“Your account has been disabled. Click here for the FAQ.”
Fuck. Again? I saw the message as I was logging into Facebook to send out invitations to my birthday party. After losing my Facebook account last year due to what I thought was a tasteful photo, I have been very careful to abide by Facebook’s infamous “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” But, among other things, “sexually suggestive content” is forbidden. “Suggestive?” That is about as ambiguous as it gets.
I was reinstated this time, but this is my second Facebook account. Last time I was told some vague bullshit about how I had already been given “numerous warnings” and “this decision is final.” So I started from scratch with a new email address and rebuilt my friend list slowly. I want to just say “Fuck it” and boycott this stupid company, but they have successfully created a dependency on their social networking platform for anybody involved in nightclub promotion. My friends list and the group for my nightclub events have become valuable. Facebook has replaced expensive print advertising. Flyering and postering are still useful, but they’re not mandatory. It’s possible to pull together an event in less than 24 hours if you have the right network.
Even as a kid, I was always into new technology. Every dollar I earned from picking fruit, working at the corner store or covering people’s paper routes was spent on first records and then cassettes. I saved money to buy a newfangled computerlike device to replace my mom’s old-fashioned typewriter (it was a “word processor”). Two lines of text would appear on a tiny digital screen before being typed onto a piece of paper.
So when I was first introduced to social networking via MySpace, I was captivated. It took some time to get my head around it, but I realized how valuable it could be. MySpace turned out to be a big fucking mess, and as soon I heard that everyone in my network was switching to this new thing called Facebook, I got heavily involved. I became a convert. I converted real friends into Facebook friends. I understood the phrase “Crackbook.” I found it fascinating, both as a tool and as a social experiment.
While my fiction writing has remained on the backburner for many years, I even saw promise in using a platform like Facebook for that. I had long wanted to start a serious blog, which would include all my former writing, regular updates and new stuff, but I started to think that Facebook would render even blogs obsolete. You can post notes. You can post photos and videos. It’s all interwoven with your friends’ stuff. It just made sense.
Then I got bumped with my first warning in mid-2007. I had not posted pornographic photos or anything, but I realized that being on Facebook leaves me vulnerable. The warning snapped me back into reality — I became consciously aware that Facebook is not a real community that fosters tolerance and dialogue, rather it is a fascist state run by a faceless techno-bureaucracy that monitors complaints about its users. They have the power to disable your account with little option for recourse.
It is a community based on user “reporting,” like many other massive online communities. “Report this Photo” appears beside every photo on Facebook, just like “Flag — report video as inappropriate” accompanies each video on YouTube. Someone can flag your content just because they don’t like you — or your opinions. Facebook refuses to tell you why your account is suspended, and they never reveal the identity of who reported you.
In this latest Facebook disabling, I have deciphered, by process of elimination and interpretation of the doublespeak used in Facebook communication, that it was because I was an administrator of a group called Tabernac. This group was devoted to promoting an event called Tabernac at my club — a night co-promoted by Canadian pornstar Pierre Fitch, who also lost his account. The group was deleted entirely, and after 10 days of waiting, we both received notes from “the Facebook Team” informing us that we should be more careful about the groups we administer, and that we had been given a second chance.
The Tabernac group contained a G-rated poster for an event to be held at my club. The same poster appeared elsewhere on Facebook with no repercussions. Facebook would not give me or Pierre a specific reason for why the group was deleted, instead choosing to say, “Unfortunately, for technical and security reasons we are unable to provide further information about the removed group.” When I asked for a media contact, the response was, “We apologize for any inconvenience but we are unable to respond to research requests.”
Canadian artist Leif Harmsen crusades against Facebook. He sells T-shirts that say “Shut Your Facebook.”
“The more dependent we allow ourselves to become on something like Facebook — and Facebook does everything in its power to make you more dependent — the more Facebook can and does abuse us,” Harmsen recently told the Advocate.
The problem I have with the idea of a boycott is that there is no strong alternative. There is no equivalent site with the same level of ubiquity. And for social networking sites, critical mass is essential. That’s the whole reason these sites are addictive. I can find friends from high school I haven’t heard from in decades. I can become a “fan” of musicians and artists and feel that much closer to them. But more importantly, I can use it to network with like-minded local queers and friendlies who want to come to events at my venue. I am a small-business owner. I can’t afford to not use Facebook. They truly have made me dependent on them.
So now I must be even more cautious. I must censor myself when using Facebook. My business partner Mandy Goodhandy has gone through all of our event posters and censored them in a humorous way. The “I Love Sex Party” is now the “I Love Praying Party.” The “Dirty Sexy Party” is now the “Good Wholesome Fun Party.” Even Mandy’s fully-covered breasts have censor marks on them.
I admire Harmsen’s lead on this. I hate Facebook for many reasons. I won’t even pretend to hope that we can “fight from within.” Facebook is known for ignoring protest. How many of you have received a “Join the Petition to…” group invitation protesting specific Facebook policies, checked it out and seen that there were more than a million people signed on? Facebook refuses to add a “Transgender” category to its sign-up page — that alone makes my blood boil. Why do they refuse to recognize anything beyond the gender binary?
But I will continue to use this evil platform, for now. I take some solace in knowing that major online change can happen in short periods of time. Twitter is gaining in popularity and from the number of porn-related tweets I see, it seems that Twitter so far is not going the fascist route.
Todd Klinck is co-owner of Goodhandy’s nightclub in Toronto. Read his past columns on Xtra.ca.