By / Feb 3

Content moderation is difficult work for any social media company. Every day millions of posts and messages are shared on these platforms, most are benign in nature but as with anything there will be abusive, hateful, and sometimes violent content shared or promoted by certain individuals and organizations. Most social media companies expect their users to engage on these platforms within a certain set of rules or community standards. These content policies are often decided upon with careful and studied reflection on the gravity of moderation in order to provide a safe and appropriate place for users. It is an admittedly difficult and thorny ethical issue though because social media has become such a massive and integral part of our diverse society, not to mention the hyper politicization of such issues. 

Over the years, content moderation practices have come under intense scrutiny because of the breadth of the policies themselves as well as their misapplication—or more precisely the inconsistent application—of these rules for online conduct. Just last week, The Daily Citizen—the news arm of Focus on the Family—was reportedly locked out of their account due to a post about President Biden’s nomination of Dr. Rachel Levine to serve as assistant secretary of health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Daily Citizen’s tweet was flagged by Twitter for violating its policy on hateful conduct, which includes but not limited to “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.” This broad policy seems to include using the incorrect pronouns for individuals, using the former name of someone after they transition and identify by another name, or—in the case of The Daily Citizen’s tweet—stating the biological and scientific reality of someone’s sex even if they choose to idenitfy as the opposite sex or derivation thereof.

After The Daily Citizen appealed the decision, the request was subsequently denied by Twitter’s content moderation team and the organization was left with the choice of deleting the violating tweet or they would continue to be locked out of their account. It should be noted that the account was not suspended or blocked, which has been the case in other instances of policy violations, such as former President Trump’s recent suspension. The Daily Citizen decided to keep the tweet up and have been unable to use their account since.

The purpose of content moderation

The implementation of content moderation practices is actually encouraged by Section 230 of the 1996 Communication Decency Act, which was a bipartisan piece of legislation designed to promote the growth of the fledgling internet in the mid-1990s. Section 230 gives internet companies a liability shield for online user content—meaning users and not the platforms themselves are responsible for the content of posts—in exchange for encouraging “good faith” measures to remove objectionable content in order to make the internet a safer place for our society.

These “good faith” measures are designed to create safer online environments for all users. The debate over content moderation often center though on exactly what these measures are to entail, not the presence of the measures in the first place. Without any sort of content moderation, social media platforms will inevitably be used and abused to promote violence, true hateful conduct, and may become a breeding ground for misinformation and other dangerous content. Simply put, without moderation these platforms would not be a place anyone would truly feel comfortable engaging on each day nor would it be safe to engage in the first place. In general, content moderation policies are for the common good of all users, but the details and breadth of specific policies should at times be called into question as to their effectiveness or dangerous consequences for online dialogue.

Free speech

In these debates over content moderation, questions about the role of free speech abound. The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech for all people. But it only protects citizens from interference by the government itself. The First Amendment’s free speech protection does not apply to the actions of a third party, such as a private social media company governing certain speech or implementing various content moderation policies. A helpful way to think about free speech in this instance is how Christians have rallied around the ability of other third parties to act in accordance with their deeply held beliefs and use their own free speech not to participate in a same-sex wedding, as in the case of Baronelle Stutzman and Jack Phillips. The government does not have the right, nor the authority, to force a third party to violate their deeply held beliefs outside of a clear and compelling public interest that cannot be accomplished by a less invasive manner.

Twitter is within its rights to create content moderation policies and govern speech on their platforms as they see fit, but these policies should take into account the true diversity of thoughts in our society and not denigrate certain types of religious speech as inherently hateful or dangerous. And content moderation policies are actually encouraged by provisions in Section 230. But that does not in any way mean that those policies are not able to be scrutinized by the public who have a choice on whether or not to use a particular platform and the freedom to criticize policies they deem deficient or shortsighted.

Dangerous and misguided policies

Even though Twitter, as well as other companies like Facebook, cannot actually violate one’s free speech, they are accountable for the policies that they craft as well as the deleterious outworkings of misguided and at times poorly crafted policies. These overly broad policies often actually limit the free exchange of ideas online and—in the case of The Daily Citizen’s post removal—actually censor free expression and cut back on a robust public dialogue, which is vital to a functioning democracy and society. 

