There may be a lesson in social giant Twitter’s recent troubles.
Don’t mess with The Babylon Bee.
Started as a site to poke fun at the Christian subculture, Bee’s political satire has come to overshadow its more benevolent Christian humor in recent years, sending the site into hot water with fact checkers and media gatekeepers. social media, including Twitter.
Twitter suspended Babylon Bee’s account on March 22, after labeling a post about Biden’s transgender administration official Rachel Levine as hateful content. Shortly after, billionaire Elon Musk, a fan of the site, got a text of his ex-wife, Talulah Jane Riley.
“The Babylon Bee has been suspended, it’s crazy!” read the text, which was made audience earlier This year. “Why has everyone become so puritanical? Then Riley suggested Musk buy Twitter and either take it down or “make it radically free speech.”
Musk, who recently bought Twitter for $44 billion and implemented massive layoffs, was a critic of social media censorship long before the Bee troubles. But the satirical site’s connection to one of the world’s most powerful men is the latest example of the rise of a would-be pastor’s bee side project to a conservative central.
The Bee, modeled similarly to secular satire site The Onion, began as the brainchild of Adam Ford, who quit his day job in the mid-2010s to start creating web content. Ford’s dream of becoming a pastor had been derailed by panic and the Depression, he Told The Washington Post in 2016.
With the help of medication, Ford got better and started writing about faith, first for a webcomic and then in 2016 for The Bee. From the start, the site was a great success, especially with evangelical Christians who appreciated good-natured jokes about weaknesses of church lifewhich at the time attracted more than political jokes.
Among the site’s most memorable early jokes were title“Holy Spirit unable to move through congregation as fog machine breaks.”
“We barely finished our new song. It was a real train wreck,” says a fictional Nashville cult leader. cited as told.
Other early jokes made fun of church committees and prosperity gospel pastors like Joel Osteen, including this headline: “Joel Osteen sails a luxury yacht through flooded Houston to distribute copies of ‘Your Best Life Now’.”
Jon Glass, pastor of Cropwell Baptist Church in Pell City, Alabama, enjoyed the early church bee humor, calling it “the kind of sarcasm that hits home and makes you think , ‘Is this what we look like?’ ”
Writer and former pastor Jelani Greenidge was also an early fan of the bee’s attempts to poke fun at the weird side of evangelical culture. Those early messages, he said, helped Christians laugh at themselves.
“The best satire comes from a place of love,” Greenidge said. That love, he said, seems rare these days in the Bee, which Greenidge says seems too focused on confusing politicians and progressive figures conservatives hate.
Current Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon, the son of a pastor and former internet marketer who bought a majority stake in Babylon Bee in 2018, said the site still posts many jokes about the church. But fewer people share them.
“We still make a lot of church jokes – they just don’t go as viral as the other stuff,” he said, as the opportunities for satire in the daily news cycle are endless. He pointed to repeated satire of Donald Trump’s site – a Trump joke topped the bee’s ‘greatest hits’ listing pages that got the most traffic – whom Dillon called an “outrageous character” who deserved to be mocked.
Today, however, the site is best known for its criticism of liberal politicians and what Dillon called the “Waking Mind Virus.” He describes the Bee as a satirical site with a Christian worldview dedicated to mocking bad ideas in popular culture.
“We don’t want our audience to feel bad about themselves, like we’re bullying them,” he said. “We want our audience to take bad ideas less seriously.”
Ford remains co-owner of the bee and also manages “Not the Bee”, which aggregates bizarre headlines, often about progressives.
While Bee’s website still features a mix of jokes – twin titles “A worshiper turned into a column of salt after turning around to dazzle Sound Guy” and “Satan Leads Prayer at Trump Rally” topped the site Monday – political jokes and attacks on progressive culture garnered the most attention, dominating both the site “buzzing” list, which tracks trending stories on the site, as well as the Bee’s the biggest hits.
“They do a great job raising awareness of the absurdity that drives so much of our culture,” said Alex MacArthur, software engineer and Bee fan from Nashville, Tennessee.
The site’s editors seem particularly obsessed with U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who publishes two dozen articles about the New York Democrat in 2022 alone. For subscribers, who pay between $4.17 and $15 per months for ad-free content and other bonuses, the site offers a list of the top 10 Ocasio-Cortez jokes (“AOC Pledges and Signs Up for a $10,000 ‘Tax the Rich’ Toaster,” “AOC cries outside Disney World in dress while reading ‘Groom The Kids’”).
The site ran a number of anti-trans jokes, poking fun at both particular transgender people like Levine and fictional trans people. One of the site’s greatest hits is about a biker who wins races by “identifying as a cyclist”.
The Bee’s satirical forays into culture war issues have won a loyal following — the site draws around 20 million page views a month, Dillon said — and the ire of many.
In addition to the suspension of its Twitter account, The Babylon Bee was sounded by fact checkers and social media sites to share misinformation. It cost the site traffic and money, Dillon said. Even so, the bee is trying to capitalize on what Dillon has called big tech censorship from conservative viewpoints by running ads highlighting its clashes with social media gatekeepers to attract followers.
“It helps expose them not just to humorless rebukes, but to big tech bullies,” he said.
Matt Sienkiewicz, director of the communications department at Boston College and co-author of It’s Not Funny: How the Right Makes Comedy Work for Themsaid The Babylon Bee is part of a larger and highly successful conservative comedy ecosystem.
But The Bee’s success in promoting “anti-liberal comedy” has come at the cost of stifling Christian satire, according to Sienkiewicz. Fans who came to the site for church humor probably don’t see these jokes anymore because they don’t feed the outrage algorithm or because they’re turned off by politics.
“Things no one else can do have been lost,” he said.
Much of today’s humor, he said, is shaped by what he calls the “clap” – where people clap because they agree with the person doing it. the joke, rather than making fun of themselves.
“It may be funny, but it loses a bit of joy,” he said.
Sienkiewicz said attempts to label the bee as misinformation are foolish because the site is clearly satire. But, he said, the bee risks falling into a “risk-averse strategy” when it comes to comedy by only telling jokes that its audience will agree with.
“One of the saddest things about the state of American politics is that it makes comedy harder and less interesting,” he said.
Ethan Nicolle, a conservative California writer and Babylon Bee staffer from 2018 to 2022, agrees.
Nicolle, who was the bee’s creative director when he first worked in editor Kyle Mann’s garage, said he loves working for the bee and having the chance to poke fun at the state of the culture. American, which he believes in part is very unhealthy.
“They tell the jokes you’re not supposed to tell,” he said.
Still, he suspects the country’s polarization makes satire more difficult. People are afraid to criticize their own side and don’t want to be friends with anyone from the other side.
“All the joy in life comes from your relationships with others,” Nicolle said. “And canceling another human being because of something political they said doesn’t make sense. And we’re doing it with half the country.
So far, Musk’s takeover of Twitter hasn’t paid off for the bee – the site’s Twitter account remained suspended in early November. But the bee staff did score an extensive in-person interview with Musk, in which he discussed censorship, sustainable energy, and his own religious background, which included attending Hebrew school and Sunday school at an Anglican church and the belief in “the God of Spinoza”.
Musk also said he was a fan of Jesus’ teachings.
“Things like turning the other cheek are very important, as opposed to eye for an eye,” he said. “An eye for an eye makes everyone blind.”