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The Problem with Facebook – a Tale of Lies and Expulsion

November 25, 2011 – 8:36 am2 Comments
David Schulberg was effectively expelled from Facebook

By David Schulberg

Facebook is a social-networking behemoth that has more than 800 million active users worldwide. I am a relatively recent convert, having been curious for a long time as to what the hype was all about. I have seen people swapping trivial snippets of information about what they might be doing at moments in their lives, stuff to any outsider that seems rather banal.

Recently, I came across a Facebook event called ‘You can’t sweeten Israeli apartheid. Protest against Max Brenner’, which was a planning base for Students for Palestine to organise their BDS (Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions) campaigns against the Max Brenner chocolate shops in Australia.  The BDS protagonists have drawn a connection between Max Brenner, which is a completely independent business franchise, and their parent, the Strauss group, of companies that are deemed guilty of supporting Israeli soldiers. Of course, nobody bothers to mention the public support that the Strauss group provides for The Jasmine Organization for the Promotion of Arab Women in Employment which has been endorsed by Cherie Blair.[i]

After each rally a new Facebook group event is convened; while writing this article it was called ‘Protest against Max Brenner: Say no to Israeli Apartheid’. On the group’s site I responded to comments and discussions in order to make the BDS supporters answerable for their comments and actions.  I strongly disagree with the BDS movement and have been motivated to ensure that people are properly informed about the fallacies behind the BDS initiative.

The BDS group, moderated by its own members, was open to all comers to make comments. They would wilfully purge any information that opposed their anti-Zionist party line.  If they really wanted to keep communications to the party faithful then Facebook provides them the facility to do so. However they wanted to attract new supporters and so kept their site unrestricted.

In responding to the material that was constantly posted on Facebook I had to redouble my efforts to address unsubstantiated statements from the BDS activists. Occasionally there are others who arrive on the scene and get frustrated with what they perceive as propaganda.  Very few of these like-minded individuals stayed, concluding very quickly that their responses and counter arguments were falling on deaf ears.

Often there were assertions made about links between Zionism and Nazism, hero worshipping of Palestinian terrorists who had been imprisoned in Israel, anti-Zionism degenerating into full blown anti-Semitism and a good assortment of straight out abuse and personal slander. My own children were falsely accused of having been Israeli soldiers and I was attacked for supposedly having worked for companies that advanced American imperialism.

Facebook has guidelines that prohibit a lot of the material that appeared on this group’s site. Whenever anything particularly offensive is posted, there is a mechanism to report it to Facebook administrators. A lot of what is in clear breach of the guidelines is allowed to stay. Only when there was an absolutely blatant infringement is action taken by the administrators to remove offending material.

One day I was fighting tooth and nail to have an anti-Semitic cartoon removed that drew parallels between those who oppose the pro-Palestinian position and Holocaust deniers. There were counter attacks made by one particular group member Bill to eliminate me by flooding the Facebook administrators with a heap of reports on wall postings that I had submitted.

Figure 1 - Banned for saying nothing

These are the contents of the wall-postings that I made that were subsequently removed by Facebook:  I encouraged Bill to “Go and read ‘The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs’ by David Pryce-Jones before jumping to conclusions,” (Refer fig 1).  To a discussion about the use of art from children in Gaza, which had been started by the same person, Bill, I wrote “He had paraded art supposedly created by children”. I then reiterated that “I didn’t bring up the subject, it was there lurking like a wolf in sheep’s clothing”.  I suggested that Bill was prattling on about some topic by remarking, “When Abbas has declared that no Israeli Jew would live in a new Palestinian state and that was something to be concerned about.”

Somehow the Facebook administrators drew the conclusion that I was misbehaving. By no means could they have come to such a decision on the basis of the content of my posts. They must have received a torrent of abusive complaints and ended up being influenced to hang, draw and quarter me for saying  nothing offensive compared to the extreme material posted by the other side.

The first two warnings I received on Facebook were to exclude me for 3 days and 7 days but had no effect. They arrived in a flurry in response to reports from the BDS group intent on getting rid of me.  When the 30 day ban advice arrived I found myself unable to post on my own wall or anybody else’s wall for that matter. Very draconian measures indeed!

In the end I was expelled while on the other hand the people who lurk around the dark alleys of the ‘Protest against Max Brenner: Say no to Israeli Apartheid’ group could continue spreading their misinformation, lies and deceit with impunity. I faced real abuse from these people and have kept the transcripts of the ugly conversations that have taken place to prove it.  Facebook contributed to the sequence of events in an insidious and scandalous fashion.

Reading the Facebook Help revealed that I had absolutely no recourse in the situation that I now found myself in. Free speech, democratic principles, honesty and integrity were thrown by the wayside; there had been a brief battle between opposing forces on the internet; I was the loser, judged guilty with no right of appeal.

In their corporate cyber towers sit a bunch of powerholic gods overseeing this massive community of Facebook users, content to frolic about in this free e-playground that Mark Zuckerberg has provided for them. That is all well and good as long as people follow the rules and behave themselves, but when they try to use Facebook for something controversial the guidelines prove totally inadequate and are open to arbitrary interpretation.  This is reminiscent of how infamous autocratic government judiciaries meet in camera and pass verdicts on dissidents without giving them right of appeal.

With the next Max Brenner protest rally fast approaching I wanted to revisit the Facebook BDS site.  I was greeted by this screen  on my computer (refer fig 2)

Figure 2 - Blocked completely from viewing the BDS site

Logged on to Facebook as another user on another computer I could see the event. I was flabbergasted realising they had blocked me not only from commenting on Facebook, but they had also managed to block me from viewing their BDS site. More than that, the message delivered to me by Facebook was totally spurious, Facebook was giving the false impression that the Committee of Hate had shut down shop.

It would be improper for Facebook to have unleashed this gigantic social networking system without having an appropriately managed and fair operational framework in place.  In the uprisings that sprung up during the Arab Spring, Facebook played an instrumental role in assisting the protesters to draw attention to their plight. One would think that Facebook would have a responsibility to our society to assist in establishing communication channels that help people to enhance their lives. It is not enough for Facebook to just provide the mechanisms for information to travel across its networks; Facebook must be morally mindful to how their network affects the human condition.

Facebook professes to ban hate speech—but allows the proliferation of Holocaust-denial pages, stating it recognizes ‘people’s right to be factually wrong about historical events.   Facebook has developed a set of principles that it does not properly abide by. Many people who inhabit the pages of Facebook and the BDS group in particular have false identities, which is in flagrant violation of Facebook policy. When I have reported a person with obviously false names like Evan McAweSome or Mel Content, the powerholics in the corporate cyber tower have done nothing. I was banned for posting innocuous comments, while affiliates of the BDS group who made very extreme false remarks got off scot-free.  Facebook is very inconsistent in implementing its own guidelines.

Facebook has obviously had a major influence in the social networking world, but if it cannot stick to the principles of social justice that it professes then it may find that it has failed the test of the community standards that it is obligated by its policy guidelines to uphold.  We trust organisations like Facebook to provide us with reliable, safe access to our personal information. They must be held accountable for when their social network goes haywire, causes harm and spreads lies and deception. It is incumbent upon Facebook to make the way they manage their users more open and transparent.

[1] Cherie Blair and Ofra Strauss provide inspiration to Jewish and Arab businesswomen at Jasmine’s annual conference.

[2]Facebook’s Holocaust Problem.

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