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One evening many years ago, a young man burst into the theatre of the Wayside Chapel where we were holding a very large public meeting.

He shouted: “A flying saucer has just landed in Rushcutters Bay Park and I’m really scared!”

His emotion was so genuine that maybe 100 of us got out of our seats and rushed to the park to see for ourselves.

Of course there was no UFO. While we were all wandering around, looking up to the heavens the police arrived. “What’s going on here?”, they asked. I don’t need to say that, in the light of this cold hard reality, we began to feel extremely foolish as we told them.

Delusions driving us mad

In that year LSD was just arriving in Australia and we later learned that the young man had taken some. His drug induced delusion was so catching and real we followed him without thinking.

I often think of that event and when I do it reminds me of the really healthy gift of scepticism. Scepticism allows us to take our time to examine the world as it really is.

With social media who needs LSD

Now, in this age of social media if you’re not careful scepticism can fly out the window, just as easily as it did with us that evening in Rushcutters Bay.

A few weeks ago in Florida, USA social media went viral. Someone said 10-foot tall aliens had landed near a place called Bayside Market. Twitter went ballistic, and the line between reality and fantasy rapidly blurred. Neither LSD nor any other drugs were required. An army of individuals fueled by conspiracy theories whipped themselves into an other-worldly state.

Even the police got caught up in it, finally issuing an embarrassing statement saying no 10-foot aliens existed.

Why do we fall for it?

Surely life is hard enough today without distractions like these? However, when it comes to choosing between distractions and the real thing, the great general public seem all too eager to take distractions by the dozen.

I originally entitled this blog: “Only in America”, but on thinking about it the issue goes deeper than just the USA. Like all those years ago in Sydney when we rushed to the park, society is probably doomed to fall for distraction over and over again. The difference now is that social media has turbo-charged the effect.

So once when a madness might affect just a few people, now the madness can affect a city, nation or even the whole world. That is something to really ponder!

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