Facebook bans court evangelical Charlie Kirk’s marketing firm for presiding over a “troll farm”

Readers of this blog will be familiar with Charlie Kirk, the Trump wonder boy who co-founded Liberty University’s Falkirk Center and is the president of an organization he co-founded called Turning Point USA.

The self-proclaimed evangelical Christian is known for tweets like this:

It now seems like Kirk and his gang have created fake pro-Trump accounts on Facebook.

Here is The Washington Post:

Facebook said Thursday that it will permanently ban from its platform an Arizona-based marketing firm running what experts described as a domestic “troll farm” following an investigation of the deceptive behavior prompted by a Washington Post article last month.

The firm, Rally Forge, was “working on behalf” of Turning Point Action, an affiliate of Turning Point USA, the prominent conservative youth organization based in Phoenix, Facebook concluded. The inquiry led to the removal of 200 accounts and 55 pages on Facebook, as well as 76 Instagram accounts — many of them operated by teenagers in the Phoenix area.

The fake accounts, some with either cartoonlike Bitmoji profiles or images generated by artificial intelligence, complemented the real accounts of users involved in the effort, which largely entailed leaving comments sympathetic to President Trump and other conservative causes across social media.

Facebook stopped short of penalizing Turning Point USA or its president, Charlie Kirk, 26, saying it could not determine the extent to which the group’s leaders were aware of the specific violations carried out on their behalf, such as the use of fake accounts. Twitter also acted against the operation on Thursday, suspending 262 accounts involved in “platform manipulation and spam” — in addition to the several hundred accounts already removed last month following questions from The Post — but similarly did not boot Turning Point USA, a tax-exempt nonprofit group founded in 2012, or its affiliates from the online platform.

The decision not to punish the group financing the activity drew criticism from experts in disinformation, who said the limited action would signal to well-heeled organizations that they can get away with social media manipulation so long as they farm the operation out to vendors.

Read the rest here.

Kirk’s religion is essentially Trumpism. Yet he regularly speaks at evangelical megachurches on the weekends. For example, a Chattanooga church turned all of their weekend services over to Kirk. The same church is running a multi-week course on “Christian civics” A good place to start: don’t invite Charlie Kirk to your church.

We deserved last night’s debate. We didn’t deserve last night’s debate.

Last night the nation got the debate it deserved.

Last night a nation suffering through coronavirus deserved better.

I think both of these things can be true at the same time.

The first 2020 presidential debate was a disaster. It was a perfect representation of the current state of our political culture. I think theologian Keith Plummer got it right when he tweeted:

Biden’s performance wasn’t great, but he hung in there. Historian Amy Bass nailed it:

Biden didn’t need to kill it last night. He is leading in all the polls. Trump did nothing to widen his base. The debate changed very little.

At one point in the debate Biden told Trump: “You’re the worst president America has ever had.” We will let future historians decide this, but right now it is hard to argue with Biden’s assessment. Here is presidential historian Jon Meacham:

As most of you know by now, Trump refused to condemn “white supremacy” and “racists”:

Here is Christian writer and editor Katelyn Beaty:

And then Trump empowered a neo-Fascist group by telling them to “stand back and stand by.” It is worth noting that the Proud Boys immediately made “Stand Back. Stand By” part of their new logo. Yes the President of the United States told a white supremacist militia group to “stand by.” This implies they he may need them at some point in the immediate future.

Actually, this whole Proud Boys thing sets me up nicely for my Pennsylvania history class today:

This may have been the first presidential debate in American history in which one candidate called another candidate a “racist.”

Trump did nothing to win women voters tonight. Here is historian Heather Cox Richardson:

A few odds and ends:

  1. Trump refused to say that he would concede the election if he loses.
  2. Trump interrupted Biden to attack his son Hunter at the precise moment Biden was talking about his dead son Beau.
  3. In the middle of a discussion on COVID-19, Trump attacked Biden’s intelligence. He also mocked Biden for attending “Delaware State” university. Actually, Biden attended the University of Delaware. Delaware State is a historical black university. One would think Trump would know this since he likes to brag how much he has done for HBCUs.
  4. I don’t want to see another debate. This was a waste of time. Let’s just vote in November and move on as a nation.

A few random tweets from the night:

Before the debate court evangelical Robert Jeffress was praying for unity:

I support national unity. I even support praying for national unity. One of the best speeches on national unity was Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

Here’s Sean Hannity being Sean Hannity:

CNN commentators saw things differently:

Is this King George or Vladimir Putin?:

Even the Fox News moderator Chris Wallace was having problems making sense of Trump’s words:

I am hearing all kinds of stories about parents letting their kids watch this debacle. Here is Yahoo News writer Jon Ward:

Here is Amy Bass:

Hey, but at least Donald Trump did this:

34 more days.

Out of the Zoo: The Stoning of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Annie Thorn is a junior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie reflects on the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and how some evangelical responded to news of her death. —JF

On Friday evening, my phone buzzed. I was in the middle of writing a book review of Speaking of Siva, but I was glad for a distraction. “Did you see about rbg??” My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. I searched “Ruth Bader Ginsburg” on my phone, even though I knew deep down what probably happened.  It didn’t take long for Google to confirm my worst suspicions. The infamous 2020 had taken another life.