Twitter’s hateful conduct policy begins by stating “You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” This broad definition of hateful conduct is then subsequently expanded to include nearly every form of speech that one may deem offensive, objectionable, or even simply disagreeable.

To Twitter’s credit, they do seek “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information, and to express their opinions and beliefs without barriers.” They go on to say that “Free expression is a human right – we believe that everyone has a voice, and the right to use it. Our role is to serve the public conversation, which requires representation of a diverse range of perspectives.” But this lofty goal of free expression is actually stifled and in many ways completely mitigated by promoting some speech at the expense of other speech deemed unworthy for public discourse, even if that speech aligns with scientific realities which are taught and affirmed by millions of people throughout the world, including but not limited to people of faith.

Civil disagreements over the biological and scientific differences between a man and woman simply do not and cannot—especially for the sake of robust public discourse—be equated with hate speech. And any attempt to create and enforce these types of broadly defined policies continues to break down the trust that the public has in these companies and the immense responsibility they have over providing avenues for public discourse and free expression given the ubiquity of these platforms in our society. In a time where there is already a considerable amount of distrust in institutions, governments, and even social media companies themselves, ill-defined policies that seem to equate historic and orthodox beliefs on marriage and sexuality with the dehumanizing nature of real hate speech and violent conduct only widen the deficit of trust and increases skepticism over the true intention behind these policies.

Christian engagement in content moderation

When Christians engage in these important debates over content moderation and online speech, we must do so with a distinct view of human dignity in mind. It is far too easy in a world of memes, caricatures, and 280 character posts to dehumanize those with whom we disagree or seek to be disagreeable in order to gain a following. We must champion the dignity of all people because we know that all people are created in the image of God and thus are worthy of all honor and respect. And part of championing this dignity is also speaking clearly about the dehumanizing effects of ideologies like transgenderism that tend to equate someone’s identity solely on the basis of their sexual preference or desires. We should advocate for better and more clearly defined policies because these policies affect our neighbors and their ability to connect with others.

When we engage on these important matters of social media and content moderation, we also must do so informed on the complexity of the situations at hand with clarity, charity, and most of all respect even for those with whom we deeply disagree. The Bible reminds us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Spiteful, derogatory, arrogant, and dehumanizing remarks about fellow image bearers are unbecoming of the people of God and this is not limited to issues of sexuality or transgenderism. These types of statements are becoming all too common online in our social rhetoric, even among professing Christians. It is past time for each of us to heed the words in the letter of James and seek to tame our tongue lest it overcome us with its deadly poison (James 3:8) and lead us down the same path of those in which we disagree over fundamental matters of sexuality and even issues of content moderation.

When we engage in these important issues and seek to frame debates over online speech, we must also do so with an understanding of the immense weight and pressure that many in content moderation face each day. While we may think that the tweet or post that was flagged is perfectly appropriate, we must remember that often the initial decisions on moderation are made with help of algorithmic detection. Often these AI systems are used to cut down on the amount of violating content but these systems do make mistakes. Upon appeal, these decisions are then handed over to human reviewers who may only have an extremely short window to make a call given the sheer amounts of content to review. This does not mean that these decisions are always correct or even that the policies driving these content decisions are helpful or clearly defined. The question isn’t whether discrimination or bias exists in these discussions, but where the lines are drawn, by whom, what worldview drove their creation, and the ability to appeal decisions on the merits.

Christians must also realize that in a rapidly shifting and secularizing culture, we will naturally be at odds with the mours of the day but that should not deter us from speaking truth, grounding in love and kindness, as we engage in the heated debates over online speech, social media, and content moderation. But our hope and comfort doesn’t come from better policies or consistent application across these platforms. Even if it feels as though the ground is shifting right beneath us and as there are vapid calls to “get on the right side of history,” we can know and trust that biblical truth and human anthropology isn’t about power or control but about pursuing the good of our neighbor in accordance with the truth of the One who created us and ultimately rescue each of us from our own proclivities toward sin and rebellion.

By / Mar 28
By / Aug 24

Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, shares several ways parents can build a strong family. 

By / Oct 25

At the 2015 National Conference, Jim Daly talks about speaking with grace and truth in the public square. 

By / Jul 13

WASHINGTON, D.C, July 13, 2015The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and Focus on the Family will host a major pro-life conference called Evangelicals For Life in conjunction with the March for Life event.

