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False Teachers
Texts: 2 Peter 2:1-22; John 8:34-36; Matthew 12:43-45; Jude 4-19; Genesis 18:16-33 June 10, 2017

In the days following Donald Trump’s election, Mark Zuckerberg said that the idea that fake news on Facebook had swung it for him was “crazy.” Since then, though, the social network has been scrambling to prove that it takes its role in spreading untruths across the internet seriously. The recent announcement of an educational tool to help Facebook users spot what the social network calls “false news” is the latest in a series of initiatives.

As well as making it easier to report fake stories, the company has started working with fact-checking organizations to flag questionable items in its news feed. Now it’s unveiling a 10-point guide to spot fakery, educating users in investigating sources and checking the evidence. The guide is a useful primer on the basic principles of good journalism.

Money talks, however. Germany is initiating a plan to combat fake news, and Facebook doesn’t like it at all. Angela Merkel’s government approved plans to fine social networks up to 50 million euros if they fail to remove illegal content within 24 hours. With an election later this year, this is a hot-button issue. “There should be just as little tolerance for criminal rabble-rousing on social networks as on the street,” said Justice Minister Heiko Maas.

Facebook believes its measures are already having an effect. Facebook’s news feed boss Adam Mosseri says false news is less evident now than it was during the election campaign. That may not reassure politicians who fear that the social network's mysterious algorithms can still set off wildfires of anger when its news feed spreads dodgy stories from sources motivated by malice. Having appeared too relaxed about this issue until last November, Facebook is now finding it hard to keep up with the demands for action. Will an educational tool be enough? How do you eliminate fake news while supporting freedom of speech?1

The apostles of Peter’s day found themselves facing the same dilemma. As we see in this week’s lesson, false teachers spread fake news about Jesus and the gospel at the very beginning of the Christian church. Peter exposes false teachers who secretly introduce destructive heresies in 2 Peter 2:1. The element of secrecy suggests they worked anonymously, planting fake news stories to undermine the credibility of Peter and other Christian evangelists. The description of their heresies as destructive is alarming, as these fake news stories and unbiblical teachings cause people to lose their eternal salvation.

The lesson covers a key method to combat this error: we need to discern the difference between true freedom in Christ and presumption that leads us back to a life of sin. Freedom in Christ results in freedom from sin and its effects rather than freedom to remain in a sinful condition. Just as education is a tool to combat our current fake news, diligent Bible study is the antidote to destructive heresies.

~ cb

1. www.bbc.com