MENLO PARK, CA, 28 May – It’s heartbreaking to realize that Facebook can be so inclusive to one oppressed minority as the above LGBTQ “It Gets Better” video clearly demonstrates, even as, one week ago, Facebook committed avatar genocide.
I get it. Words like “Genocide” and “Slavery” are enormously powerful words that refer to the myriad examples of human beings treating other human beings in unthinkable ways. Surely there is no level on which these “real” human tragedies can be compared to the “rights” or lack thereof for “virtual citizens,” is there?
I do not believe that I dishonor, trivialize, or insult the millions of victims, or the millions of devastated survivors of genocide and slavery in suggesting that while Facebook’s virtual version is clearly of a much lesser magnitude than these physical tragedies, in fact it is of the same kind. It is considering yourself better. It is considering someone else less.
Although I am not aware of any of my ancestors being directly involved in The Holocaust, I am, in fact, half Jewish. My father’s father’s ancestors were German Jews, and my father’s mother’s ancestors were Polish Jews. Both families eventually found their way to St. Petersburg where my grandmother and grandfather were born. Without ever having met each other, they both emigrated to Philadelphia where they eventually did meet and married.
I know very little about my grandparents’ early years, whenever my mother would ask my grandmother about her life in Russia she would only say, “that’s the past, we’re Americans now.”
Even though I don’t have much specific knowledge, you don’t have to know too much world history to have some idea of how horrific the early years of the 20th century were for Russian Jews. Those that could, got out. Many of them went to New York where they built a new life, and a new world. My father was born in Philadelphia, and they later did move to New York City where he met and married my mother. A few years after that my brother and I were born at Georgetown University Hospital.
I guess because I grew up spending more time in front of the television than in front of the mirror, I’ve never really had much of a Jewish identity. We were raised in my mother’s Christian faith, and I thought of myself as an American. All my mother’s schlepping us around the globe never made me feel like anything else, somehow it made me feel more American.
Still, looking back, there have sort of always been those Jewish boys who seemed to treat me better than the other boys, and although I was kind of oblivious to it at the time, I have been the victim of minor antisemitism. I once worked with a guy, “MB”, who turned out to be a gay white supremacist – apparently being a victim of oppression yourself does not necessarily lead to tolerance or inclusiveness – I always had the hardest time getting even simple things done with him. One day a friend at work, “AH” said, “maybe you have such a hard time with MB because you’re Jewish,” which, crazy, but that was the first time I really realized that I was Jewish!
Anyway, I’ve read The Diary of Anne Frank one-and-a-half times, I couldn’t get through it the second time. Somehow I have managed to read The Rape of Nanking three times. I only met Iris Chang a few times, but I can say that she was an extraordinary person, and I miss her. She was a kind person, but I can’t say that she was lite or fun exactly. She was passionate and powerful. I did sense the tremendous weight she bore, although I did not realize how depressed she was.
Sorry for so much rambling. I guess my point is that while I have no specific experience of the human race’s many genocides, neither am I entirely oblivious of them either.
I readily admit, indeed, insist, that “avatar genocide” is of a lesser degree than the many physical genocides the human race has inflicted upon itself. But with no disrespect, and as much reverence for the heartbreaking, endless loss of life as I can offer, I do believe that it is similar in kind. It is a process of othering human beings, of making them less than worthy, less than equal, less than human, at which point you are free to do with them as you please.
Facebook celebrates the diversity of its LGBTQ employees even as it others and then executes it’s avatar members.
Of course, unlike a Jew in Nazi Germany, we aren’t trapped in Facebook, right? We have the freedom to leave any time, right?
The United Nations Human Rights Council defines “ability to participate in culture” as a basic human right. As the dominant social networking platform Facebook is where we participate in networked, global culture. When Facebook exterminates our accounts, they violate our human rights.
As the de facto 21st century communication standard, doesn’t Facebook have a social responsibility to be inclusive? Shouldn’t the privilege of their current monopoly carry with it the responsibility to have flexibility in choosing who Facebook will bestow free speech to and who Facebook will deny speech to? Is speaking on Myspace or Friendster and being heard by two people truly free speech? You can censor a book by burning it, and you can effectively censor a book by allowing it to exist but making it inaccessible. If I have a thousand contacts on Facebook but am only allowed to speak to the two on Myspace, that is a sort of censorship, isn’t it? How ironic that persistent avatar identities spend more “real” money online than average humans, yet are treated by Facebook as sub-humans.
Can’t Facebook have a little largesse? Why can’t Facebook be a mensch!? Where’s your mitzvah, Facebook?
The image above is a close-up detail of a part of the “Touchgraph” of my Facebook social network after The May Purge of 2011. Each of the almost uncountable fine lines runs between two human beings and shows the vast web of interconnections between myself, my Facebook friends, and each other. It is a most elaborate tapestry of unimaginable beauty and complexity that we have woven together. Indeed, the connections are so dense it is often hard to resolve them as individual connections rather than as a thick, solid mass. And yet for Facebook the elegance of this remarkable complexity is nothing more than soft butter for them to cleave apart when it suits the fancy of their dull knife.
Facebook can’t truly believe that they can simply exterminate select individuals without devastating consequences to these detailed and delicate tapestries, can they? It’s like performing brain surgery with a shotgun.
It reminds me of Heathcote Williams’ epic poem Whale Nation in which he describes the whalers who slice through their victims extraordinary sound libraries as “deaf maggots”
Cunningly used to protect the whale’s sound-library from the cold,
Is extracted by hard-nosed, gimlet-eyed parasites
Who view the whale only as an industrial resource,
And eat through their musical society like deaf maggots -
Unable to detect the presence of oil
In the body of a fellow creature
Without desiring to suck it out.
In addition to this May purge of 2011, I also wrote about Facebook’s January purge of 2010:
I’ve previously noted that many of us paradoxically live in physical democracies, but spend significant portions of our lives in the totalitarian states of web2.0
Here’s my flickr set of Touchgraph images from “800 friends,” and the last 7 images in this set: the first 4 of the last 7 are images of my 930 friends in early May, and the last 3 are images of the network post The May Purge of 2011.
Freedom, free speech, and civil rights must extend into our online and virtual worlds or they will cease to have meaning and relevance in this, the networked, century.
In April 2007 Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger stated that the United States had a greater number of Full-Time Equivalent citizens living in Second Life than it had soldiers living in Iraq and shouldn’t it care about their well-being?