Saying Farewell To Facebook's Digitopia

It turns out that I am not the only person to notice the recent increase in Facebook censorship. Just yesterday I learned that a lawyer in California who posted something about his willingness to defend people's right to bear arms had his post removed because it violated Facebook's opaque standards. Are we entering a period of "Latte Liberalism," with 20-somethings deciding what is and is not acceptable from a cocoon in Silicon Valley?

Under pressure from Congress and others after disclosures that Facebook has sold the data it harvested from its users to various entities, including Cambridge Analytica, Mark Zuckerberg announced last year that Facebook would soon enforce new community standards rules. Those rules seem to have gone into effect within the past two weeks.

Until Tuesday morning of this week, I was a Facebook user. I had about 5,000 friends. They were of all races and political persuasions. Conversations on Facebook were often raw and raucous. I like it that way. I’d keep folks around until their personal attacks on me were more annoying than entertaining.

A few weeks ago, the conservatives on the page began to complain to me in private notes that they were frequently censored. I engaged in an experiment. I’d repost some of what they said on my page. I got censored, too. Paradoxically, however, not all comments censored on others’ pages was censored on mine. And some comments censored on my page, weren’t censored on the pages of others.

The algorithm doing the censoring is apparently sensitive to who the user is.

It’s eerie and offensive. Just who is deciding who can speak and who cannot?

I was mulling all this as I read Jaron Lanier’s new book, Ten Reasons For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. He makes a persuasive argument.

Facebook harvests data from its users. It monitors what you like, what you look at, how long you look at it, and its computer, which, by the way, never gets hacked, creates a profile about you. The computer’s algorithm then compares your profile to the profiles of others. The result is sophisticated marketing tool: you are grouped with others who behave similarly. That data is then sold, at great profit, to third parties who want to manipulate you either to vote, purchase or behave in a certain way.

It’s kind of creepy. A digitopia in which a few people get rich manipulating we digital sheep.

Creepy but not so creepy that I was prepared to pull the plug on Facebook.

What set me over the edge was the censorship. I suppose I didn’t mind being data harvested and manipulated. The benefits of Facebook participation – raucous discussion, irreverent humor, poking fun at sacred cows – outweighed the costs.

But then I got a note from a Facebook friend. A photo had been censored from his page. It was a photograph of three Coors beer cans with paper coned hoods gathered around a brown bottle hanging from a noose. It was a beer bottle lynching. This offended the Facebook Community Standards policy.

I was incredulous. The photo was funny, even if offensive. Was this an example of the censor picking on a person or a topic? I reposted the image on my page under a caption: Ku Klux Coors.

All hell broke loose. Persons of color and liberals found it offensive; conservatives found it humorous in a sophomoric way. By morning the censors had deleted the photo. Moments later, I deleted my page.

It’s one thing to be digitally pimped to mysterious corporate and governmental entities. It is quite another to be taken advantage of and also be told what can and cannot be said.

Hours later, I learned the local NAACP and fellow travelers were so outraged by what I had posted they were hoping to have me criminally prosecuted, my law license attacked, and whatever other mayhem they could produce. (They did a press release “condemning” me. To which I say, “Back at you, bro.”)

All at once, I wished I had left my page up, simply to respond.

There is no mob quite so dangerous as a self-righteous mob.

Facebook is not the government. We have no first amendment right to speak on the forum. It can limit the terms and conditions of our engagement.

But I’ll be damned if I will participate in a social media site that tells me “come hither” for free, mines my data, sells the data for profit to others so that I can be manipulated by strangers, and then tells me what I can and cannot say.

I am done with Facebook.

You should be, too.


I Got 99 Problems And Esdaile's NAACP Ain't One

Folks: The Connecticut NAACP condemned me today for re-posting a photo of a group of beer cans wearing hoods and surrounding a brown beer bottle on Facebook. Ku Klux Coors, I called it. It was sent to me by someone who could not believe that Facebook censored it as violative of the site's community standards.

I wrote the following about Scott Esdaile of the NAACP in 2006 on a blog page called Crime and Federalism. I stand by the assessment today.

Just Call Me Mark Furman April 10, 2006

In this morning's New Haven Register, the president of the Connecticut NAACP called me a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and declared I was "no friend" of the NAACP. My crime? I used the "n" word.

No, I didn't mutter the word under my breath. I didn't hurl it in anger. I wrote it. I wrote it at the end of a column that appeared in The Connecticut Law Tribune. I wrote it at the end of a piece on why there was so few people of color serving on juries in Connecticut. I wrote about how the criminal justice process was dominated by white folk, and how awkward that felt.

Then, at the end of the piece, I decided to try to shock people out of complacency. What I wrote was: "Wake up, Connecticut. Or at least admit that we don’t care how we process the brutal little niggers in our midst."

Scott Esdaile, the president of the state NAACP, never objected at the time the article appeared. But he's mad now. He's mad because I successfully defended a woman firefighter who was suspended for using what sounded like the word "nigger."

The state labor board reversed the suspension when they heard what really happened. We learned in the course of investigating that claim that far worse language has been used by New Haven firefighters, and no discipline imposed.

Esdaile never attended the labor board hearing. Like a huckster, he's simply following the headlines where ever they lead. And he has done nothing to make Connecticut juries more representative of the communities they serve.

Esdaile is a charlatan.

The NAACP is a proud organization with a wonderful history. But can it do no better than scrape from the bottom of whatever barrel that contained Mr. Esdaile for leadership? The "n" word is hateful. But no one needs permission to use it to score a rhetorical point. It demonstrates how far we have to go in improving race relations when a man can be blinded by the mere mention of a word.

No friend of the NAACP's? Give me a break, Scott. The last time a contingent of the group came in looking for pro bono help I gave it.

Next time I'll be sure to send a bill." Updated memo to Esdaile: Race pandering is repulsive.

UPDATE: Next time one of your members is in trouble, don’t call. I’ll be out back having a beer.


About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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