Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Frontier Justice, Facebook-Style

So I got an interesting message when I logged into Facebook yesterday: I had been charged, arrested, tried, sentenced, and punished for a crime that I would argue I didn't commit.  And all this within the twelve-hour gap between then and the last time I had signed into Facebook. Also I didn't get the chance to have a lawyer or a jury!  I'm pretty sure there was no judge present, either, because if there had been, this case would have been tossed right out of court.

Apparently a photo that I had posted had violated the Facebook "Community Standards" and had been removed from my account without any prior warning and without any reason given as to why it was removed or when and where and who decided to remove it. Furthermore, I was notified that I was banned from posting or sharing anything on Facebook for the next twelve hours, and I was warned that future infractions could result in my Facebook account being permanently locked.

Well, as a mild-mannered, law-abiding cyber-citizen, I was a little bit shocked and upset and annoyed at this unprovoked announcement, especially given the content of the picture that was removed and that earned me this ban, which Facebook was helpful enough to show me on my main screen as the first thing I saw when I signed in. It was also coincidentally a good friend's birthday that day on Facebook, and I had signed in solely to post a snarky message with a funny inside-joke photo on his timeline, and because of my ban, I had to wait until after midnight to finally be able to wish my friend a happy birthday. So the ban was more than a little bit inconvenient for me, as well.

The offending image is featured below. Proceed at your own risk, because according to Facebook's content filters, it might be NSFW!

That's right, people, the photo that got removed and got me temporarily banned from Facebook was a photo of me posing with my Salvadoreño buddies Carlos and Benjamín in their living room as I finished a two-year LDS proselyting mission in Houston, Texas, and prepared to return home. How scandalous of me to have even dared to post something as appalling as this photo to my profile! If you can't already tell, there's going to be some heavy sarcasm in the rest of this post. You might want to get out your sarcasm-umbrellas just in case before you wade ahead.

So since I was being punished for violating Facebook's "Community Standards", I figured I would research the Community Standards, prepare a rebuttal for every point that they possibly could have hit me for, and send Facebook a loving little note with my feelings and comments. Only there's no real way to directly contact Facebook and expect a response back - another gripe I have. So I filled out a dumb feedback form and I hope some chump at Corporate Headquarters might give my message the time of day in a week or a month or so and get a little kick out of it and then ultimately, absolutely nothing meaningful will get done. But I figured I'd whine about my experience in the public forum a little bit as well.

So here are all of Facebook's Community Standards headings (found here for reference), with the reason why my removed photo does NOT violate them:

"Violence and Threats"
Carlos and I do have our arms around each others' shoulders, but I assure Facebook and The Public that we were not locked in a death grip, neither were we trying to squeeze each others' heads off. And my arm is not heavy enough to have caused Carlos any permanent spinal cord injuries or anything like that from me resting its hulking weight on his shoulders, so I fail to see how this photo includes any violence of any kind. Also there is no theft or vandalism occurring in the photo, which is also included under this section in Facebook's guidelines. Except I'm not quite sure where Benjamín might have gotten his sunglasses...

No self-mutilation. I do have a left arm, it's just hidden behind Benjamín! And I definitely do not have an eating disorder. And I'm not strung out on any hard drugs, seeing as how I was a full-time missionary representative of Jesus Christ for two years of my life during the time the photo was taken.

"Bullying and Harassment"
Yes, I admit that Carlos and Benjamín are both quite a bit bigger and buffer than I am, but they were not extorting money from me or planning on beating me up or abusing me in any way. At least I hope they weren't.  I got away from them without any problems, at least.  We're taking a friendly picture in their living room before I board a plane and fly home, for crying out loud!  How could it be construed as bullying or harassment?

"Hate Speech"
Yes, Carlos and Benjamín are Hispanic, and yes, I am a white-bread gringo, bolillo, güero, etc. But I spent the last two years of my life learning Spanish (I'm completely fluent now), being immersed in the Spanish culture and lifestyle, and working with and serving the Hispanic people. I learned to love the Hispanic people, not to hate and discriminate against them. I would argue that the reason I posted the picture of me with my friends who happen to be Hispanic is because I am not a racist but I am in fact friends with these people.

"Graphic Content"
Facebook refers to excessive violence and gore as "Graphic Content". I don't see any blood at all in the picture, unless you count the small scab on Benjamín's shoulder. Dang, that's some intensely graphic content right there. I should have looked closer before I posted a picture of a guy with a scab on his arm. I should have been more sensitive to those Facebook users with queasy stomachs who don't like to see blood and gore in photos.

"Nudity and Pornography"
Not unless you count the bare shoulders of men in cut-off T-shirts as being pornographic. And I KNOW that Facebook lets a whole heck of a lot worse than this picture slide skankily under their radar...

"Identity and Privacy"
I did in fact tag my two friends in this picture, because I am actually friends with them on Facebook also. Now, unless my tagging them in the picture somehow violates their Identity and Privacy rights as defined by Facebook, then I'm pretty sure I'm in the clear. I was, of course, just following the trends and patterns of the ONE BILLION other Facebook users who post pictures and tag their friends in them all the time. There might have been a policy change concerning tagging friends that I wasn't aware of that happened in the last two years while I was a missionary, but somehow I doubt it.

"Intellectual Property"
This is where I'll admit that I've got the shakiest argument as to my right to have this picture on Facebook. Since I am technically the subject of the photo, and a fourth friend of ours was the one who actually took the photo, then I suppose that I technically am not the copyright holder of this image. Even though this photo was taken on my camera with my SD card and our friend consented to take the picture for us, I suppose that since he is the one who physically pushed the shutter button of my camera, that he is the photographer who controls the "artwork" that was created and I should have asked for his permission in writing before I shared his intellectual property on my personal Facebook profile. And then I should have provided a disclaimer at the bottom of the photo. ...But seriously, if that is the reason the photo was blocked then they're going to have to block every single Facebook account of everyone in the world who is not a teenage girl (because they always take the self-portrait-with-friends shots where they hold the camera in reverse out in front of them with their own arms, so they are actually the copyright holders of their pictures).

"Phishing and Spam"
In the comment underneath this picture, I asked for Carlos and Benjamín to "like" my picture and then provide their Social Security numbers and bank account PINs in the comments section. I apologize for my audacity in trying to scam people out of their money.

I also sold a copy of this photo to a secret government hit team whose purpose is to take out people who immigrate to the United States legally with visas and green cards. And I actually wasn't even a missionary at all; I was just pretending to be one so I could gather dirt ("el lalo" in Mexican slang) on the Hispanic population of Houston for two years and then report back to my superiors. Facebook must have figured it out and removed this picture as an attempt to keep me from delivering my top-secret information...
Well, those are seriously all of the Facebook "Community Standards" and I honestly can find zero instances where my picture of me with friends could possibly have violated any of these standards. And it's ridiculous that Facebook removed my picture and banned me indiscriminately, without even bothering to review the photo or to check for accuracy of the violation claim. My best guess as to what happened is that somebody (a friend of Carlos or Benjamín's who saw the photo perhaps) clicked the "Report" link next to the photo, either intentionally or accidentally, and Facebook immediately removed the photo without even bothering to check up on the claim.

In conclusion, I... don't have a conclusion. I'm just annoyed. There's nothing really I can do to fix this. I just thought it was highly unjust and ridiculous and maybe someday I can actually post photos of me with friends without getting burned by Facebook.

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