The event will take place Jan. 21-22, 2016, in Washington, D.C. at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill. Evangelicals will gather from across the country to hear from leading speakers on this issue of a pro-life Christian ethic.

Speakers will encourage evangelicals to engage the culture on issues like abortion and end-of-life decisions, and the event will affirm the evangelical belief in the sanctity of life, that every life matters to God and is created in His image.

Scheduled speakers include:

“Russell Moore,”:http://www.russellmoore.com/ President, ERLC

“Jim Daly,”:http://www.focusonthefamily.com/about_us/profiles/jim_daly.aspx President, Focus on the Family

“Kelly Rosati,”:http://www.focusonthefamily.com/about_us/profiles/kelly-rosati.aspx Vice President of Community Outreach, Focus on the Family

“David Platt,”:http://www.radical.net/about/david_platt.html President, SBCs International Mission Board

“Samuel Rodriguez,”:https://nhclc.org/ President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

“Ron Sider,”:http://www.palmerseminary.edu/about/faculty/ron-sider Author, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger

“Trillia Newbell,”:http://www.trillianewbell.com/ Director of Community Outreach, ERLC

“Eric Metaxas”:http://ericmetaxas.com/, Author, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

“Charmaine Yoest,”:http://www.aul.org/about-aul/charmaine-yoest/ President & CEO, Americans United for Life

“Jeanne Mancini,”:http://marchforlife.org/march-for-life-staff/ President, March for Life Education and Defense Fund

“Roland Warren,”:http://www.care-net.org/roland-warren CEO, Care Net

The gospel speaks to all of life, including the question of whether all human beings matter, said Moore. The Evangelicals for Life initiative is pursuing a pro-life, whole life agenda for a new day. Because we follow Jesus, we believe we should prioritize the vulnerable- the unborn, the elderly, the sick, the poor, the orphaned, the widowed-and we must do so with a clear gospel message of redemption through the sacrifice of Christ. The reborn should stand up for the unborn.

“Registration”:https://www.eventbrite.com/e/evangelicals-for-life-tickets-16584364280 is now open and complete conference details can be found “online.”:http://evangelicals.life/

The main sessions will be live-streamed on erlc.com. Follow the conversation on Twitter by following “@ERLC,”:https://twitter.com/ERLC “@dmoore”:https://twitter.com/drmoore and #EFL2016.

The Southern Baptist Convention is Americas largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBCs ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

– END –

To request an interview with Russell Moore

contact Elizabeth Bristow at 202-547-0209

or by email at [email protected]

Visit our website at www.erlc.com

Follow us on Twitter at @ERLC

By / Jun 10

Focus on the Family has something for everyone, including Boundless.org, a ministry to and for young single adults. And this year is a milestone for Boundless as they get ready to host their first conference, Pursuit 2014.

I corresponded with Lisa Anderson, Director of young adults and Boundless.org and host of a podcast, The Boundless Show, to learn more about Boundless.org and its upcoming event. The Boundless Show receives 300,000 to 400,000 listeners per month on a weekly basis and regularly appears in the top 100 Christian podcasts on iTunes.

It’s that audience–and more– that Anderson hopes will make the journey to Colorado Springs, CO on August 7-9 for Pursuit.

What led you to organize Pursuit 2014?

Pursuit 2014 was started largely due to requests from our audience. After engaging on the site, blog, show and social media for years, our audience built a connection with the staff, personalities, writers and fellow readers/listeners. They’ve been asking us for a while now to host a live event where they can put faces to names. Also, there just aren’t many conferences or events out there specifically for single young adults. We wanted to fill that space and show young adults that the journey they’re on matters, too. We want to do whatever we can to encourage them in that.

What is the goal of Pursuit?

Our goal is to provide a weekend for single young adults where they are reminded that God loves them and has a purpose for them. We’ll do that by challenging them to maximize the season they’re in while preparing for the one to come. We want our attendees to gain valuable insights into dating, marriage, career, life responsibility and biblical maturity.

Why now?

We feel we’re in a great place of growth at Boundless.org, and our audience continues to diversify. This is a great opportunity for us to grow a little more by trying something new.