I went upstairs and shared the news with my roommate Rachel, who had been reading Henry V for her Shakespeare class on one of four couches in our upstairs living room. When my housemates Emily and Chloe got back from a late night Walmart trip, we mourned the nation’s loss together. An hour later, the four of us cuddled up in blankets and watched On the Basis of Sex together in her honor. We had a discussion afterward about the barriers that we will never have to overcome because she knocked them down for us. We talked about the challenges women in our country still face.

Whenever the world loses a celebrity, the internet gets a rapid facelift. I still remember when Robin Williams died in 2014 and Facebook was plastered with sketches of a tearful Genie hugging a cartoon Robin with the caption reading “We ain’t never had a friend like you.” Just a few weeks ago, the world said goodbye to King T’challa and beautiful artwork depicting Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther dominated the web. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death proved no exception to this phenomenon. Yet between what seemed like hundreds of photographs, quotes, and condolences in her honor, I scrolled past a Facebook post that caught me off guard.

The status update, which had nearly 5,000 comments and twice as many shares, held nothing back in calling down God’s wrath on Ruth Bader Ginsburg (and the American Christians who supported her). Peppered with scripture, the post compared her to King Herod and Hitler. For her support of abortion, her rulings on homosexual marriage, and her apparent attack on religious liberties the post names her Jezebel, a woman who suffered “on a sickbed that GOD himself threw her on!” Towards the end of the post the author writes, “Ginsburg has now discovered that there is a court higher than the one called ‘Supreme’ and she does not sit in the seat of the judge, but as the defendant… The justice of God knows no delay, and the law of God knows no limits.”

I choose to believe that the man who wrote this post comes from a place of sincerity. He seems to disagree with many of the decisions that have defined Ginsburg’s career—and he has the right to.  He genuinely sees her as the personification of everything that is unrighteous and ungodly, a true and worthy enemy. In many ways I do agree with what he wrote. While I recognize the issue is incredibly complex, I am unashamedly pro-life. I affirm a traditional view of marriage. Like the author of this post I believe that God cares deeply about justice. I believe that we will all have to stand before the judgement seat of God someday. Without the saving grace of Jesus covering my sins, I know that the Judge would certainly not rule in my favor. Yet I will not pass judgement on Ruth Bader Ginsburg because it is not my place to do so.

It is not my place to pass judgement on a woman God created. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is hardly my enemy, but there’s no denying that many Christians view her as such. However as I understand it, the Bible doesn’t say to damn your enemy, call her Jezebel, and rejoice when she draws her last breath. It says to let God, the king and author of the universe, be the judge. It reminds us to forgive, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. There’s a story in the Bible—in John 8—about another woman a lot of religious people didn’t like very much. Except she wasn’t the second female justice on the Supreme Court–she was an adultress caught in the act. When defending this woman from the Pharisees who were about to stone her to death, Jesus himself said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Minutes later, every stone dropped to the floor.

Religion News Service does more reporting on the Falwell Jr. story

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Liberty alumni want him removed permanently. Christian pastors want him out. And now his Instagram “likes” of scantily clad women on Instagram have become part of the story.

Yesterday Yonat Shimron of Religion News Service reported that a group of Liberty University alumni who are serving as Christian pastors have called for the permanent removal of Jerry Falwell Jr. from the presidency of Liberty University. At the moment, Falwell Jr. is on “indefinite leave” from the Christian university. Here is a taste:

Some pastors told Religion News Service Falwell has a right to his passionate support of President Trump. But they were appalled by his defense of Trump’s comments in the infamous Access Hollywood tape and in other cases, such as Trump’s defense of white supremacists.

“As a Christian, I believe in forgiveness and redemption,” said John Welborn, a 2004 Liberty graduate who is now pastor of Salem Church in New York’s Staten Island. “My prayer for him is that he finds true repentance and confession. But I do believe Liberty University would be well served by a fresh start with new leadership.”

Many of these pastors said it would be disingenuous to reinstate the 58-year-old Falwell after a three- or six-month separation without a full process of repentance and public confession — a process they said could take years.

“A three-month hiatus — people will see right through that,” said Dan Williams, pastor of Trinity Bible Fellowship outside Redding, Pennsylvania, and a 2001 Liberty graduate.

Shimron also calls our attention to Save71, a Liberty University alumni organization whose members are calling for Falwell Jr.’s permanent removal. The website of the organization states, “This isn’t about one photo.” It also includes the following statement:

Over the past several years, President Jerry Falwell Jr. has damaged the spiritual vitality, academic quality, and national reputation of Liberty University. We are a group of Liberty alumni, students, and faculty calling on the Board of Trustees to permanently remove President Falwell and replace him with a responsible and virtuous Christian leader. 

To do this, the Board should appoint an independent committee of leaders from within the Liberty community, as well as leaders outside of it, to begin the search for a new president. We will put forth names of people we believe should be nominated to this committee in the coming days.

Liberty University, like any institution or person, needs to repent of its sins before seeking redemption. The Board of Trustees must acknowledge the damage President Falwell has done to Liberty and the hypocrisy and corruption that has soaked into parts of its culture.

There is much to admire about Liberty, its students, and its professors. But for too long, Liberty’s leaders have used the school’s virtues to shield its sins and used its power to cloak its failures. That must end now. 

We put no faith in riches or comfort, in status or power. We put our faith in Christ alone, and we want Liberty University to follow Him.

Read Shimron’s entire piece here.

