Monday, March 8, 2021

Facebook cancels David

 Some of you may have noticed that the Racket Facebook page has been quiet over the past couple of days. The reason is that a political page that I’ve run for more years than I care to remember, the Common Sense Conservative, recently ran afoul of Facebook’s Terms of Service.

I stayed out of trouble for many long years of running the Common Sense Conservative, but that streak came to an end last fall with a brief suspension for a nonspecific violation of the TOS as I described in a January post.

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But Facebook really tightened up after the insurrection. On Martin Luther King Day, I posted a motivational meme that featured an MLK quote. Facebook placed a warning label on that meme because independent fact-checkers said that the quote was not accurate. This meme is still posted on the Racket’s Facebook page and you can see it here along with the disclaimer.

The bigger problem came this week when Facebook dredged up two old posts, one from last April and one from July, that it said violated the Terms of Service. The first of these memes was a political cartoon that depicted an armed anti-mask protest. The protesters were telling a crowd of masked elderly people and children something to the effect of, “We are okay with you dying for our freedom.”

The second was a bit more edgy. The July post featured a Klansman and BLM protester. The text featured words that were being spoken by both people which indicated that they were both judging people based on race.

The warnings came on subsequent days. The April mask meme was accompanied by the notice of a 60-day suspension and the July KKK-BLM meme said 90 days. I’m not sure if those sentences run concurrently or sequentially. I was allowed to appeal both decisions and both were denied.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, I’d recommend that you take screenshots. The MLK meme is still there, but the other two were deleted, leaving me struggling to remember exactly what they said.

The day after the July meme came up, I got another notification that the Common Sense Conservative, a page with more than 30,000 followers, had been unpublished. I don’t know if this is permanent or another time-defined punishment. I also don’t know if the incident resulted from complaints or if Facebook is scrutinizing all pages.

It would be tempting to be upset about the ban, which does not extend to my personal Facebook page. It only applies to creating and posting on Facebook’s commercial-type pages. I can still comment and share articles and post pictures of my family. I’m glad that it wasn’t a total ban. I do have friends who have experienced much worse punishments including having their personal pages deleted.

For me, I’m honestly not sorry to see the Common Sense Conservative go. It was a hobby that had become tiresome. At times, such as during the flood of Bernie-inauguration memes, content is easy to find, but much of the time it takes a lot of searching to find a few memes that are worthy of posting. It can be especially time-consuming if you run a page alone and are picky about what message you send.

However, I do sympathize with others who have had similar experiences and who had more invested in their Facebook content. It’s very tempting to say that it isn’t fair for Facebook to impose arbitrary rules and go back a year or more to nitpick old posts.

But the concept of fairness is a fuzzy and subjective one. Is it fair for me to impose my opinion of fairness on the company that invested and built the platform as a private business? Should I be entitled to post whatever I want on Facebook? It’s easy to go from complaints about fairness to an entitlement mentality.

For the record, the law, common sense, and fairness all dictate that Facebook gets to set its own rules and enforce them as it sees fit. That is what Section 230 says and that is what I’ve said when others complained. I may not like or agree with the result, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

The argument that I used against people who claim that healthcare is a human right is that no one is entitled to someone else’s work or property. That rule applies to social media as well.

One interesting thing about my experience is that it undercuts the notion that Facebook is picking on the right. My posts that drew fire from Facebook ran the ideological gamut from being pro-MLK to pro-mask to anti-BLM and KKK. Facebook did not single out one particular viewpoint. In fact, the pro-mask post was the first one that resulted in a ban.

The bottom line here is that anytime you depend on a third-party platform, you are subject to third-party rules. That applies to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, Substack, or Parler. All are going to have rules or they will become cesspools. The question is where to draw the line. Section 230 allows the platforms rather than the government to draw the line and I support that.

I’m going to put my faith in the free market rather than the bureaucracy. Facebook’s new, strict rules may be unpopular enough that users vote with their feet and move to competing platforms. That should result in either a loosening of the current restrictions, a platform that hopefully falls somewhere between Facebook and Parler, or a combination of the two.

What I’d really like to see is for Facebook to improve on its processes to increase transparency, create a better appeals process (one in which you can offer a defense or explanation), and above all, learn to recognize satire and content that is posted critically. For example, if someone posts an outlandish meme or screenshot to ridicule and laugh at it, the punishment should not be the same as for someone who posts the same meme as an endorsement of the idea. I’ve got friends who went to Facebook jail for sharing QAnon memes so they could laugh at them.

The bottom line is that, like the Republican Party, Facebook can’t keep running off its customer base and expect to stay in business. The company made $12 billion last quarter. They can afford to make some upgrades to keep their customers happy.

In the meantime, I’ll be serving out my sentence, if not in Facebook jail then at least on parole. Steve has graciously agreed to assume the role of Official Racket Memelord.

I’ll admit to being a bit irked at Facebook, but that’s tempered with relief that I can still use the platform to share pictures of the kids with my family and friends. That’s more important than sharing Bernie memes.

I can agree that Facebook’s overly zealous enforcement of its Terms of Service is a problem for people who want to talk politics and share satirical memes. Where I part ways with many on the right, however, is that I don’t think introducing more government into the equation is the solution.

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