behind the screens and keyboards.
(Proverbs 10:11) – “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.”
Media is a prominent source of negativity, hatred, and division, especially in the news and reality shows. Today, the increase in violent crime, the racism that is stoked like a fiery furnace, and dozens of new things to fear every day are dividing our nation. It may not be true of every social media application or technology. For a few good ones, the jury is still out! It just means that the responsibility is on you always know the Truth. If you are getting angry, if you are starting to hate someone or some group, it is time to stop and do a “Truth Check.” If you’re a Christian dealing with negativity in your life, the best way to overcome this is to submit your concerns to God. Don’t conform to the world, and don’t hang around, read, or watch bad influences. Balance your wisdom with God’s Word. Setting our minds on Christ is intended to rid ourselves of the worries of life. We are to meditate on God’s promises to help with depression, not medicate it!
(Matthew 6:34) – “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
One overarching test for any information you have is to assess its impact on you and others. Solomon’s wisdom from the Proverbs tells us:
(Proverbs 15:4) – “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”
Whether we are choosing a candidate for a political office or picking which cable news anchor to watch, apply this test. Does it build up or destroy the human spirit? Are God’s commands honored? Where is the peace? And the number one test: is it True? What we watch and read will influence how we believe and act. If you hate your neighbor, hurt your neighbor, or fail to help your neighbor, it may be worth a little self-examination to see what the information sources are in your life. The bad information usually comes with a channel changer or an on/off switch.
(Philippians 4:8) – “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
How much of the world’s knowledge has been captured by technology? If you said all, you are wrong. Only a small, small fraction is available via online technology. Significant amounts of information remain exclusively on paper in libraries, whether public, private, or personal. Then there is knowledge protected by copyright. Many detailed works (including mistakes) are cataloged only in personal notebooks, dooming future researchers to continue to repeat those mistakes since they are not published. Therefore, it is a common misconception that almost all knowledge is on the Internet. What the Internet holds is a lot of good and bad facts. Not questioning the information is laziness. Combining what we know with observation and revelation, the boundaries of what is yet to be learned are exhaustive. Wikipedia and Google are just nice places to start. But what happens when we take this vast storehouse of information and filter it through the human mind? Oh yes, here comes that negative bias again! Letter.ly is a journalism blog that tracks statistics on messaging coming from the news media. Here is what they find:
- Approximately 90% of all media news today is negative.
- Sensationalist stories form 95% of media headlines.
- Media reports with negative news or statistics catch 30% more attention.
- 26.7% of people exposed to negative news go on to develop anxiety issues.
- 63% of kids aged 12–18 say that watching the news makes them feel bad.
- 39% of Americans believe the media exaggerated the COVID-19 coverage.
- A staggering 87% of the COVID-19 media coverage in 2020 was negative.
- Where do you go to find uplifting news and stories showing how God works in this world?
- Ideas to Explore: Church, a special list of friends, Christian-themed media. Or can you even find any news like this today?
- Are you angry after watching a news show?
- Ideas to Explore: What is righteous anger? How do you keep focused on God’s Truth?
- Where do your opinions come from?
- Ideas to Explore: Are they based on family history? What about friends? Work? Does the church influence your opinions?
- What do you do to control your time with technology?
- Ideas to Explore: Are there Godly uses, worldly uses, and what constitutes too much time?
- How do you find reliable sources for your information?
- Ideas to Explore: How do you test the Internet? What about cable news? Books and other resources
- What would you expect to find if you were trying to validate God’s Truth?
- Ideas to Explore: Consistency within the Scriptures. Consistency of opinion with people you respect. A poor track record on news that is usually biased.
- 1NIV New International Version Translations