Advertisements and Election Meddling

Last November, Mark Zuckerberg famously dismissed accusations that Facebook affected the results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election by allowing “fake news” on the platform in a lengthy, post-election essay.

A brief portion below (emphasis my own):

 “After the election, many people are asking whether fake news contributed to the result, and what our responsibility is to prevent fake news from spreading. These are very important questions and I care deeply about getting them right. I want to do my best to explain what we know here.

Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.

I wrote about this topic at length in my previous post, Facebook and Post-Truth.

Things have changed since November.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google will be appearing before Congress to testify on Russian interference in the election, revealing over 3000 Russian-paid political ads promoting ideologies across the spectrum.

Trump tweeted that Facebook has always had an anti-Trump bias:

(Though, he did not seem to mind this “bias” when he explicitly stated Facebook helped him win. *shrugs*)

Zuckerberg, countering Trump’s claim of bias, wrote another personal essay, stating his idealistic vision of the Facebook community:

Every day I work to bring people together and build a community for everyone. We hope to give all people a voice and create a platform for all ideas.

Trump says Facebook is against him. Liberals say we helped Trump. Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don’t like. That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like.

I appreciate Zuckerberg’s insistance on maintaining Facebook’s universal appeal, but I question the humanity-focused motivations he desperately wishes to put forth. The world’s largest social media platform certainly has an interest in maintaining as many eye-balls as possible. The simple formula: more users + targeted ads = profit.

Facebook’s advertising algorithm has recently come under intense scrutiny, and for good reason. Independent news site ProPublica discovered hateful phrases like “Jew-hater” or “how to burn Jews” were easily promoted to almost 2,300 people.  Facebook-owned photo and video sharing app, Instagram, ran a Facebook ad featuring the phrase “I will rape you” after a user uploaded a screenshot of the harassing comment.

Clearly, advertising algorithms need some work.

But the problem isn’t with their function; their sole purpose is to put content in front of people who will connect to it. Facebook’s entire business model focuses on matching content with their users’ interests, almost too accurately, in ProPublica’s study.

I, personally, prefer to view headlines and ads that show me information I am already interested in. I am also aware of how quickly that innocent “preference” becomes an ideological bubble, a bubble in which advertisers can show increasingly specialized content in hopes I might “click here.”

Social networks do not have any real financial interest in serving up balanced ideological ads or articles. We pay for “free” services like Google and Facebook with our eyeballs and our clicks. Unless one intentionally seek out websites and people who hold different opinions than their own, what they see on their Newsfeed is not the full picture. The algorithms make sure of it.

Note: The night before I finished composing this piece, Mark Zuckerberg posted a brief apology to mark the final day of the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur. Full quote below:



Facebook and Post-Truth

A few weeks ago, Donald J. Trump won the general presidential election here in the U.S.

According to BuzzFeed News, of the 20 most popular election stories between August and Election Day, fake news sites boasted over a million more engagements than real news sites on behemoth social media platform Facebook.

If any of you are like me, you probably saw and even clicked one or two such headlines in an effort to investigate. But let this truth sink in for a moment: more fake news was viewed before the election than factual news on Facebook.

Some are going so far as to claim that Facebook is at least partly to blame.

Enough criticism appeared online that Mark Zuckerberg himself shared his thoughts on the subject.

He provided a few metrics and talked about the problem of hoax content and Facebook’s mission to provide users with meaningful content. Of those metrics, the most important numbers are these: 2 million, “billions,” and >=99%.

2 million: the approximated number of people Facebook helped register to vote. That’s a lot of votes. If a little colorful banner helped a few folks to get out and vote, then more power to them all.

“Billions”: refers generally to the number of posts created and shared by Facebook users regarding the election. That’s a lot of posts.

>=99%: the percentage of posts on Facebook which can be considered accurate and authentic.

While this percentage doesn’t refer to specifically election-focused material, 1% of “billions” (3 billion, arbitrarily chosen for this example) is thirty million. That is a lot of fake posts.