You have a diverse set of speakers joining you at Pursuit. Are there themes for each talk or a list of sessions and descriptions anywhere?

Yes. The topics of the conference reflect the core content/mission of Boundless, which are relationships, life and faith. Here they are:

  • Valorie Burton is a life coach who will be helping our audience “get unstuck” from where they are in life right now. She’ll talk about goals, building realistic expectations and dreams, and work-life balance.
  • Emerson Eggerichs and his daughter Joy will talk about male-female communication, how it’s different and why it matters now and in marriage.
  • Tullian Tchividjian will focus on the grace of God in our lives, how he loves us, and how, regardless of the “hand” we’ve been dealt, God can use our brokenness, hurt, failures and successes to grow us and glorify him.
  • Brant Hansen will share “what I wish I’d known at 30” in the areas of life, relationships and faith. He also has Asperger’s, and will talk about how God has used his limitations as strengths for what he does in radio.
  • Lisa Anderson will share her story of navigating singleness, while having a desire for marriage. How can the two be maximized and lived out with intention and joy? She’ll also challenge the audience to sign a promise to do its part in breaking cycles of dysfunction and start a healthy (future) marriage and family, regardless of where they are in the process.

The title, “Pursuit”, could mean several things. What does the title mean, and how do you hope the participants will apply it?

It has a few meanings. The first is a reminder of God’s relentless pursuit of us. Second, we are to pursue Him wholeheartedly in a culture that is telling us to turn away from Him. Third, we’re asking our folks to pursue maturity with biblical intention in all things. This means actively pursuing relationships, marriage and family, responsibility, holiness and grace in all things.

The conference tag line indicates that it is part conference, part meet-up, and part adventure. Tell me what activities you plan for the meet-ups?

We want this to be more than just a conference. It’s, of course, going to have teaching, worship and a few workshops, but we also want to capitalize on the potential for connection among those who have known and loved Boundless for some time (almost like a family reunion) plus those who are new to Boundless.

The in-person advantage for mature, like-minded single young adults meeting is huge. The meet-ups can go many directions, and we’re letting them be crafted largely by the audience themselves. We’re expecting certain affinity groups to form and will provide space for that. For example, all of the Canadians may want to meet, or those in their 30s, or those in college, or those who are Dr. Who fans. We have one guy from Australia who’s determined to go to Chick-fil-A while he’s here, so he’s already on our Facebook page inviting folks to join him. He has quite a group so far!

I assume the adventure is the 5K. Tell us more about the 5K and what led you to develop one as part of a conference.

The adventure is a bunch of things, including meeting new people, hanging out in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains (many attendees are staying an extra day or two to go rafting, hiking, mountain biking, sightseeing, etc.) and stretching one’s faith. That said, the 5K is part of that. I literally thought of the idea over a year ago in the middle of the night. My thought was, “Why not show, a la Hebrews 13:4, that marriage should be honored by all, beginning with single young adults?” So my vision was to take to the streets of Colorado Springs in public support of marriage and family. But we don’t want to merely do that by ourselves, so we’re opening the 5K to the public and inviting others to run with us, making it a true citywide (or regional) event.

We’re encouraging folks to insert their own story into the experience, so maybe they want to run “for” something, like their grandparents’ marriage that made it more than 50 years, or their parents’ marriage that made it back from the brink of divorce, or their mom who was a pregnant teenager but chose not to abort them and instead chose life, etc. We’ll finish the 5K with food, vendor booths, a book signing by prominent authors at our bookstore, and other activities for the community. The cost of the 5K is really just a break-even. It’s $25, and every registrant gets a race T-shirt.

I saw that you will be doing a live podcast with the Dalys. Will there be a Q&A time, or is it just a live recording?

Yes, Jim and Jean Daly will be featured in one of the segments of a live-to-tape podcast during Pursuit. I’ll be asking them a ton of questions, primarily about their own dating/marriage story, but we probably won’t have time for audience Q&A with them. Jim will also do a general greeting to our audience.

What do you hope to for the attendees?

We want to send our audience away encouraged and fired up to grow in every area of life and determined to reject society’s low expectations of them, and instead, be an example (1 Timothy) to those around us as we pursue faith, life and family with intention. We also want folks to leave with new friendships, a bigger sense of what Boundless and Focus on the Family are, and the sense of having had an inspiring and fun time with new friends.

