An availability cascade is a phenomenon that occurs when a piece of information is repeated so frequently that it becomes accepted as true, even if it is not. This can happen when the information is shared through social media, news outlets, or other forms of communication. In Biblical times they did not have as much of this since printing had not yet been developed. Let alone our other modern forms of communication.
Availability cascades can have serious consequences, as they can lead to the spread of misinformation and the erosion of trust in institutions. They can also lead to collective action, as people may feel motivated to take a stand or advocate for a particular cause based on false or misleading information. We see a lot of that today.
But some of this did occur in Biblical times without modern media. Most notably when it came to the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
John 18:37“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 38“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” 40They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.
There are several factors that contribute to the formation of an availability cascade. One is the repetition of the information, as people are more likely to remember and believe something if they hear it multiple times. Another is the source of the information, as people are more likely to believe something if it comes from a source that the person trusts.
In the case of Jesus, it was the religious leaders (trust) of the day who spread falsehoods about Him. In Mark 15:11 we are told the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead (repetition).
Additionally, availability cascades can be fueled by people’s emotions and biases. If the information confirms their preexisting beliefs or resonates with their values, they may be more likely to accept it as true.
Barabbas was a folk hero of sorts. It was not difficult for the religious leaders to instigate the crowd to cry out for Barabbas. The people had been under the foot of the Roman occupation and were sick of it. It was a perfect storm of emotions, biases, and acceptance. Now we know it had to be this way but it is interesting to see how things have not changed.
To prevent the spread of availability cascades, it is important to fact-check information before sharing it and to be aware of the sources of the information we consume. It is also important to be open to new perspectives and to consider multiple sources of information before making a decision.
In modern society, we hear many voices (repetition) telling us the Bible is not true. These voices are often those we would normally trust. Parents, teachers, the media, and the list goes on and on. All these things lead us into becoming a more Godless society. After all, if we cannot trust God through the Bible we are only left to trust ourselves.
In today’s age of social media and instant communication, it is easier than ever for information to be shared and spread quickly. People often share beliefs as though they are facts. However, it is up to each of us to be responsible consumers of information and to think critically about the sources and veracity of the information we come across. That includes not just politics and other news. It includes the veracity of our faith in God’s Word to man.