Daniel Darling is the senior vice president for communications of National Religious Broadcasters. He is the author of several books, his latest being, “A Way With Words.” Darling hosts a popular weekly podcast, The Way Home, and also serves as pastor of teaching and discipleship at Green Hill Church in Tennessee. Darling and his wife, Angela, have four children and live near Nashville.
It seems like one word can spark a wildfire. Why does it feel like communication is broken?
Technology and social media have given everyone the ability to send a message around the globe.
“We’re in an age where there’s never been more opportunities to publish, to communicate with a few strokes on the keyboard or a few taps of the thumbs, and we can send a message to pretty much anybody,” Darling said.
However, it’s difficult to know who to listen to because there are so many competing voices.
“In some ways, social media and the Internet have flattened authority and elevated voices that maybe we wouldn’t have heard before,” Darling added. “There’s been some really good movements that have come because voices have been elevated, but at the same time, everybody’s an expert. It’s like the Book of Judges, ‘Everyone is right in their own eyes.’ Sometimes I feel like social media is for everyone to confess everyone else’s sins.”
Darling said staying in personalized information bubbles also creates a divisive culture.
“One of the alarming things is we are self-segregating into our private news bubbles,” he said. “So, we read the news, process it and hear it only from sources that agree with us. From everything in life—vaccines, COVID-19, the election, the results of the election, events—we all process differently based on our newsfeed. I don’t think that’s healthy because we only get part of the story, not the whole story … where we have this confirmation bias of only listening to things that we agree with. The way out of that is Christians need to intentionally read across different places and have relationships with people who disagree with us, to see the whole world and not just the part we agree with.”
How should Christians respond to conspiracy theories and disinformation?
Darling shared a few practical steps.
1. Read articles, not headlines. Headline writers are paid to get you to click, react and share stories, so the headlines are often sensationalized.
2. Read across a variety of sources. If you are a conservative, read stories from some liberal outlets, and vice versa.
3. Wait 24 hours to react to a story, particularly if it’s explosive, to make sure it’s completely accurate.
4. Question your biases. “If you read a story that makes someone you disagree with look bad, that’s the time to really read wisely to get the full story,” Darling said. “Ask yourself, ‘Is this true or do I want this to be true?’ (It could be) some sensational thing that proves the people you don’t like are as bad as you think or the people you love are as good as you think.”
5. Avoid places that traffic in gossip or conspiracy.
6. Regularly read places that you trust and “shoot the story straight.”
7. Limit your news intake. We’re not wired to take in an overload of information and many stories don’t influence our lives in any way.
What are some of your thoughts on freedom of speech and media censorship?
Darling said it’s a complicated issue.
“On the one hand, you’re talking about private platforms, so you say, a private company like Facebook or Twitter has the right to monitor what’s on their platform,” Darling said. “On the other hand, these are increasingly the main channels where people get their information. It is concerning that there’s a lot of corporate pressure to crack down on what people call misinformation or unsafe. That’s a slippery definition depending on your worldview. I think all of us agree there has to be some kind of content moderation because of violence or sexual stuff that needs to be moderated. And yet, where’s that line?”
Darling said that gives private platforms a lot of power to decide which speech should spread and which should be shut down.
“There’s an illiberal approach that works against a society that offers a free exchange of ideas—this idea that I can’t bear to be with, interact with or live alongside people that disagree with me,” Darling added. “What gives me hope is there’s a lot of pushback to the quelling of speech.”
Darling has learned a lot about communication in the last several decades.
“Take your words seriously,” he said. “Steward your words well. There’s an insatiable desire and strong pull for us to have opinions on everything publicly. The fact that they’re not tweeting about it doesn’t mean they’re silent. This idea that you have to be as mad as I am at the same time as I am on the same medium as I’m on is crazy. We have to resist that.”