When the Content Police Came for the Babylon Bee
I was a very curious kid, always asking questions, always looking for answers. Throughout my childhood, as far back as my memory goes, I had a recurring fantasy: I wished I had a magical machine that I could carry around in my pocket that would instantly tell me the answer to any question. What a thrilling thought that was to me, to always know the truth, to never have to wonder. But as a kid the all-important question never occurred to me: who would get to program the machine with all the answers?
We’re living in the realization of my childhood dream. And very few people are asking that all-important question.
Our new reality of omnipresent phones, mandatory social media, Google and Facebook dominance, and shady surveillance capitalism has introduced a host of serious and far-reaching concerns. I believe the most pressing and grave danger is the centralized control of information by a handful of far-left tech moguls. My career as a Facebook-focused content creator—first my comics at Adam4d.com, which allowed me to quit my job, and then at The Babylon Bee, which I founded in March 2016 and sold a month ago—has led me to this conclusion.
Facebook has always been the main source of traffic to my websites. When I started out, I was just excited that so many people were reading my stuff—I wasn’t worried about the implications of it all. The first hint I got that something troubling was afoot was in November 2015, the first time Facebook pulled something I made off of their platform. I’m just a Bible-believing Christian saying normal Christian things, and this comic I posted was no different. It merely explained, in four panels, that it is not “homophobia” to say “I believe homosexuality is sinful because the Bible says it is.” There was clearly nothing malevolent about the image. It was illustrating a view held by millions in this country. But Facebook felt otherwise. They removed my comic, logged me off of their service on all of my devices, and informed me that in order to get back into my account, I’d have to read and agree to their “community standards.”
What choice did I have? This was less than a year after I had quit my job of nine years, with three small children at home, to create content full-time. We were struggling to get by. The majority of my traffic came through Facebook. And they said “agree or goodbye.”
Four months later, I launched The Babylon Bee, a Christian-themed satirical news site. It blew up almost overnight, mostly due to its content going viral on Facebook. It became something of a Christian cultural phenomenon and quickly replaced comics as my full-time job. Yet our heavy reliance on Facebook always troubled me—and then on March 1 of this year, on the two-year anniversary of the Bee’s launch, Facebook struck again. This time, its left-leaning “fact checker” friend, Snopes, decided to judge an absurd, over-the-top, nonsensical, satirical story of ours about CNN putting news in a washing machine to “spin” it before publication as FAKE NEWS. Facebook took that big red judgment and used it to redirect our readers to Snopes’ page saying that we were intentionally spreading false information. Think of it! The story was so obviously satire—you can’t put news in a dang washing machine!—but the Snopes police arrested us, and the Facebook judge informed me that if it happened again our very popular page would be snuffed out and demonetized. I thank God that when I tweeted out a screen shot of their threats, it went viral and people started yelling about it. Though Facebook would not reply to me earlier, once reporters started knocking on their door, they admitted their error and promised not to throttle our page’s reach.
I was relieved—we had won. My worries about being starved by Facebook or having Google pull my AdSense account because of Snopes dissipated. But then I became extremely disturbed, because it was glaringly obvious that the whole system was corrupt and we’d fed straight into it. What if we were a bit smaller and had lacked the clout to make a big stink on Twitter? What if the right people hadn’t shared my screenshots and multiple news outlets hadn’t picked up the story and ran with it? I’ll tell you what: they would have stuck by their guns, Snopes would have hit us again in short order, and Facebook would have put our page in a rear naked choke until we went to sleep. Google uses Snopes too, so maybe they would’ve ousted us from their search results and their monopolistic ad platform.
These two experiences helped bring about a disturbing epiphany for me. Here’s the short version: Facebook and Google are extremely liberal and they have massive control over what information reaches billions of people every day. Facebook the company is structured so Mark Zuckerberg—liberal Silicon Valley billionaire—has nearly complete control. Google the company is structured so Larry Page and Sergey Brin—liberal Silicon Valley billionaires—have nearly complete control. These are not co-ops. Facebook has hooked the world onto their service and now controls what information we see as we mindlessly scroll through our feeds all day. Google has a monopoly on search and controls what information we see when we ask any questions about anything. Almost everybody knows this, but it isn’t until somebody starts talking about it that people consider the implications.
We like to lull ourselves to sleep with the notion that Facebook and Google are controlled by some mindless, unbiased algorithm that would never do us wrong. But algorithms are programmed by people, and people have biases. Even if a legitimate attempt were made at impartiality, people cannot help but operate according to their biases. This is human nature. Our worldview informs our actions. Facebook’s and Google’s worldviews are very similar—they believe that Christianity and conservatism are not only untrue, but harmful. Homophobic. Bigoted. These same people create the programs that decide what news, opinions, content, and all other information everyone sees every day. The titanic scale these companies operate on has become a serious problem. BILLIONS of people use them as distributors of information. Take a moment and think about the long-term effects this could have on humanity at large over a long period of time. If you set out to influence masses of people toward a certain worldview, what more perfect system could you create?
And lest you left leaners reading this conclude that Big Tech’s biases are a good thing because you agree with them: how do you know who will be at the helm of all that power 10 years from now? Twenty? Fifty?
The majority of people get their news from Facebook. Because of this, publishers everywhere base everything they do around appeasing Facebook. Especially for any new venture launching into this environment—it’s Facebook or nothing. Facebook is where all the people are, so do whatever they say! Make sure to share status updates—no, links—no, images—no, videos—no, live videos—whatever they say! And don’t you dare do anything that might irk them or transgress their progressive values, or they might cut you off!
The majority of people go straight to Google whenever they need to find information about anything, so publishers bend over backwards to be as Google-friendly as possible. Jump through hoops every time they update their algo! Mobile-first! Implement AMP! Whatever they say—can’t lose that search traffic! And don’t you dare tick them off, or they’ll bury you in the search results and suspend your AdSense account—then you’re done!
Publishers have been worshiping at the altar of the Facebook and Google Information Duopoly for too long. Users have floated along as Facebook and Google have strategically implanted themselves as the gatekeepers of the world’s information. The internet has become centralized around these two tyrants, even as they’ve been demonstrably hostile to Christianity and conservatism. They run it unopposed.
The stakes couldn’t be higher: what’s an oil or telephone monopoly compared to a monopoly on information? The latter is exponentially more important. We’ve somehow allowed ourselves to get to a point where information, before we are allowed to see it, is first filtered through a couple of uber-progressive tech companies. As arbiters of truth, we’ve granted Facebook and Google the power to decide what’s real news or fake news, what’s virtuous or malicious—for the love of everything, they literally decide what’s true and what’s false!
It’s time to say “enough.” It’s time to push back.
The idea of separating completely from Facebook and Google is terrifying to many people, so if that’s too much for you, let me suggest another smaller step: visit websites directly, instead of when Facebook and Google tell you to. Are you old enough to remember when people used to do this? People used to actually type website domain names into their browser’s address bar to go to their favorite internet locations.
Has a website earned your trust? Visit that website directly and regularly, not just when Zuck decides to put them in your feed, not just when you enter a search and Google decides to spit them back out as a valid option. What sites have earned your trust? Go visit a few right now, and remember to visit them every day. That way you can push back against the centralization of the internet.
A small group of people who are hostile toward Christianity and conservatism are in control of those magical machines in our pockets that offer answers to all of our questions. We should be disturbed by privacy abuses. We should be concerned about the long-term effects of addictive phone and social media use. But the clear and present danger of the Google and Facebook Information Duopoly should be enough for us to make changes—right now.
Adam Ford is the founder and editor of the Christian Daily Reporter.