Today, Emily McFarland Miller has a piece at RNS exploring two dimensions of this story. First, why was the Instagram photo, and not all the other stuff Falwell has said and done, the last straw for the former Liberty president? Second, it also appears that Falwell has a habit of “liking” the Instagram photos of scantily clad models and young women in swimsuits.

Here is a taste of Miller’s piece:

Now, some of the images Falwell has “liked” on Instagram are raising eyebrows.

Religion News Service has verified that Falwell has liked a handful of images posted on the social media platform that show young women in swimsuits in the past month.

One is a photo of model Stefanie Gurzanski, who has appeared on the covers of Cosmopolitan Mexico and Maxim Mexico, posed across the back of a couch in a black one-piece suit and leopard-print high-heeled boots.

Another is an ambassador for conservative student movement Turning Point USA who pairs photos of herself in swimsuits with political memes and patriotic or inspirational Christian captions.

While young women posting swimsuit selfies is an innocent Instagram activity, liking them is “certainly unbecoming for the president of, as he calls it, the largest Christian college in the United States,” Fea said.

That’s particularly true at a place like Liberty, whose founder, the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., was head of the Moral Majority and whose rules stress values like sexual purity and abstaining from alcohol.

“Any kind of evangelical Christian would, I think, have an issue with that. It would raise eyebrows,” Fea said.

The historian, who had not viewed the Instagram photos in question, said he can’t imagine another evangelical leader liking photos of women in swimsuits on social media. He pointed to the so-called Billy Graham rule, named for the famed evangelist who wouldn’t even be alone in a room with a woman who was not his wife.

Read the entire piece here.

Donald Trump is a liar. His lies must be confronted.

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All president’s lie. But these lies were not amplified through media echo-chambers in the way they are today. Here is Eric Alterman’s recent piece at The Nation:

Trump knows, as all tyrants do, that without the accountability provided by an independent media, a powerful politician can get away with almost anything. America’s founders bequeathed the press its special status and protections under the First Amendment for exactly this reason. Trump’s insistent accusation that the media are the “Enemy of the American People” and constant protestations of “fake news” are intended to undermine confidence in the press and thereby undermine its ability to hold his administration answerable to the public.

But it did not matter how frequently or how egregiously Trump and his administration lied to journalists or how viciously they insulted their character, their professionalism, or even their ethnicity—reporters for mainstream outlets kept returning for more abuse and precious little truth. “We’re not cheerleaders for the president nor are we the opposition,” argues New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker. He further insists, “What we shouldn’t do is let the noise overcome our journalistic values.” But all too often, what was offered as a defense of old-fashioned commitments to provide “both sides” of any given controversy devolved, in practice, to running interference for Trump’s dishonesty. Many journalists were so insistent that they were not in a fight with the president that they were failing to inform the public of just how serious a threat he posed to the country’s freedoms.

Even were Trump to respect the constitutional constraints on his office, he would still enjoy an awesome degree of potentially destructive power. Beginning with the birth of the atom bomb and the ever-expanding ideology of the “national security state,” the prerogatives of the presidency have grown beyond anything the founders could have possibly imagined. With America’s nuclear arsenal at his disposal, Trump could, of course, end all human life and destroy the planet. Less dramatically, he could invoke any one of the emergency powers contained in the 123 statutory provisions that give presidents near-dictatorial powers. Trump might, for instance, seize control of “any facility or station for wire communication,” should he decide to proclaim “that there exists a state or threat of war involving the United States,” and order it to broadcast only his voice and his orders. With Trump’s power and dishonesty, the institutions charged with protecting American democracy and civic life should err on the side of vigilance rather than complacency.

Read the entire piece here.

SHEAR calls for its president to resign (and some thoughts on today’s Twitter mob)

SHEAR

There are now multiple calls for historian Doug Egerton to resign as president of The Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR)By the time you read this he may already be gone.

Here is a July 19, 2020 letter from the voting members of the SHEAR Advisory Council:

The digital plenary on Friday, July 17, 2020, violated the ethical norms, academic standards, and established procedures of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. The SHEAR Advisory Council deeply regrets and sincerely apologizes for these failures.

These failures included the president’s lack of full consultation with relevant elected and appointed committees during the planning of the session and neglect of procedures that encourage a diverse set of participants at all SHEAR panels.

We are therefore recommending that Douglas Egerton resign as President and step down from the Executive Committee, and that President-Elect Amy Greenberg step in as President. In consultation with the Nominations Committee, the remaining members of the Executive Committee should then proceed immediately with this year’s elections.

We also wish to strongly endorse and co-sign a letter sent to SHEAR leadership and signed by a group of concerned SHEAR members (see below). It represents the outpouring of communications we have received over the weekend. SHEAR is the collective creation of its members and we are grateful for the letter writers who created this statement.

Although this moment is difficult, this incident has served to strengthen our resolve to foreground diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism as core tenets of our professional work and to build an organization that properly reflects the diversity that is a hallmark of 21st century historical research. New leadership is essential to move SHEAR forward and we invite our membership to participate actively in this process. In the meantime, the Council will meet with the remaining members of the Executive Committee to discuss further steps.

