And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances,[a] but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius[b] and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.
Jesus was no stranger to controversy. People in his day were not so very different from people today. It’s not particularly surprising that his opponents tried to get the government to do their dirty work. In fact, modern liberal “theologians” maintain that Jesus was actually executed by the Romans as an insurrectionist, and not in accordance with God’s plan as the atoning sacrifice for sin.
However, Jesus did not get embroiled in earthly debates. You see, who governs earthly kingdoms is of little consequence in God’s eternal story. Debates about laws and taxes and such will not determine your eternal destiny, and rarely result in God’s glory being magnified. So when asked to take a stand on a hot-button political topic in Jewish society, Jesus articulated a crucial, eternal truth: those who control earthly kingdoms have the right to make the rules of those kingdoms. But God, who controls the eternal, spiritual kingdom, makes the rules of that kingdom. Both deserve their due, and must be served.
This post isn’t about politics and such, although there is certainly much in the current political landscape that deserves comment. In fact, I have purposely avoided political issues in this blog; not because there isn’t much that I could say, but more because in the limited opportunities I do have to speak, I prefer to focus attention on my God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Rather, this post serves as explanation about my decision to leave Facebook. The short version, for those who don’t want to read on, is that I am no longer willing to subject myself to Facebook’s one-sided editorial policy, that emphasizes the liberal echo-chamber and silences dissenting views. I don’t begrudge Facebook their right to do with their platform as they wish; I just exercise my freedom not to participate. This in no way speaks judgement on those who choose to continue; this is my personal decision and it is right for me. For those who choose to continue the fight, you have my support and encouragement.
The Gory Details
It is a simple fact that the Facebook “feed” is a never-ending firehose of content. Just trying to keep up with your family and friends is an impossible task. Even if you were to maintain a continual presence, reading every story as it appeared, you would miss some. So, when a casual user opens Facebook a couple of times a day, what stories do they see?
We’ll Decide What You See
Facebook has sophisticated algorithms that deliver customized content to you based on a number of factors. They consider your past history, who your friends are, and other things. If you respond to a particular friend’s post, you are more likely to see posts from that friend. They use your Google history (ever notice that you search for something and moments later see an ad for it on your Facebook feed?). They also monitor pictures posted by your contacts, running image recognition algorithms and helpfully offer to tag you in the pictures in which you appear.
All of this curation of content is designed to help you sift through the vast ocean of data and focus on the posts you are most interested in. For the most part, it provides a satisfactory experience.
However, in the 2016 presidential campaign, Facebook became a nexus for dire warnings about “fake news”, particularly when it came to light that Russian agents purchased ads targeting particular demographics, posting stories with little or questionable support. Since that time, society has grappled with the reality that the internet is an unmoderated forum, where anyone can publish anything.
In 2019, Tristan Harris testified before Congress. In his testimony, he asserted that platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are driven to get “market share” and the market is your attention. Their research and empirical data show that polarization and extremism are the fastest way to keep a user engaged. In his words, these platforms are “outrage amplifiers” that move users away from calm and towards “crazy town”.
Illusion of Intimacy
To this point, I hope nothing I’ve said is surprising or controversial to you. Hopefully you are just nodding your head, as all of this matches your experience. So why, you may be wondering, am I now deciding to jump ship? I mean, Facebook is a marvelous way of re-connecting with people from your past. Certainly, I have been able to “connect” with folks from high school and college who were important to me. I likely would never have made contact with them if not for the pervasive reach of Facebook.
Unfortunately, for the most part these contacts are unsatisfactory. Some people I care deeply about, people who were a major part of my life in the past, just don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to connect with me on the deeper level that I crave. I long to sit down over dinner, one-on-one and get to know who they are now, how their lives have changed, and where they are going. That doesn’t happen on social media.
