Spotlight On – CENSORSHI*

May 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

(Originally posted January 10 2011)


When I found out that our term for this week was “censorship,” I was both excited and reluctant to get started. Excited because obviously, I mean, pretty much everything I’ve done as a scholar-type and certainly everything before that, back when I was but a gap-toothed third-grader chortling at the prospect that ASS had just died of dysentery, has focused either on censorship itself or that which should be or has been censored.

Carol Ann? Really? Clearly the person playing this game was not me.

It is for precisely this reason that I didn’t want to touch the subject, because dear god! How do you distill twenty years’ worth of interest into five paragraphs? You pick your battles, is the answer. So, for the sake of brevity, and because it’s timely I guess, I return to my ongoing war with Facebook.

As I mentioned last time, I was banned from the site for violating Facebook’s terms of service agreements. Yeah yeah, guilty as charged, and I’m not sorry either. I was curious how Facebook would handle my appeal, though, and/so sent a very polite email asking what I had done. A few days later I received a curt response saying, more or less, that I am a very bad man and should be ashamed of myself. Furthermore, the decision was final, do not pass go, do not collect $200, etc. Twenty minutes later I received an about-face, sent from the same “User Operator” that wrote the initial Howler:

After further investigation, your account was disabled because our systems identified your behavior on the site as harassing or threatening to other people, including maintaining multiple accounts. Contacting people you do not know is not allowed on Facebook because it makes other users feel unsafe. However, after reviewing your situation, we are reactivating your account with this final warning. You should now be able to log in.

Please review the guidelines below to prevent your account from being disabled again in the future:

• Do not send unwanted messages or friend requests to people you don’t know in the real world.

• Do not create or maintain multiple accounts on the site.

• Do not use the site for dating or business purposes.

• Do not send messages that are threatening, sexually explicit, hateful or harassing.

In other words, I had been silenced because my behavior “threatened” other users. Given that my research accounts were primarily lurker accounts, and that I hadn’t harassed a soul, and that I’d only sent (non-threatening) messages to “people” I already “knew” (i.e. to consenting trolls), I found Facebook’s explanation rather flimsy (needless to say, I have yet to reup my account). Then, a week later, a troll friend of mine sent me this—a profile of Facebook’s rather stupidly named “Hate and Harassment Team.” I quickly realized that thiswas why I had been banned. Not just because I had multiple accounts, but because my accounts were linked to other trolls. I was banned, and therefore censored, by association.

We can have a conversation about why we need to protect the children or whatever, and why we need to hold users accountable for their actions, and why we need to keep Facebook (and the Internet more generally) as hate-free and open as possible. But in addition to asking where the lines are or should be drawn, we should also ask who gets to draw them. I know for a fact that, for example, members of the KKK are given a pass by Facebook (because hey man, it’s not illegal to say you don’t like the browns! It’s called free speech, look it up!). I also know that there are entire websites devoted to archiving white peoples’use of the word “nigger” on Facebook, and that delicate Alaskan flowers like Willow Palin are able to throw “fag” around with impunity—well, as far as Facebook’s TOS agreements are concerned.

I am certainly not saying that trolls don’t use problematic language and/or language which might meet the legal criteria for hate speech (in the sense of not being protected by the First Amendment). But I am saying, come on guys, you can’t roll out a welcome mat for the KKK and then throw a temper-tantrum when the exact same language is used –arguably in a different context– somewhere else on the site. You either ban all offending parties, or none of them. Unless you want to get into a debate about intent, in which case, sign me up, because LOL that’d be a nightmare.


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