June 26, 2012

Facebook’s disastrous IPO was less an “€œinitial public offering”€ than an injurious public ordeal.

Is it possible that the investors snapping up shares were the only folks on Earth who”€™d never actually visited the site and were therefore oblivious about how literally worthless Facebook can be?

I”€™m not just talking about the corny cartoons we”€™re begged to “€œLike”€ or the admittedly adorable photos of kittens or kids.

I mean the seemingly arbitrary decisions Facebook makes about what you don”€™t get to post there and what you do.

Now, I”€™m not one of those “€œinformation wants to be free”€ parasites who thinks the likes of Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter (conceived, constructed, and maintained thanks to somebody else’s genius, hard work, and capital) are de facto public utilities I should be able to use and abuse at whim. If I can”€™t spray-paint expletives on my rental apartment walls with presumed impunity, then social media’s “€œlandlords”€ shouldn”€™t have to condone its virtual equivalent.

What I find confusing are Facebook’s decisions about what gets to stay up and what gets pulled down.

Take Michael Brown. He wrote a book called A Queer Thing Happened to America, which he calls a “€œmeticulously researched”€ history of gay activism’s negative impact on society.

Like many authors, he created a Facebook page to promote his book. According to Brown, the page had been up for about a year, attracting some comments and helping sell a few copies.

“€œWhat I find confusing are Facebook’s decisions about what gets to stay up and what gets pulled down.”€

Then last week, his “€œWeb guy’s”€ Facebook account was locked because Brown’s page “€œviolated Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.”€

Among other things, that “€œStatement”€ forbids “€œbullying, intimidation, and harassment”€ and bans content that qualifies as “€œhate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”€

Brown insists his book’s Facebook page wasn”€™t in violation. None of us can judge for ourselves because it no longer exists.>

However, Brown easily found other Facebook pages that some might say violated Facebook’s vague standards.

For example, “€œHitler Fetus is Our Jesus”€ offended Brown as a Christian, but again, I can”€™t describe it, because the page disappeared after he wrote about it in his online column.

Brown also points to the sizable number of anti-Israel pages on Facebook which arguably contain “€œhate speech”€ and “€œincite violence.”€ Or how about “€œI Hate Christianity”€?

Brown complained to Facebook about his page’s deletion and received an apology. The company explained that the page was “€œtaken down accidentally”€ and promised it would never happen again.

Except it did.

Brown’s still extant personal Facebook page is “€œpopular”€ with commenters who regularly accuse him of “€œhate”€ and “€œhomophobia.”€ They also hold him personally responsible for the (exaggerated) epidemic of suicides by “€œbullied”€ gay kids. One could be forgiven for viewing these venomous comments as “€œharassment”€ and “€œintimidation.”€

These commenters are seemingly oblivious to how effectively they”€™re proving Brown’s thesis for him. And Facebook hasn”€™t censored them.


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