Others are consumed by posting hate-mongering click-bait. It is painful to endure the constant onslaught of vitriol. While I admit that I’m a bit more tolerant of the posts that more closely align with my positions, I’m just not a fan of incitement, unless it is to “[incite] one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
With some people, I have the illusion of contact. I see as you post pictures of your family, advertise your business, give your inspirational sayings. These don’t offend me, but neither do they provide the necessary grist of shared experiences that produce real relationship.
Fake News (aka, Points of View We Don’t Agree With)
What has pushed me over the edge is Facebook’s decision to protect the sheeples from misleading information, and to become the sole arbiter of what is and is not true. The problem with Facebook’s “fact checking” is that no one is fact-checking the fact checkers. What ostensibly should be an objective and straight-forward process is inherently flawed by the biases and brokenness that humans bring to the equation.
A friend posted this article, describing the Facebook fact check of the Epoch Times film on Coronavirus. Regardless of the factuality of the film (and frankly, I don’t much care how or where Coronavirus stared), the flaws in the fact check are disturbing.
Recently, I shared a video from PragerU. In it, Michael Knowles and Ben Shapiro do a “book club” review of the Federalist Papers. In the likely case that your high school education did not include reading this book, it is a collection of essays written by the authors of the U.S. Constitution explaining why the Constitution is what is it, and what they were hoping to achieve (and prevent) by instituting this form of government. My posts have a certain rhythm to them; a certain number of people can be expected to react and comment within a day or so. This post was strangely silent. I’ve had similar posts over the years (typically of my blog), and I just attribute it to Facebook’s ranking algorithm de-prioritizing dissenting points of view.
Within a day or so, I received an e-mail from PragerU declaring that Facebook had labelled them as a “Fake News” site. If you are not familiar with PragerU, they produce high-quality videos from a number of voices, many of them leading conservatives, but also some from the left. I don’t agree with everything they say; Dennis Prager and I might disagree on more than we agree upon, but they are an important counterpoint to the so-called “Mainstream Media”. The upshot of the e-mail was a fundraising plea, so I filed it away, but the timing, coincident with my “dark” post was curious.
I did some research to try to validate the claim. I’ve been down all sorts of rabbit holes, only to come out the other side with more questions than answers. Without boring you with my results, I’ll just say that there is no moral high ground in the search for unbiased reporting. The fact is that Facebook, YouTube, and Google have, at various points in time (whether just now, or not) restricted access to conservative voices because they were conservative voices.
Censoring the Censor
Therein lies the rub. These platforms, ubiquitous and pervasive though they be, have no obligation to the consumer. I don’t frequent sites like Huffington Post or Breitbart because their stories are more likely to be supporting or defending their bias than giving me useful information to think about. I’m more likely to be interested in a Munk debate, where both sides have the opportunity to make their case. But if Facebook is going to take the choice away from me and only present points of view that agree with their world view, then it’s not a place where I need to spend my time.
So, Mr. Zuckerberg, it’s your platform, and you are free to prioritize, curate, and censor content as you see fit. I leave you to it. I just won’t be submitting my eyeballs to your kingdom anymore. Oh sure, I’ll miss out on a few things, like our neighborhood private group, incidental information from incidental contacts, and occasional outrage flares. And while I don’t think I was overly swayed by your thought-experiment of driving people towards “crazy town”, the fact that too many of the people I care about have been demands that I remove the imprimatur of tacit approval given by my participation.
Stay In Touch
If you would like to stay in contact with me, and for some reason you don’t have my contact information, leave a comment with a valid e-mail and I’ll reach out to you. If, for some strange reason you would like to keep reading my blog, be sure to subscribe (see the box to the right).
If you have a good social media platform that is an alternative to Facebook, let me know. There aren’t many. An effective monopoly is difficult to beat. For now, I’m exploring Diaspora, a distributed network of networks. You can find me at https://bobspora.com/i/c15a046715ee. Maybe. I don’t see much need for social media.
In the meantime, I will be rendering unto God the things that are God’s.