In a recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Nilay Patel (Editor-in-chief of The Verge) and veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg discussed this very issue. Patel very correctly noted that if any other major media company like Cox, Comcast or even The Verge admitted to <=1% of all stories being fake, these companies would almost immediately lose the trust and business of their audiences. (You can find the episode I refer to here. Their discussion starts at the 43:04 mark.)

Yet Facebook, since it does not claim to be a media company (despite a study showing that 62% of American adults get news from social media), continues to enjoy massive engagement.

I took to Facebook and Twitter to ask my friends and followers what they thought about whether the big social media sites have a responsibility to ensure accurate information and authentic sources.

On both platforms, the answer was a resounding “No.”

Many commenters on Facebook shared their opinion that it is the reader’s responsibility to think critically about what headlines they’re clicking and what sources their news comes from.

Technically, those commenters were correct. Facebook and Twitter are private companies with their own terms and conditions. They have no responsibility to police posts which do not violate their rules.

Standford University recently completed a study which examined middle school to college students’ ability to accurately assess the authenticity of a news source. Their results? “In every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation.” (Summary of the study here.) I find this to be shocking, yet believable.

With Stanford’s study in mind, it should not be surprising that Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 Word of the Year is ‘Post-truth.’

Their definition:

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective  facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals  to emotion and personal belief.

It seems to me that we ought to return to demanding more objective fact-based news from our friends and news sources. I refuse to take this post-truth society lying down. I have taken to commenting on posts I know to be objectively false after some fact-checking and I expect my friends and family to do the same on my own posts.

The internet is a wonderful and powerful place. Let’s utilize our access to the world’s information and make our social media feeds a more truthful mode of connection.


​When Jesus said “Seek and ye shall find” I think he neglected to add “more questions.” 

Recently, my girlfriend and I have been discussing a lot of the big questions surrounding the true nature of the Christian deity. Questions like “can one refer to God as ‘Mother'” or “how does Jesus exclusive reference to God as father affect our relationship to him?” Or “why is the feminine marginalized in the language and understanding of God?” 

Like many, I prefer answers over questions. I struggle to find peace where only unanswerable questions linger and truth hides unseen. She finds this space not only peaceful, but lovely. To surrender one’s ideas and open the mind to ever changing questions is the epitome of religion.

I just don’t see it that way right now.

I do not equate opening the mind with surrender. “Surrender” to me is responding with submission when presented with the truth and will of God. Maybe I’m just short-sighted. It seems to me that the only respected, “intellectual,” opinion is one of constant reflection, introspection, and “questioning.” Absolute truth cannot be found, most truths are relative, how a person feels about their reality triumphs over most everything because there isn’t a single part of the human experience that isn’t a social construct deserving of break down.

Just writing that is exhausting.

Where is the peace in that? Unraveling all knowledge and understanding into what? Nothing? Everything? Can any abstract question ever be answered?

I desire the truth about God, but maybe I desire the impossible, infinite, and eternal. If I’ll never know until I meet God face to face, then why search now?

I’m in the middle of writing a play about purgatory. The main character is a charismatic, controlling dick. A side character named Jim has been in purgatory so long, he’s given up believing in the existence of God, heaven, or hell. Purgatory is just a never-ending limbo from which none can escape. All his questions went unanswered. I think he’s my nightmare. The mystery of the Divine both beckons and deters. He didn’t have the endurance or humility to fully give himself over to the unanswerable.

I know I will never become like Jim. I would very likely have ended my own life far before I turned into a cynical, uncaring soul with nothing but contempt for those foolish enough to continue believing. The reality of purgatory is hell to the person incapable of transformation.

But that transformation is a constant work. In my useless opinion, the final form is not the aging philosopher, with bags under their eyes and many apprentices at their feet.


My girlfriend struggles to relate to an exclusively male deity whose prophets and messengers who wrote of the required silence of women and their place as the vessels of original sin. I am not unsympathetic. Why Paul wrote about the erasing of distinction before turning around and not only making great distinctions but also removing the voice of 50% of humanity I will never know. 

