Proverbs 18:21 (NKJV) – “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit.”
Ephesians 4:29 (NKJV) – “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
Exodus 23:1 – “Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.”
By Milton J. and Pamela K. Orgeron
Before we jump right in to discussing online gossip (e.g., “Yellow Journalism”), let’s look at gossip: what is gossip? What does the Bible say about gossip? What are ways to stop or neutralize gossip?
First, let’s look at the definition of gossip. Google.com Dictionary defines gossip as “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports (emphasis added) about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” Obviously, “the tongue”, one of the body parts instrumental in having a conversation, is not the only means of receiving or passing on gossip. I would equate gossip in the media with “Yellow Journalism”. What is yellow journalism? According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,
Yellow journalism, or the yellow press, is a US term for a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering or sensationalism. By extension, the term yellow journalism is used today as a pejorative to decry any journalism that treats news in an unprofessional or unethical fashion.
Online Gossip in Today’s World: The Problem
We must face the truth of the matter. All of us have gossiped. “Show me a person who says he or she has never gossiped, and I’ll show you a liar. I don’t know anyone whom I haven’t heard gossip about someone at least once.” (Orgeron, 2016, p. 85) Even we have our moments gossiping. It’s easier to do in today’s world than ever before with the increased freedom available for people to share information through the Internet and other modern technological advances. Just about anyone can post anything on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and claim it’s news. Not to mention the lax standards of reporters and other media associates in today’s world. For example, in a news article we read several days ago a reporter used an unnamed source, which we consider very unprofessional. When Pam was a journalism student in college about 25-30 years ago, that was a big “no-no”. Any source she quoted as a reporter for the college newspaper had to be reliable and have credibility. Really, now for a source to want to remain unnamed in a legitimate news article would send us a lot of “red flags”. Either the information is false, or the source knows he shouldn’t be sharing the information would be our conclusion.
Distinguishing Noteworthy News & Gossip
How does one recognize gossip as opposed to news worthy information that needs to be shared. Everett (2017) shared six “key word reminders to help you differentiate between gossip and news.” (¶ 4) These words are: Relevance, Facts, Credibility, Intention, Feelings, Motivation. Pam would add a seventh word: Setting. To explain the significance of each word, we share questions that should be asked about the source, the receiver, or the information itself that should be asked to determine whether information is news or gossip:
- Relevance–is the information relevant to the person or situation at hand?
- Facts–is the information based on eye-witnessed accounts or just talk, perhaps even a rumor?
- Credibility–is the source of the information trustworthy? Is the recipient of the information trustworthy?
- Intention–what is the intent, or purpose of sharing the information? Is the purpose and/or information positive in nature, informative, and potentially useful to others?
- Feelings–do you feel comfortable hearing more about the topic? Do you sense that the sharer has the best interest of the subject in mind?
- Motivation–what is the motive for sharing the information?
- Setting–is the environment an appropriate place to share the information? Is the amount of information shared appropriate for the setting. For example, what one would share at a recovery group where confidentiality is expected would be a lot different from what one would discuss in public over lunch at the office.
What does the Bible say about gossip?
Obviously, the Bible is not silent about gossip. When Pam did a search for “gossip and lies” at King James Bible Online (2018) the search resulted in finding 22 verses applicable to the topic. BibleStudyTools Staff (2015) reported, “Scripture also uses the word slander which means making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation. Slander can destroy someone’s marriage, job, wealth, and family.” (¶ 2)
Key themes we found in the Scriptures about gossip are:
- God hates gossip. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
- Gossip is hurtful to self and others. (Proverbs 18:18)
- We should not participate in gossip. (Proverbs 20:19)
- We should avoid gossip. (2 Timothy 2:16)
- Gossip, like lying, makes us untrustworthy and makes others hesitate to confide in us. (Proverbs 16:28)
- On the Day of Judgement, we will be accountable for any gossip we’ve done.(Matthew 12:36)
Tips for Grounding Gossip
One obvious way to ground gossip is by not passing the information on to others. In The New ABC’s of Life for Children and Adults: Short stories, essays, and poems promoting Christian Concepts (ABC’s Ministries, 2016), Pam wrote a chapter entitled “Ground Gossip”. The following is excerpted from that chapter:
Before you share information with others, I recommend you consider both the source of the information and the recipient of the information. The first questions I like to ask myself before repeating information revolve around the source. Can I prove the validity of the information? How reliable is the source? Do I know the source as a gossip? If not, how reliable is my source’s source of information? If you have any doubt about the credibility of the information or the source’s credibility, (pp. 85-86)
then we recommend you not let the information leave your “tongue” or pass through your fingers. Additionally,
The credibility of the recipients to what you say is as important as the source of your information. Ask yourself: Are the people I’m about to share with trustworthy? Are they gossips? Or do they make mountains out of mole hills whenever they repeat something? (Orgeron, 2016, p. 86)
If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, then we caution against sharing the information.
Another final question I think anyone should consider before repeating information to another person is crucial. Even if the source is accurate; and, if the person I’m sharing with is trustworthy, would I want someone sharing this information about me? Sharing secrets and having personal conversations occurs among circles of friends. However, within several group discussions that I have witnessed, the conversations turned into “gossip sessions”, under the guise of sharing prayer requests. I have been in more than one prayer circle that ended up being a “gossip session” before any of the group members realized what was happening. (Orgeron, 2016, p. 87)
In general, how can we help ground gossip? Orgeron (2016) and Everett (2017) both advocate changing the subject and/or leaving the scene if one gets caught in the middle of a gossip session. Of course, there are times when neither of these options work. For example, when traveling in a car, where others won’t change the subject and you can’t leave the setting, we recommend internally shutting out the conversation and praying for the gossip participants and the individuals being gossiped about.
How can Internet gossip be curbed? We use the word curbed because we know it’s not realistic to think online gossip can be eliminated completely. Here are the tips we offer: Don’t visit or promote online “Yellow Journalism” or other gossip sites known to be unreliable. Also, be careful whom you accept friend requests from. If someone you accept a friend request from turns out to be a gossip, unfollow the person. If an online friend continues to personally send you gossip, confront the person kindly about the problem. If that doesn’t work, as a last resort, we would even consider unfriending the person.
BibleStudyTools Staff (2015). Bible verses about gossip. Retrieved January 16, 2018 from https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-gossip/
Everett, N. (2017). How to identify and neutralize gossip. Retrieved January 16, 2018 from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/nesrin-everett-/how-to-identify-and-neutralize-gossip_b_8409668.html
King James Bible Online (2018). Bible verses about gossip and lies. Retrieved January 16, 2018 from https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Bible-Verses-About-Gossip-And-Lies/
Orgeron (aka, Owens). (2016). The new ABC’s of life for children and adults: Short stories, essays, and poems promoting Christian Concepts. Nashville: ABC’s Ministries. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Pamela-K-Orgeron/e/B01AAUI6AK/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1516157437&sr=1-1-fkmr0