Sincerely,

Susan Branson, 2018-2020                            

Kevin Butterfield, 2020-2022                         

Jonathan Earle, 2018-2020                            

Nicole Eustace, 2018-2020                            

Leslie Harris, 2020-2022                                 

Ronald Angelo Johnson, 2020-2022              

Jessica Lepler, 2019-2021                              

Caleb McDaniel, 2019-2021                           

Margot Minardi, 2020-2022                             

Amanda B. Moniz, 2018-2020                        

Sarah J. Purcell, 2019-2021                           

Daniel Richter, 2020-2022                              

Tamara Plakins Thornton, 2019-2021            

Attached to this letter on the H-Net e-mail list (where I saw it) was a July 17 letter. It reads:

We are writing as long time members of and boosters for the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic to express our outrage at the plenary panel on Friday, July 17.

The online plenary offered an opportunity to showcase the broad and diverse membership that SHEAR has been working to cultivate, and which President Doug Egerton referenced in his opening remarks. Unfortunately, the panel provided just the opposite. The collection of scholars who were part of the panel featured a lack of intellectual diversity, a lack of career stage diversity, and most importantly, a lack of racial and ethnic diversity. Indeed, the panel did not even follow SHEAR’s own guidelines for panels, which advise that “the best panels have a mix of presenters—by gender, graduate students and professors of different ranks, racial diversity, people from a range  of institutions, non-academic presenters, people who haven’t appeared on a SHEAR program before or in a while, and people who don’t all live within the city limits of one university town.”

The result of this lack of diversity, which surely could have been anticipated, was evident immediately as none of the panelists could speak to the most pressing issues raised by the paper in question, such as Indigenous dispossession, monuments, and the role of junior, independent, and contingent scholars in engaging with the public. The narrowness of the discussion, combined with the dismissiveness of journalists and their work, does a disservice to historians who are working hard to reach audiences outside of universities and work with public-facing partners.

Moreover, the panel offered the opportunity to showcase much of the new and exciting work being produced by SHEAR members, and instead featured a paper that caricatured this scholarship rather than offering a fair critique. This is the antithesis of the scholarly engagement and intergenerational mentorship that SHEAR prides itself on providing at its annual conferences, and it works against longstanding efforts to welcome various voices into our organization.

Most egregiously, a panelist repeatedly referred to Native peoples with a racial slur. No panel participants stopped the use of this word nor did they say anything in response to this racist and offensive language. We hope that SHEAR will issue a public acknowledgement and condemnation of this language immediately and will work to repair the significant damage this behavior has done to the SHEAR community and to others who observed the session. The health of this organization depends on it.

Signed,

Whitney Martinko

Rachel Sheldon

Kelly Kennington

Joseph M. Adelman

Seth Rockman

Bronwen Everill

Adam Malka

Ryan Quintana

Hilary Green

Michael Blaakman 

Emily Conroy-Krutz

M. Scott Heerman

Adam Pratt

Zara Anishanslin

Richard Bell 

Cassandra Good

Ben Wright

Derek Litvak

Kristen Epps

Honor Sachs

Paul J. Polgar

Christina Snyder

Jacob F. Lee

Nathaniel C. Green

Mandy L. Cooper

John P. Bowes

Gautham Rao

Julia Lewandoski

Dael A. Norwood

Elizabeth Ellis

Rachel Walker

Lori J. Daggar

Emilie Connolly

Andrew Shankman

Kevin Kenny

Daniel Diez Couch

Al Zuercher Reichardt

As most of you know, I wrote a post in support of the session in question. You can read it here. I was critical of the use of an ethnic slur during the Q&A, I thought there should have been more diversity on the panel, and I was critical of Feller’s claims that other scholars were incompetent. But that was not enough for many folks on Twitter.

I appreciate some of the push-back on Twitter and I also want to thank all of you who have e-mailed and messaged today with support. I still stand by what I wrote and I am saddened to see SHEAR make this move. I have heard today from people on the left, right, and center who supported the post. I can assure you that what you have seen on Twitter over the last 48 hours does not represent all SHEAR members or all members of the historical profession.

A few final thoughts:

I realized today just how tyrannical the Twitter mob can be. Over the course of the day I have seen tweets that have mocked my integrity as a historian and human being. The college where I work and have devoted 18 years of my career has been attacked. My intellect was questioned and my politics misrepresented. Some of the folks doing the damage were people with whom I thought I had a friendly acquaintance.

Twitter is a rough and nasty place and I realized today that it is not good for my soul. I guess the silver lining in all of this is that I had the chance to look in the mirror today. I saw a lot of myself in the tweets–the anger and vitriol I level against those with whom I disagree. I realized my own potential for using a reasonably large number of Twitter followers to summon the mob, cast judgment, squelch opinion, and monitor boundaries. It was not a pleasant sight. So, for the moment, I think I need to take a break from looking at Twitter.

As I noted in my post, I have been a fellow-traveler with SHEAR for over two decades. I have always enjoyed the meetings I have attended. So I am sorry it all turned-out this way.

And now for some logistical issues for those of you read the blog and could care less about SHEAR or these academic squabbles. (In other words, most of my readers). I will continue in my commitment to use social media to reach the general public who are interested in content at the intersection of American history, religion, and politics. My posts here on The Way of Improvement Leads Home will still go to Twitter, and I will continue to write what I believe is true. But for the time being, I will not be interacting or answering messages via Twitter. If you want to reach out to me, please do it by e-mail. The same goes for my public page on Facebook. I deleted both apps from my phone.

 

Some tips on avoiding fake campaign advertising

Mark-Zuckerberg

As the November elections approach, the New-York Historical Society offers some helpful advice. Here is a taste of its post “‘I Approve This Message’: 7 Online Ploys to Look Out for this Election Season.”