Did Paul write anything false? Are women who submit to his words oppressed, obedient, or enlightened? Is there a difference? What does it mean for Scripture to be “inspired?”

So. Many. Questions.

No answers. So instead, the only solution is to continue holding the Bible as the main holy text of Christianity, ignore Paul’s sexism, and continue endlessly asking questions until I’m red in the face. 
I’m seeking, but where’s the “finding.” 

Is there such a thing as intellectual peace? Or is that simply complacency by another name? 

I don’t know.  

In the meantime, I’m gonna go break something. 

P.S. What’s the point of even writing this out? 

P.S.S. I composed this piece in one sitting on Oct. 8th, 2016. I had a rather terrible day. A lot of things were on my mind, so I wrote some of them out. I realize some of these questions pertain to incredibly important spiritual issues, so please don’t misunderstand: I do not disbelieve in or doubt Scripture, the existence of God/Jesus Christ/Holy Spirit, or the power and presence of God in my life. I simply wrestle with how my experiences, the text, and the experiences of others intersect in this place called spirituality.

LST Oigawa Japan 2015: Week 5

The second-to-last week of a multi-week trip always begins the “running out of time” mindset in me. My sense of urgency to see more sites/do more things/bike farther/run faster/explain more eloquently/go deeper with conversations increases exponentially until I’m finally actually leaving.

God on the other hand, chose to present Himself in some of the biggest ways I’ve seen so far during that same week. A healthy reminder of my powerlessness and shortsightedness in comparison with His infinite knowledge.

In reality, as far as reading sessions go, last week was relatively light for me, which resulted in more prayer time. On Saturday, one of my biggest prayers was answered in a huge way.

I believe I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I’m reading Genesis with one of my readers, and while I have loved every minute with her, I was struggling to make Jesus the Christ a relevant conversation topic when the text is explaining the generations of Adam and Noah’s singular righteousness in the face of a planet gone wild.

The flood had finally ended, and Noah’s first act on his return to solid, dry ground, was to give a burnt offering to God as thanks for the heads up and being allowed to survive the flood with his family and animals. She asked about the offering, how it worked, what it was, etc. I explained, and she followed up by asking if we still did this today in Christianity.

God gave me a 10-foot tall, brightly lit door with the words “Enter Here for Jesus Talk.” The rest of the session included my  attempt to summarize who Jesus was, his death as the ultimate sacrifice and atonement, his resurrection as God’s final victory over death and sin, his humanity and deity, and his place as the foretold seed of the woman who would crush the head of the seed of the serpent. It was the most amazing session. God not only gave me the opportunity to share Jesus, but also the words. I won’t ever forget it.

After a weekend of travel and sightseeing (Tokyo Disney Sea was pretty cool), I face the sixth, and final week of the trip. I had my first “last session” this morning, and the bittersweetness is already setting in. As I face forward with prayerful confidence, I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me and my team as we make our final arguments about the reality and truth of Christ in our lives. I know God will bless our efforts, as He has done the whole time we’ve been here.

Please keep us in your prayers that we will finish strong and make it home safely when we leave this coming Sunday, June 28th. I will be preaching in the morning and flying internationally in the evening.

Zach’s blog here.

God is amazing.

In Christ,


LST Oigawa Japan 2015: Week 4

I started running the first Saturday of our trip. I’ve basically kept to a tight schedule of going for a run every other day since. The main benefit is healthiness, or something along those lines. A secondary result is the revelation that I hate running.

Paul’s analogy of the Christian life as running a race has never made so much sense.

The passage in question:

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” 1 Cor. 9:25-26

As I’ve run, my stamina has increased, allowing me to run harder, farther, each time I hit the streets. I get better the more I actually get out there and do it. Faith is the same way.

My trip has challenged me in unexpected ways, and shown me so much about myself, my world, and my God. The more I get out there and talk to someone about Jesus, the more I discuss truth and theology, the more I pray for humility, the more I try to serve my team and our readers without thought of gain, the stronger my faith becomes.

