robot rent-a-cops of Facebook
Thursday, February 21 2013
Early tomorrow morning, Gretchen and I would be departing for the Dominican Republic, a second go at a trip that would have happened back in January had my papers been in order. So I spent much of the day cleaning the house, doing laundry, bringing in dry pieces of firewood, and otherwise getting things in order for our house sitter. As for packing, there was little to do except assemble a few teeshirts and make sure the power brick for the laptop had a compatible power plug.
I'm not a big Chuck Hagel fan, but one has to give him credit for allowing his opinions to follow the evidence as the Iraq quagmire revealed itself to be one of America's biggest foreign policy blunders. So while it would have been nice for Obama to find a thoughtful Democrat to be Secretary of Defense, an apostate Republican would have to do. Naturally, the keepers of the Republican flame have been none too happy with the Hagel nomination, and have done what they can to thwart it (more, it would seem, out of dickishness than over actual policy differences). The central locus of this attempted thwarting has been within the center of the Conservative Media Bubble (CMB), the fine folks who predicted a Mitt Romney landslide and who disparage reality as an Islamocommunist plot. These people have yet to learn from the cognitive dissonance of Romney's defeat. They continue loudly echoing whatever news items supports their world view, no matter how thinly-sourced or free of moderating context. So it's been entertaining to track the "Friends of Hamas" meme, which started out as a joke to a conservative congressional staffer, and ended up trumpeted all over Breitbart.com, your clearinghouse of all things bubbliciously right wing. By yesterday or the day before, the whole thing had become a joke, something to rub the right's nose in with a condescending, "You're never going to grow up and be president if you continue ignoring reality this way." By then I'd made a fake Facebook page for "Friends of Hamas," illustrated with pictures of flag-waving Palestinian crowds and rock-throwing youths. The tag line said something about wishing Isræl might be reduced to the size of a telephone switching closet. Several posts lauded Chuck Hagel and gave him an enthusiastic broken-English endorsement for "Minister of Defense for Great Satan." It also spelled his last name "Ha'gel."
By today I'd managed to get a modest 13 likes for the page (mostly from a single post on dailykos.com and a few of my sock puppet identities). But then, after having been away from Facebook for awhile, I returned to find that I had to log in again. That is how Facebook announces that it is in the process of punishing you. After I logged in, I was greeted by a message saying that I had violated their terms of service and that the offending content had been deleted. Since most of what had happened had taken place via robot, there was no careful accounting of what I had done and no appeal process. My Friends of Hamas page was gone and that was that.
The only time Facebook has ever penalized me in the past, it was by renaming my "Randall the Rapebaby" page to something like "Randall the [Parody Site with Offensive Term]baby," which took all the fun out of it. In both cases, someone had apparently made an "abuse" claim after my satiric Facebook pages had "liked" something that the liked parties didn't want someone named "Friends of Hamas" or "Randall the Rapebaby" to like. (Randall the Rapebaby had been very fond of everything Sarah Palin had posted, for example.) In neither case, though, had the pages made any threats or libelous claims, encouraged violence, or even used obscenity. They'd just been good-naturedly odd while sardonically making their respective political points. And now, in the case of my Friends of Hamas, the content had been judged so terrible that it had been removed completely.
This drove home an important difference between a website like Facebook and a technology like the World Wide Web. While the latter isn't really controlled by any one person and it's possible to do or say pretty much anything you like on it, the former is a specific project of a specific commercial interest. The only way to put stuff on Facebook is to log in to Facebook.com's website and use their tools. There is no local copy of the things I put on their site unless I am careful to make one manually. And if they decide they don't like my content, boom, it's gone, and I have no recourse. Facebook might be so big and all-pervasive that it seems like a technology, but legally it's not much different from the food court at a shopping mall. And since I don't know how precisely I'd run afoul of their rules, my future speech on Facebook has been chilled. Why bother putting something together if it's just going to get torn down by jack-booted robot rent-a-cops?
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