2) Fake videos
These videos seem to be real but have been digitally manipulated in ways that can be obvious or subtle. The recent example that purported to show Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi slurring her words is an example of what some call a “cheap-fake.”  More sophisticated and frightening versions—described as deep fakes—are far more difficult to decipher and are waiting in the wings. WHAT YOU CAN DO:  If a video seems too good (or too bad) to be true, you may want to check on its legitimacy. Look for tell-tale signs: the eye gaze is wrong or the eyes don’t blink; the hair or teeth look synthetic; the lip syncing is off; the skin tone is blotchy; there’s blurriness where neck meets the head; there are missing shadows. Also, judge the credibility of the speech: Would you expect this person to say that?  If you have doubts, most factchecking sites like politfact.com or snopes.com follow wide-spread ruses and report on them.

3) Deceptive campaign ads from fake sources
Misleading campaign ads are designed to move far and fast and sow confusion online. During the 2016 presidential election, there was a concerted, coordinated campaign by the Russian-backed Internet Research Agency to create hostility, divide Americans, and discourage people from voting. Largely undetected at the time, some 3500+ divisive Facebook ads were microtargeted to U.S. voters on topics ranging from immigration, radical Islam, gun rights, and injustice against Black Americans to name a few. Facebook recently announced it will block advertising from state media, but you can’t just count on someone else.  WHAT YOU CAN DOMany of these ads had misspellings or grammatical errors, so if you were paying attention, those would have been a red flag. Many also identified themselves as coming from nonexistent organizations and websites that had similar names to real ones. If you start seeing new divisive ads or receiving something digitally that you never have seen before, be sure and check whether or not the sender is legitimate.

Read the entire piece here.

Out of the Zoo: “World War III”

World War IIIAnnie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie challenges us to take war seriously.  -JF

About a month and a half ago, after President Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and the Iranian government promised retribution, the internet briefly exploded with fears of a third world war. I remember opening twitter on my computer to see that  “#WorldWar3” was trending worldwide. American teenagers were the primary culprits of the trend, for they (in true Generation Z fashion) took to social media to express angst about their “impending doom.” They posted memes comparing Soleimani to Franz Ferdinand, and filmed tik-tok videos joking about how they and their peers would respond to a draft. It took me a few minutes of Google searching to be assured that the possibility of a third world war was rather unlikely; yet I was struck by how quickly young people like me turned to social media to craft fears of World War III into a budding internet trend. It was curious to me that my peers could so easily make light of an escalating national crisis, even one with a potentially devastating outcome.

This semester at Messiah College I’m taking a class on Europe in the twentieth century. Over the past week we’ve been reading All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, a fictional story which details the experience of a World War I soldier through the eyes of its twenty-year-old narrator Paul Bäumer. Not much older than most culprits of the “#WorldWar3” social media trend, Paul witnesses the gruesome tragedies of war first-hand as a volunteer in the German army.

In one chapter Paul describes a man crying out from no-man’s land for days on end, never to be found despite several search parties. In another chapter Paul stabs a Frenchman who falls into his shell-hole. He is unable to escape his hiding place in the daylight and is thus forced to watch him die a slow, agonizing death. Later still, Paul gets injured and makes his way to hospital nearby, where men with amputated limbs, tetanus, lung wounds, abdominal injuries, and a host of other atrocities are carted off to the “death room.”  They never return. Paul and his comrades hearts’ are quickly hardened by the horrors of war—poisonous gas, trench rats, exploding shells and meaningless death after meaningless death. 

Did teenagers growing up in 20th-century Europe joke about World War I? Did they make light of international crisis by laughing about it with their friends? They didn’t have twitter or tik-tok, but did they too cope with wisecracks about their impending doom? There are several instances of humor woven throughout All Quiet on the Western Front, but for the most part the book reminds us that war is no laughing matter. It reminds us that World War I brought fear, death, and destruction on a scale wider than anyone expected. What went through the minds of nineteen-year-old boys when they volunteered for the war, or were drafted? Did they laugh? Were they hopeful, or were they just plain terrified?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions, nor do I quite know how to reconcile my peers’ naive response to threats of world war with the actual experiences of young men and women whose lives were turned upside-down by global conflict just over a hundred years ago. But comparing the two certainly helps put things in perspective.

The Trump Impeachment Has Revealed Three “Deep Flaws” in the Constitutional System

22c0d-united-states-constitution

Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina, writes at The Atlantic:

…few think that the acquittal of President Trump is a triumph for the Constitution. Instead, it reveals a different, disturbing lesson, about how the American political system—and the Constitution itself—might be fundamentally flawed.

Since the writing of the Constitution, three developments have substantially altered the effectiveness of impeachment as a check on presidential misconduct.

They are:

  1. Extreme partisanship
  2. The internet and social media
  3. The direct election of Senators

See how he develops these points here.

Texting Paine’s *Common Sense*

 

Common-Sense-cover-NYPL-crop (1)

Over at the Pedagogy & American Literary Studies blog, Clay Zuba, a high school English teacher in Phoenix, shares an assignment he gives his students asking them to use social media to communicate 18th-century texts to 21st century readers.

Here is the assignment:

Dear Student,

Do you ever wonder what the literature of the American revolution might look like if it was distributed through chats and memes????