I want to physically run in such a way as to win a race (ha!), but even more so I want to spiritually run, that I might reach the goal and make my body my slave that I might not be disqualified when I’m sharing truth with people who need it. Paul was far more eloquent than I will ever be.

I still hate running, but I definitely have grown to appreciate it both as physical exercise, and an example of faith in motion. This trip is winding down at a rate that makes me slightly uncomfortable, but one of the lessons I don’t want to lose is literally seeing my faith in motion. I don’t want to be a lazy slob, and I don’t want my faith to reflect that either.

I’m a little late this week, but Zach posted his on time. Read it here!

Keep praying for me, my team, and our readers. We all need it.

In Christ,


LST Oigawa Japan 2015: Week 3

You see the title of this blog? Week 3. WEEK 3. We’re officially halfway through with our trip, and I sense God has even more in store for us than we’ve seen thus far.

I keep talking about the generosity of our friends here, but only because they keep surprising me with selfless acts and grace. Maybe God is trying to show me a new way to live. I know I definitely get caught up in the whole race for money/material possessions if I’m not careful.


The people we’ve been given the opportunity to love are some of the most beautiful people I know, both inside and out. I don’t want to let myself take a free pass on missing what God is trying to teach me through my time here with them.

Last week had a definitive theme; it came from Philippians 2. Paul writes:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but with humility of mind regard others as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Phil. 2: 3-4 (NASB)

Every reader we’ve had treats us like Paul describes. Most of them aren’t followers of Christ. Anyone who’s talked to me for more than five minutes knows that I struggle with “humility of mind.” It has been a constant point of conflict between me and God for most of my life, because I really like believing that I’m pretty awesome. It’s comfortable. It doesn’t seem to harm too many people, so why not? Right?

The point is, God is showcasing what humility looks like, and these people are so happy. I want what they’re having, and it’s all coming from this starting point of humility. It’s the only way to live.

I don’t want to miss that. I want to embrace it and live it out as much as I’m witnessing it being lived out by people I’ve known for less than a month.

Pray this week that I’ll stick to the journey I see God placing me on. Pray that I let Him guide me no matter the cost. Pray that my team can embrace humility, and receive an intimacy that only God can build.

As always, Zach’s post can be found here.

In Christ,


LST Oigawa Japan 2015: Week 2

The unity of humanity is incredible to me. We like to get caught up in our factions/divisions/races/genders/[Enter groupthink candidate here], but in the end, there’s an inherent oneness to us all, if we only stop being selfish for long enough.

Today, Zach, Bailey, and I spent some time with a wonderful Japanese woman who took us to see two castles, an old military hall, and some touristy shops before treating us to sushi. We woke up to her knocking on our door, asking if we wanted to join her on the mostly spontaneous trip.

I was acutely aware of the language gap both between her and myself, and between the vast amounts of history and culture I was observing. During our descent from the second tower, I found myself thinking about unity.

To my right, there was a hand-painted (at least, I think) sign completely in one of the complicated (to my eyes) scripts of Japan. As I studied it, not a single stroke or character held any literal significance for me, but I felt something. This may sound weird, but I could feel my connection to the language, and to the history of the land simply because of my humanity. It was an wonderfully peaceful and happy moment.

As I considered the last week, I began to notice a trend with the unity thing. The people I’ve been reading and falling in love with are as human as me; we’re all striving for connection. Our differences are second to the ways in which we are the same. My conversations reflected this truth. Whether we’re discussing the minute details of what this word means versus that word, how the Jesus I call Savior could have possibly been both fully man and fully God, or why iced coffee is preferable to hot coffee. While unbelievable busy, this week has brought me a deep sense of peace and gratitude.

Our ministry has continued to grow, and we are praying God will continue to bring us more people to love. The first of many parties was a huge success, in spite of how unprepared we felt. I know God will continue to show up and move both in the hearts of our readers, and of our team.

Zach also posted an update for his blog, to check it out here!

Please keep us and our mission in your prayers. We wouldn’t be here without the grace of God, and He knows we need more of it every single day.

In Christ,