A Story of Socrates (and How He Dealt With Fake News)

Socrates was one of the greatest Western philosophers. (Image:  Pixabay /  CC0 1.0)
Socrates was one of the greatest Western philosophers. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

In this age of deception, a story about Socrates remains relevant. The famous Greek philosopher teaches us how to deal with rumors — in other words, fake news.

It began with Socrates taking his usual strolls to the gym, when suddenly, one of his disciples ran up to him, and in an eager voice, called out to him: “Master, I’ve just heard something about your friend, Diogenes, and I wish to tell you about this urgently.”

Socrates kept on walking; he did not look at his student but merely replied: “The thing that you wish to tell me, is it the truth? Have you verified its facts?” To which the student replied in the negative. They kept on moving ahead, but the student couldn’t contain his excitement and said: “But you’ve got to hear this out, Master. You will love it.”

Socrates did not reply immediately, and then said: “Okay, but is this news good? Does it do any good once you tell me?” The student again replied: “No.”

After a while, he replied: “But master, I really need to tell you this.”

Athens was a place of learning and enlightenment. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Athens was a place of learning and enlightenment. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Socrates stopped walking, and looked at the student, and said: “Alright, you may tell me this urgent news, but before that, tell me if it’s useful. Is there anything of value that could increase my or your quality of life? Is it beneficial?”

When the student hung his head down in dejection, Socrates said: “If the news you bring me does not have the truth, is not good or useful to you, me, or the society, then, why bother telling it at all?”

Unsubstantiated news or rumor is a waste of time. When you spread it among those in your circle, you are wasting their time as well. It’s even more dangerous when the rumor sounds good. Then, it has the chance of spreading and encourages further gossip.

Time is not the only victim of rumors. What about the reputation of the subject of the rumor? What about your reputation as a source of truthful information when you are a part of spreading this hearsay?

What if, according to the rumor, someone took an action that turned destructive, and caused injuries to fellow men and repercussions to society? What if someone who trusted you took the rumor as the truth and formed an opinion that they carried with them all through their lives?

Spreading rumors or fake news has severe consequences. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Spreading rumors or fake news has severe consequences. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

A wise man once said that when you tell a lie, it’s like creating something that was, till then, non-existent in the universe. An interesting take. The Triple Filter Test of Socrates is a good criterion for consideration when creating something — does it spread truth and goodness, and will it be useful for someone who comes into contact with it?

So what should you do when you come into contact with fake news? First, stop listening. You don’t need that information coursing through your system. Secondly, never spread it. If everyone does it, that would effectively “kill” this rumor before it turns into something worse — an idea.

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