If so, then you are lucky. This project asks you to convert a passage of revolutionary writing into a style and format (text, video, meme, or maybe something I don’t even know about) that would persuade your peers, and which they would be enthusiastic to read or watch.

Choose a passage from the selections by Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Red Jacket, or Abigail Adams that we have read this semester. Then, in groups of 2 students, you’ll work together to accomplish the following:

  1. Recreate the passage’s argument and rhetorical choices as a string of text messages, a thread of tweets, a short video suitable for the Tik Tok or the YouTube, or a Meme. Make a script, then execute your choices in new media. Note that you’ll be expanding your original writer’s media choices by including visual and/or auditory persuasion. (15 pts)
  2. Compose a short (300 words or more) essay that articulates your creation’s argument and analyzes the rhetorical choices you’ve made to persuade through image, text, and sound (if applicable) rhetorically persuades. (15 pts)
  3. Present your recreation of the text to our class. Show us the original document, your new media creation, and explain how your creation uses audio, visual, and textual modes of communication to make the original writer’s argument in a format appealing to 21st-century consumers. Suggest what social media platforms would effective in distributing your new creation. (10 pts

Read more here.

Here is one example of what his students produced:

The Conference on Faith and History Is Looking for a Social Media Coordinator (Paid Position)

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The Conference on Faith and History is seeking a Social Media Coordinator.
 
The Social Media Coordinator will work with CFH’s secretaries to communicate to the membership, expand the conference’s social media presence, and empower the CFH’s member historians to communicate more effectively to a broader public.
 
To do so, the Social Media Coordinator will be in charge of the CFH website, Facebook feed, Twitter feed, and monthly newsletter. The CFH would request development of additional social media activity, such as on Instagram and via podcasts and digital video. The expectation would be at least two impressions weekly.
 
The Social Media Coordinator would need competencies in website design and function, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media Marketing, and emerging digital skills.
 
The Social Media Coordinator position is a year-round position. Annual remuneration is $3,000.

Although open to all CFH members, this position may be of special interest to advanced graduate students and early career academics.

If interested, or if you have questions, please email faithandhistory@gmail.com.

Social Media in the 1790s

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Jordan Taylor, a history professor at Smith College, writes, “Our familiar challenges with verification, fake news, irresponsible sharing, and partisan media would have been familiar  to those who lived through the tumultuous 1790s.”  She adds, “spend an hour with the newspapers of the 1790s and it will be easy to spot their similarities with our present media landscape.”

Read his entire piece here.

Is the Founder of The Veritas Forum Behind an Anti-Muslim Facebook Campaign?

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What is going on with Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder of the Veritas Forum?  Here is a taste of Asysha Kahn’s piece at Religion News Service:

Fact-checking website Snopes linked the network to Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder and president of The America Conservancy, whose aims, as Kullberg has described online, are “advancing Biblical wisdom as the highest love for people and for culture.” All 24 Facebook pages had financial ties to Kullberg directly or organizations she helps lead.

Posts on the network decry “Islamist Privilege and Sharia Supremacy” and claim that Islam is “not a religion”; that Islam promotes rape, murder and deception; that Muslims hate Christians and Jews; that Muslims have an agenda to “spread Sharia law and Islam through migration and reproduction”; and that resettling Muslim refugees is “cultural destruction and subjugation.”

The tactics seem to mirror the playbook of Russian troll farms, with page titles purporting to originate with diverse demographic groups like “Blacks for Trump,” “Catholics for Trump,” “Teachers for Trump” and “Seniors for America.”

Snopes found that Kullberg and her associates’ agenda appeared, at least in part, to be working to re-elect President Donald Trump in 2020. The “astroturfing” campaign — referring to efforts made to look as if they come from legitimate grassroots supporters — was at least in part funded by right-wing political donors, including a prominent GOP donor who served as a fundraiser and campaign board member for 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson.

I was happy to contribute to the Khan’s report:

“If you would have told me about this investigation 20 years ago I would have been very surprised,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College and author of the book “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” But given Kullberg’s more recent politics, he said, it’s hardly shocking.

Once a mainstream evangelical Christian figure, Kullberg is the founder of the The Veritas Forum, a prominent non-profit organization that partners with Christian college students to host discussions on campus about faith. The discussions attract non-evangelical, non-Christian and secular speakers as well as leading mainstream evangelical voices.

Her 1996 book “Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians” topped bestseller lists. Now based in Columbus, Ohio, she has served as a chaplain to the Harvard Graduate School Christian Fellowship and spent time as a missionary in Russia and several Latin American countries.

Most recently, Kullberg appears to have shifted further right politically, taking what Fea described as a “pro-Trump, Christian Right, culture war posture” laced with anti-social justice rhetoric. The American Association of Evangelicals, for which Kullberg is the founder and spokeswoman, is “essentially a Christian Right organization whose supporters read like a list of evangelical leaders who have thrown their support behind Donald Trump as a savior of the country and the church,” he said.

“She seems obsessed with the influence of George Soros on progressive evangelicals and believes that social justice warriors have hijacked the Gospel,” Fea noted.

Read the entire piece here.

While running the Veritas Forum, Kullberg worked with Christian speakers such as Francis Collins, Robert George, Os Guinness, Tim Keller, Peter Kreeft, Madeleine L’Engle, George Marsden, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Alister McGrath, Richard John Neuhaus, Alvin Plantinga, John Polkinghorne, Dallas Willard, Lauren Winner, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and N.T. Wright.  She put some of these speakers into dialogue with the likes of Anthony Flew, Christopher Hitchens, Nicholas Kristof, Steven Pinker, and Peter Singer.

