It was a story guaranteed to inspire a blitz of mouse-clicks in social media in the days just after the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision proclaiming that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
"Gay man sues publishers over Bible verses," said a USA Today headline. A Michigan man was seeking $70 million from two Christian giants, claiming they -- by publishing editions of the Bible referring to homosexuality as sin -- caused "me or anyone who is a homosexual to endure verbal abuse, discrimination, episodes of hate, and physical violence ... including murder."
But there was a problem. The vast majority of those who recently read this story, commented on it or clicked "forward" and sent it to others failed to notice a crucial fact -- it was published in 2008. (Confession: I fell for it, because the version I received didn't contain the date in the actual text.)
In religious circles, the abuse of partial facts and anonymous anecdotes is as old as preachers searching for Saturday night inspiration. However, the Internet age has encouraged global distribution, making it easier for flawed or exaggerated information to go viral in microseconds.
Once these stories lodge in memory banks -- human or digital -- they live on and on. This problem is especially bad among many religious believers who tend to distrust mainstream sources of news.