Twitter and the rumour mill

Last December I forwarded a story via Twitter from a spoof news website. The story claimed that a particular infant school was putting on an atheist nativity play. Despite my note in the original tweet that this was a spoof story – the little blue bird flew away with it and scattered outrage wherever it went. Within an hour or two there were angry tweets coming in and the story was posting on Facebook. Social media makes it so easy not only to get hold of the wrong end of the stick – but the wrong stick entirely. Not only that – but once the little blue bird has it in his beak, he may fly off with it anywhere.

Yesterday I fell prey to exactly the same thing myself. Early yesterday morning I saw tweeted headlines that prayer was being banned on the streets of Paris. By the time I reached a lunchtime prayer meeting I was saying to others that I was so outraged I felt like gathering the Twitterati for a quick Eurostar prayer trip to Paris. One person pointed out, with a twinkle in his eye, that I only wanted to do it because I thought that it was outlawed! Maybe he had a point.

This morning, though, with a little more time and a little less haste, I have read the story properly. The nub of the story is this: Claude Gueant, of the French Interior Ministry, has said that : ‘praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism’.  The subtext to this is that Muslims participating in Friday prayers in the French capital will be required to pray indoors in a mosque or other enclosed space, rather than spilling out onto the street.

This is still a story about secularism squashing the expression of religious faith.  It is still a story about the infringement of individual civil liberties. It is very definitely a story which deserves airing. However, it is not the story I thought it was and I stand (sit) corrected.

The moral of the story is this: before you allow the little blue bird to ruffle your feathers too much – read the story first!