In her new role with the “The American Association of Evangelicals” she works with court evangelicals and pro-Trump evangelicals such as Eric Metaxas, James Garlow,  Everett Piper, Tim Wildmon, Wayne Grudem, Steve Strang, David Barton, and Lance Wallnau (the Trump prayer coin guy).

The divisions in American evangelicalism are widening.   The American Association of Evangelicals (AAE) is now the conservative, Christian Right alternative to The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Here is how it understands its relationship to the NAE:

Kullberg is also a leader with Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration (EBI) a more conservative evangelical immigration group that appears to be an alternative to the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).  While the EBI includes many of the culture warriors I mentioned above, the EIT includes people like Leith Anderson (President of the NAE), Shirley Hoogstra (President of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities), and Russell Moore (President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission).

New alignments are forming.  Evangelicalism is changing and fracturing.

2020: Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death?

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Journalist Ross Barkan reflects on the “eternal presidential sweepstakes” with the help of Neil Postman.  Here a taste of his piece at The Baffler:

The Beto/Trump hand gesture skirmish—Trump jerks and floats his arms and hands around in even odder ways—was another inanity of this 2020 campaign, one that is sure to be followed by many more. This is because a campaign of this length demands programming. As cable channels peaked in the early 2000s, TV producers realized they had a lot of dead-time to fill and only so much money to spend filling it. Hence, the birth of reality TV: SurvivorAmerican Idol, and, to the detriment of our future selves, The Apprentice. They were all aspirational, promising us stardom, great wealth, or the kind of self-discovery that can keep any average schmuck alive on a desert island.

Today, the hours, days, weeks, and months of the perma-campaign must be filled, too. Beto’s hands, Amy Klobuchar’s salad comb, Bernie’s head bandage, Elizabeth Warren’s beer chug, Cory Booker’s girlfriend, Kamala Harris’s musical tastes while she smoked pot in college. No triviality is too trivial for an underpaid journalist somewhere to bundle into an article, video, or meme in the hopes of attracting attention and driving fleeting dollars to a collapsing media ecosystem. The perma-campaign is the apotheosis of reality TV because the stakes are so high—we are choosing a world leader with the power to drop civilization-annihilating bombs, and therefore every plot twist in the extended marathon can be justified in the solemn, self-satisfied way a political reporter will defend just about every absurd practice of the profession. 

Beto, Bernie, Biden, Kamala, and more—these are characters the American people must get to know through their TV screens and social media. This year and next, they are all Democrats, and they are auditioning for us. They will speak to us, rally for us, and construct events in states ten months before a vote. Why? Well, the show needs content. And if you aren’t producing content, you are irrelevant. Imagine a presidential candidate deciding to take April, May, and June off, arguing that an entire six months of campaigning before the Iowa caucuses is probably enough to win votes. The horror! What will be tweeted, Instagram storied, Facebook lived, and packaged into lively, anecdote-addled reporting for a New York Times political memo?

Thirty-four years ago, the media theorist Neil Postman published a book that is distressingly relevant today. Amusing Ourselves to Death was a prescient indictment of TV culture that drove to the heart of the matter in ways few academic texts ever do. Postman’s problem wasn’t so much with TV itself—people have a right to entertain themselves—but with how the rules of this dominant technology infected all serious discourse. He fought, most strenuously and fruitlessly, against the merger of politics and entertainment.

We’ve only metastasized since Postman’s time, with the internet and smartphones slashing attention spans, polarizing voters, and allowing most people to customize the world around them. What’s remained constant, at least in certain quarters, is the principal of entertainment: most political content operates from this premise first, that it must captivate before it informs. The image-based culture triumphs. Beto told you in a crisp three minutes and twenty-nine seconds why he wanted to be the leader of the free world.

Read the entire piece here.

Rules of Engagement

 

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I wrote this on my Facebook page last night in response to the ongoing conversation on my John Allen Chau post.  I thought I would post a version of it (slightly edited) here.  –JF

 

Recent posts about the “presuppositions” of those commenting prompted me to write this long note to everyone who participates in conversation here at my Facebook page (which I see as an extension of my blog).

I hope everyone realizes that the people on this page come to the conversation with all kinds of presuppositions. Some of the people posting here are evangelical Christians. Others are Christians who may not identify with evangelicalism. Some are Jewish. Some do not identify with any faith. This is what makes these kinds of conversations on Facebook so difficult and awkward. As one of the few people (and maybe the only person) here who knows something about the presuppositions of just about everyone by virtue of the fact that it is my page, I can see how most folks are talking past each other. One problem with my Facebook page and my blog is that I have readers who share my faith and others who do not.  Much of my career and work has existed in both the evangelical community and the academy. I thus have conversation partners in both worlds. I think a conversation about Chau might look very different among fellow evangelical Christians than it might among those who are not Christians. This is indeed a mixed group, but it doesn’t have to be a problem.

I like to think that my Facebook page is a place where it is difficult to remain in our silos.

