The New York Times recently published a fascinating article about Facebook’s ongoing censorship of Donald Trump, and their alleged “Oversight Board.”
“But for all its claims of legitimacy, the oversight board has always had a Potemkin quality. Its leaders were selected by Facebook, and its members are (handsomely) paid out of the company’s pockets. Its mandate is limited, and none of its rulings are binding, in any meaningful sense of that word. If Zuckerberg decided to ignore the board’s advice and reinstate Trump’s accounts, nothing — no act of Congress, no judicial writ, no angry letter from Facebook shareholders — could stop him.
“That paradoxical setup — an oversight board with no legally enforceable powers of oversight — created tension even before the decision on Wednesday. The board has overturned Facebook’s decisions in the majority of the cases it has reviewed so far, and Facebook has pushed back in several instances.”The New York Times
This reminded me of the story in Genesis when Jacob and his family fled from the domain of his father-in-law Laban (chapter 31). Laban went chasing after them, taking along “his kinsmen.” Laban’s relatives were there, not just for their might, but for the appearance of an impartial forum. Rather than Laban simply taking his daughters and grandchildren away from Jacob, their husband and father, he wanted the appearance of a kind of “due process.” The kinsmen would pass judgment on Jacob, giving the whole violent operation the color of law. They would be an “independent” court that obviously wasn’t independent.
God saved Jacob and his family by appearing to Laban in a dream the night before he caught up to them. God warned Laban: “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad” (v. 24). Laban spoke lots of bad words to Jacob the next day, but he seems to have obeyed the vision. Apparently, God was forbidding Laban to pass some kind of judicial sentence on Jacob, using his kinsmen as witnesses. Ultimately, Jacob used Laban’s kinsmen (who were also his kinsmen, as he pointed out – v. 37) to embarrass Laban and get him to back off.
Facebook claims to be a private corporation that can deny service to anyone it wants. Legally, that may be sound, though I have questions about it. But the company seems to want to pretend that it is acting on a different basis. The creation and payment of an impotent “court”—an oversight board without any oversight—indicates that they don’t want people to think they wield authority autocratically over their users. They want users to think that there is a “due process” which respects people’s “rights.”
In other words, Facebook is pretending to be and acting like a quasi-government. That seems to be the way governments sometimes formed in the ancient world. A wealthy man gathered a community of servants around him with their dependents. In addition to wages, he would also provide security (like Abraham’s 318 trained soldiers – Genesis 14) and an arbitration system which, in theory and sometimes in practice, would be somewhat independent of the rich man.
I don’t see Facebook creating a full government in our present legal and political system, but it does help to think of companies having a governmental tendency. They may not be a true government, but they can be a powerful ally to one wing of a government and an opponent of another wing, as we see happening as Facebook enforces DNC dogma and mutes a former President of the United States.
But even fictional checks and balances can suddenly work in ways they were never really meant to. You can’t create “oversight boards” without amplifying the idea that you ought to be under oversight. God can shake things up in favor of Christians if he wants to do so.
Jacob was in a dire situation and God reversed it literally overnight.
Mark Horne has served as a pastor and worked as a writer. He is the author of The Victory According To Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel, Why Baptize Babies?,J. R. R. Tolkien, and Solomon Says: Directives for Young Men. He is the Executive Director of Logo Sapiens Communications and the writer for SolomonSays.net.