Is there a deadline or a cap on how many may register?

We can take 900 unless we make adjustments in June that will cause us to cap it at 500-600. Registration is open until mid-July.  We currently have 41 states and 5 countries represented. This audience (based on registration so far) will be super diverse. We’re pulling a great number of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians thus far. We have a very diverse podcast listenership, which is great.

If you’d like to find out more about Boundless.org and look into attending Pursuit 2014, visit their website.

By / Apr 30

“What is family?” If you pose that question to 10 different people in today’s culture, you’ll likely get ten very different answers. It will come as a surprise to no one reading this blog that the biblical understanding of the family is in a state of flux. There is simply no longer a consensus on the issue. In our modern context, the word ‘family’ has come to mean almost anything—or nothing at all.

And yet, the answers are right in front of us. We find the blueprint for family throughout history and culture. It is time-tested and reliable. Most importantly, it is laid out before us in the pages of Scripture. If the Church could just recapture that vision and embrace God’s design for family, we could revolutionize our society.

That is the thinking behind Irreplaceable, Focus on the Family’s new documentary film (and its companion small group experience, The Family Project). When our team first started work on these initiatives, we had three concepts at the forefront of our minds: Recover, Renew and Reclaim. We want this documentary to play a part in helping to recover the institution of the family and to ensure that it is enshrined in its proper place at the center of society. When we allow the biblical understanding of the family to become watered down, we’re inviting trouble. Of course, no family is perfect. That’s not what this movie is about. We’re all marred by sin and dysfunction to varying degrees. But it’s imperative that we strive for the ideal.

We also want Irreplaceable to facilitate a renewal of our culture’s understanding about the family. As I have already noted, the historical vision of the family has become so distorted in the 21st century as to become virtually meaningless. But we believe the family offers something unique and important to mankind—something that can’t be replicated when we attempt to tamper with it and redefine it. There’s a reason why God repeatedly uses the language of family to describe our relationship with him. In a very real sense, the community of father, mother and child is a direct representation of the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The family is a signpost pointing to the Creator.

Finally, we believe that Irreplaceable will help build momentum to reclaim what has been lost in our culture as a result of the breakdown of the family. If you think about some of the most pressing social issues of our day—divorce, abuse, poverty, addictions, crime, teen pregnancy, academic underachievement and the list goes on—they are, without exception, tied directly to familial brokenness. But research consistently shows that these social ills are dramatically reduced when families are healthy and strong.

The film itself follows host Tim Sisarich (former Executive Director of Focus on the Family New Zealand) on a quest around the world as he consults with commentators and theologians to address questions such as “What is family?” “What is marriage?” and “Why are mothers and fathers important?” Again, you and I might take the answers to those questions for granted. But from a cultural perspective, the answers are very much up for debate.

Along the way, Tim gains insights from a host of renowned experts and theologians, including Eric Metaxas, Michael Medved, Gabe and Rebekah Lyons, Nancy Pearcey and many more. Whether looking at the issue through the lens of theology, or history, or anthropology, all the evidence points to the same conclusion: Stable families are where so many of our society’s wounds begin to heal.

This is true whether you embrace a Christian worldview or not. The family is an expression of God’s common grace to all mankind, and we tamper with it at our peril. So while Irreplaceable is firmly grounded in a biblical worldview, it has a message for everyone. We feel so strongly about this message that we’ve partnered with Fathom Events to host a special one-night screening in movie theaters nationwide on Tuesday, May 6. This would make an excellent event for your church or small group. It also represents an outreach opportunity for colleagues or neighbors who you feel might be open to the film’s message. So invite your friends. To purchase tickets and find participating theaters near you for the May 6 event, go to IrreplaceableTheMovie.com.

We believe Irreplaceable represents a unique opportunity for the Church. As believers embrace the beauty of God’s design for the family and share it with others in their circles of influence, real cultural transformation is possible. In fact, with God’s blessing, it is inevitable. We’ve invested a great deal of effort in this project—and countless prayers. God has been faithful to answer those prayers as he has opened the doors to make this one-night, nationwide screening a reality. Please join us at your local theater on May 6, and please pray that the Lord would use this screening to touch hearts and minds and to help recover, renew, and reclaim the cultural conversation about the family.