I hope evangelicals (and there are many here) can learn to appreciate the insights of non-evangelicals, even if they disagree.  I hope they realize that this space is not an extension of a Sunday morning service.  Evangelicals who come to the table must come with a public voice.  This does not mean that they abandon their religious convictions at the proverbial door.  It means that they come with a realization that not everyone in the conversation may share their presuppositions and then behave accordingly. I realize that this is hard for some evangelicals.

I also hope that non-evangelicals or non-Christians also realize that this is a public space where many kinds of people come to read and discuss. My blog and Facebook page is not  an extension of the faculty lounge. My non-evangelical academic friends have a lot of work to do in respecting and listening to people with different presuppositions and ways of viewing the world. Some folks do this better than others.

All of us are prone to self-righteousness in spaces like this. I hope we can learn from each other and find common ground and not demonize those with whom we have deep and fundamental disagreements. On an issue like Chau, it is very, very hard to find common ground. But we must try.

If this is not a project that interests you or you do not have the inclination to engage in a civil way with people who see the world differently, I would encourage you to just stay in your social media silo where everyone thinks the same way you do.  You will be more comfortable there.

But if you do want to engage in a spirited but civil fashion, you are always welcome at my page.

And I will try to be less cranky! 🙂

Alan Jacobs on “Recency Bias”

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Great stuff here from Jacobs.  I did not know the practice of taking the long view–a mental habit historians know well—could be viewed as the antidote to a phenomenon with such a technical name.  “Recency bias.”

Here is a taste:

Increasingly, I think, the people who rule our society understand how all this works, and no one understands it better than Donald Trump. Trump knows perfectly well that his audience’s attachment to the immediate is so great that he can make virtually any scandal disappear from the public mind with three or four tweets. And the very journalists who most want to hold Trump accountable are also the most vulnerable to his changing of the subject. He’s got them on a string. They cannot resist the tweets du jour.

This tyranny of the immediate has two major effects on our political judgment. First, it disables us from making accurate assessments of threats and dangers. We may, for instance, think that we live in a time of uniquely poisonous social mistrust and open hostility, but that’s only because we have forgotten what the Sixties and early Seventies were like.

Second, it inclines us to forget that the greatest of social changes tend to happen, as Edward Gibbon put it, insensibly. Even when they seem sudden, it is almost always case that the suddenness is merely a very long gradual transformation finally bearing fruit. There’s a famous moment in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises when one character asks another how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” the man replies. “Gradually and then suddenly.” But the “suddenly” happened because he was previously insensible to the “gradually.” Likewise, events are always appearing to us with extreme suddenness — but only because we are so amnesiac that we have failed to discern the long slow gradual forces that made this moment inevitable.

And so we float on, boats with the current, borne forward ceaselessly into an ever-surprising future.

Read the entire post at Snakes and Ladders.

Another Post About People Who Tweet About Wendell Berry

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Some of you will recall this post from last week.  Since my critical review of Matt Stewart’s piece “Stop Talking about Wendell Berry on Twitter,” several other folks have responded to it at the Front Porch Republic.  So far the only person to really defend all of Matt’s piece is Eric Miller.

I actually brought this debate up very briefly yesterday in our live podcast episode, “Flourishing in a Digital World.”  I imagine that my friends Eric and Matt think it is heresy to even consider putting the word “flourishing” together with “digital world,” but this is exactly what we tried to do yesterday at Messiah College.  Frankly, I was blown-away by how our guests connected their digital footprints as historians, writers, community activists, bloggers, social media-users, and story-tellers to particular places and communities.  I hope you get a chance to listen to this special bonus episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Podcast when we release it next month.

In the meantime, I encourage you to read Tara Ann Thieke’s critique of Stewart’s essay: “Alone Together on the Internet.”  Here is a taste:

Wendell Berry was able to reject the computer. I think it was the right decision. But his choice and his work have come to us through the connections he made by going to Stanford and Europe, teaching at NYU, earning himself an audience, and allowing the publishing industry to use the best technology at their disposal (including computers) to make his work accessible. Later on, once he was well-established, audiences were able to hear out his reasoning for preferring the pen to the keyboard (a choice I agree with; most of my writing is first done in notebooks with a trusty blue rollerball pen). The computer was still a fundamental part of the supply-chain connecting Mr. Berry to the reader; we are none of us islands and the supply-chain is inescapable except to true hermits.

And this:

Twitter and social media have allowed me, an arm-chair amateur, to use the system’s tools to advocate for a different vision. While I am surrounded by the cultural consequences of all these wires and flashing screens, these tools have permitted me to find other wandering voices. Do I talk about Wendell Berry on Twitter? Guilty. But I have also started several clubs through Meetup which allows those of us who share these interests to meet face-to-face. Other armchair amateurs, caught in the confines of suburbia, of work, of the ceaseless din of advertising, have found one another through the threadbare wires not closely guarded enough.

We schedule gatherings through Facebook to watch Wendell Berry documentaries. We talk on Twitter and move on to start discussion groups elsewhere; people drive from 50 miles away to come discuss the Inklings, those foes of Mordor, once a month. We gather in an old park to serve the homeless. Imperfect? Always. But Joel Salatin wrote that expecting a first-time cook to bake a perfect cake is as silly as expecting a baby to suddenly stand and walk rather than stumble. Social media, in particular private Facebook groups and Twitter connections, have allowed those of us afraid of stumbling to receive mutual encouragement, advice, and solidarity.

Read the entire piece here.  I guess I identify more as a Wendell Berry evangelical than a Wendell Berry fundamentalist. 🙂