Quakers, fake news and the search for truth

37. Are you honest and truthful in all you say and do?

39. Consider which of the ways to happiness offered by society are truly fulfilling and which are potentially corrupting and destructive (Advices & Queries)

Quakers are also known as “seekers of truth”. How do we maintain that fundamental commitment to truth in an age of widespread online misinformation and disinformation?

I attended an interesting seminar on this by the Frontline Club. The volume of misinformation (which pays no heed to the truth) and disinformation (deliberate falsehood) online is huge. It has serious effects: on the health of our society, on our individual mental health and on specific civic institutions which are routinely attacked and undermined.

It seems there are two main sources: state actors seeking to manipulate public opinion in their own and other countries; and self-interested individuals seeking to amplify their traffic and revenues, typically for online advertising, for products such as quack cures, or for specific causes and campaigns.

It helps to understand this; by understanding the source and motive we are better equipped to spot and block it.

We become the problem when we amplify misinformation or disinformation by sharing it to influence others or in case others are interested. So if we see something controversial, scandalous or sensational – whether about Obama, Dr Antony Fauci, some scandalous celebrity, coronavirus conspiracies, 5G networks – we should take the responsibility of fact-checking it and verifying the credentials and motives of the source before sharing it with anyone who might be taken in.

This is time-consuming to do well oneself from primary sources, but happily there are excellent fact-checking services such as Snopes in the US or FullFact in the UK. That level of fact checking is relatively easy and fun to do. The Wikipedia maintains a longer list of fact checking services here.

For all its faults the Wikipedia itself operates pretty effectively as a fact-checking service at scale, with legions of editors scanning vast swathes of topics and pouncing on and correcting huge amounts of  wrong information.

If we’re not prepared or lack the skills to fact check it ourselves we might just block or unfollow the source (whether Facebook, Twitter or an unreliable email list). Facebook has a huge amount to answer for in this; its model of centralised for-profit surveillance capitalism is not the Internet we want.

The warning signs for fake online news include sensational claims, unverified sources, and references to individuals who stand to gain personally – financially or otherwise – from more attention. The remedies include: ignore, block, fact check, do not share, unsubscribe, unfollow.

Quakerism was formed in an earlier era of unprecedented misinformation and disinformation, with often unreliable printed pamphlets widely available. Quaker testimony and practice and the distilled wisdom on which we can draw provide a very sound basis for combatting fake news.

We need to stay focussed on the still small voice of calm.

How to spot fake news infographic by Intl Fedn of Library Associations and Institutions (via Wikipedia article Fake News on the Internet

UPDATE: Some misinformation scams can include dangerous links (including phishing scams and malware). This article lists several services that let you safely check whether a link is known to be dangerous. It’s much safer than clicking the link yourself to see what happens.



  1. Wren Sidhe comments:

    > Thank you for this piece on fact checking.

    I wonder if social media posting is antithetical to Quaker ways. I took me a long time to realise that just because the phone was ringing that didn’t mean I had to answer it. It took two falls down the stairs for me to make that decision and it’s a liberation.

    We are all a bit like Pavlov’s dogs, programmed to respond to the ping from WhatsApp or Facebook and then to engage very quickly without discernment . I’ve been guilty of passing on stuff without factchecking and that is how truth gets devalued. If we truly are seekers of Truth we need to curb our social media habits and spend time discerning before posting.

    If, as with ministry we asked ourselves, if this my ego speaking or is it really a message from god or whatever you call it/them? Does my contribution improve the silence?

    I have decided to leave Facebook and am in two minds about our WhatsApp group. The medium is geared towards thoughtlessness and a lack of discernment by demanding an instant response.

    If we thought of our posts as ministry we might do it differently.


  2. Quakers have an honorable history of supporting human rights in the face of corruption in governments. When I started attending Meeting (c.1963 in Sutton), I read the biography then of John Woolman, who refused to wear clothing which had been dyed, and lived a very austere life of good deeds, of which our current prime misnister would have no understanding.
    But in corrupt times such as our present Age, the Establishment holds most of the keys to public truth, and it is easy for them to deceive people, as we have seen in our recent politics in Britain. Big Pharmaceutical companies have a main purpose of producing new drugs, which can be patented to make them a lot of money, and have the power to suppress merchants of natural vitamins and herbs through their links with governments. The next 3 paragraphs show an instance of this corruption, taken from Craig Murray’s recent blog about the Cummings trip to Barnard Castle.

    In 2012 GlaxoSmithKline were fined $3 billion for fraud, overcharging and making false claims about medicines in the USA. In 2016, GlaxoSmithKline were fined £37.6 million in the UK for bribing companies not to produce generic copies of their out of patent drugs, thus overcharging the NHS.

    Despite the fines, these frauds were still massively profitable for GlaxoSmithKline. A perfunctory search on the company brings up similar frauds and fines it perpetrated in South Africa and India. All this within the last decade. I cannot find any information that anyone was jailed, or even sacked, for these criminal activities. It is absolutely astonishing that such an habitually criminal enterprise carries on serenely in the UK. And what is particularly interesting today is that it carries on its crooked activity from its massive manufacturing and research base in Barnard Castle, County Durham.

    On 12 April Dominic Cummings was seen in Castle Barnard during lock-down. Two days later, GlaxoSmithKline of Barnard Castle signed an agreement to develop and manufacture a Covid-19 vaccine with Sanofi of France.

    For more news of corruption in medical matters, it should be known that the World Health Organisation has been under the thumb of the International Atomic Energy Agency since 1959, and not allowed to publish any material on radiation dangers without the approval of the IAEA. These are both United Nations departments. Details of this scandalous arrangement can be seen on the web-sites of the Low Level Radiation Campaign, at http://www.LLRC.org, and of the IndependentWHO, which has been picketing the WHO HQ in Geneva for ten years.

    On a more psychological level, the big conflict in science is between the godless materialists, and the spiritual people. Materialism persists, despite the efforts of Albert Einstein over a hundred years ago, proving that what appears as solid matter is really only a form of energy. And most mainstream scientists still cannot accept the validity of psychic energy, – still possessed by animals, which breaks the ‘laws’ of material science.

    Plenty of research into the psychic realm has been done in the past 130 years, but it is not fashionable yet among most scientists, with exception of such as Dr Rupert Sheldrake. And plenty of instances of psychic healing can be seen in the books of the remarkable healer, the late Betty Shine.


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