Dear Facebook

You Rule...

Some content in this message has been reported as abusive by Facebook users

Freedom of Speech ("Free Speech") is the right to freely express in speech without limitation or censorship. It has a long history in Western civilization and in the United States is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 19 refers to the "right of freedom and expression...regardless of frontiers." As a resolution it is not legally binding on all countries.

The term for free speech on the internet is more correctly freedom of information. There are no clear laws completely protecting freedom of expression on the internet and in the United States we tend to take our free speech and freedom of information for granted and many people make assumptions these rights are somehow "guaranteed" on the World Wide Web.

Since the beginning of the internet in popular culture we have enjoyed most aspects of what we in the United States refer to as free speech but it has largely been by the graces of the companies that operate the backhaul networks of the internet, those who run the sites on the web and in the tradition of the originations of the internet. It is not an inherent right although there are legal precedents and organizations that work to protect it. Generally the Western World has looked kindly and turned the other way, since historically free speech is culturally and legally ingrained and also benefits commercial interests. The clearest example of a country that does censor the internet is China.

Individual websites are a different matter and through User Agreements, Terms of Use Agreements and Policy Statements, which users must agree to in order to use the site, content is controlled, maintained and distributed by the website owners and operators. Your personal information is used as they desire according to the agreement. As commercial enterprises this is their right if you agree. With the advance of the Social Web and people doing their social networking over the World Wide Web with an online identity (commonly referred to as a profile), the issue of free speech has surfaced many times and in many ways. What users should remember is that websites are governed by Terms of Service and it is the right of the operators to decide what is free speech and what is not and it is the users choice to agree to them or not. If you agree, then the terms apply, keeping in mind the website probably also has a disclaimer in the terms, that they may change those terms at any time without additional agreement.

In other words if you don't follow the Terms of Service to the satisfaction of the website, they can restrict your use or discontinue it completely. It is your choice to participate or not and follow their terms, since there is no inherent right to access a website with stated restrictions, agreed to by the user. Sometimes these decisions are arbitrary and unevenly and unfairly enforced. Social networking websites are a private enterprise, presumably with the intention of making money, with legal rights of their own and realistically users have little recourse in decisions.

@TooMuchToTweet from JR Snyder Jr on Vimeo.

The warning message at the beginning of this blog post is what I now receive when I attempt to post a URL from this website blog, on my Facebook profile, to be distributed on the Home Page News Feed. Essentially jrsnyderjr.com has been blocked by Facebook from posting blog post notifications, as has been my habit daily for a while now. It occurred yesterday after I posted "On Illegal Immigration | Unless you have lived in Arizona a long time..." and some unknown user(s) reported it as abusive from the News Feed. You can read the blog post to determine if it is abusive or not and make your own decision.

This is Facebook's right under their Terms of Service. Since my primary use of Facebook has been to remain connected with family and a small group of friends by sharing photos and posting my daily blog URL and not to play games, use applications or spend a lot of time socializing on the site, a primary reason for my being there is gone. My choice is to no longer be on the site, something I've been considering anyway.

To me Facebook is a thinly disguised social engineering site whose operators have become drunk with the power of millions of oblivious users, continuously adjusting the rules, being more free to use your private information for free. They're also fluidly adjusting what is acceptable to them as being allowed on their site and applying the rules unevenly. It is a one way street I don't trust. Their grandiose Facebook Principles of  "Freedom to Share...One World...Common Welfare" coupled with their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Privacy Policy do not pass my smell test. In the past year a lot of issues have arisen with social websites, Facebook in particular, regarding sharing of our information through ever-changing policy. The arrogance of Mark Zuckerberg's statement in January that "the age of privacy is over" is enough for me. He is wrong.

The truth is the genie is out of the bottle. These sites already have our information and in the future what they do with it may well be out of our control now they have it. Their willingness to share with each other grows every day, Microsoft and Yahoo! being examples. Astoundingly, without blinking an eye, every indication is that more people are willing to divulge even more information about themselves than ever before. Read yesterday's NY Times article "For Web's New Wave, Sharing Details Is the Point." There is little thought about how long this information is stored and kept around and (mis)used in the future.

For those who do, that is their choice.

I've been thinking about this for some time now and my choice is not to participate any more than I already am...actually less. I am no longer on Facebook but I recognize they have my information stored. I do not wish to give up the enjoyment I gain from social networking online completely but sometimes...
it is just too much.


  1. Pretty shocking that they'd block the URL. It's not as easy to have done as you might think, and there was certainly more than one person (or, really, more than one account) involved.

    As I understand their process, before any human gets around to reviewing complaints, there's an automated process that trips on the "block" signal when the complaints raise over a certain percentage of the "likes" or "fans." The precise formula, of course, is a trade secret.

    If you were happy with your facebook experience overall, this definitely would have been worth fighting for a human reviewer to turn your links back on. I really can't stand it when a couple of haters game the system to get what they want.

    Seeing as your feelings about facebook were souring anyway - and with Zuckerberg's "end of privacy" statements, who can blame you - you can certainly use that as your last straw. Sorry to miss you there, but I understand.

    And, yes, I think the rest of your discussion on free speech and online privacy is right on. What many in the US forget is that our first amendment only guarantees that the government won't restrict our speech, and primarily applies to public forums and public space. On private property (or private space, such as a web site), you're under the owner's rules.

  2. @KenG Knowing a bit of the technology I was surprised they could block the URL but I tried various methods, including bit shorteners and other blog URLs, to test it out and it appears they can.

    I assumed that it was a result of an automated process and also that the time frame for a human to review it could range from soon to never.

    A part of me is disappointed about it because I never really wanted to be on Facebook but I have family worldwide and they all wanted me to be on there for picture sharing, etc so I signed up. I will miss my nephews and cousins in particular and I'm hearing from some of them already about it. I'm not sure what I'm going to do, prudence tells me to wait a bit.

    My original reluctance has always been due to Zuckerberg's attitudes about a lot of things, including business dealings, since I'm a small time investor and follow business news. In reality, I think he's just more direct about the privacy issues.

    Recently MSN Hotmail (Microsoft) and Yahoo! shared profile information to facilitate and improve the integration of Live Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. I only knew because I've had an msn email account since the nineties (mainly dormant now) and since I use Flickr a lot, have a Yahoo! email account by default. It's all part of the package these days. Somehow it merged a contact list and my msn email was sending out with a Yahoo! email address. Gmail and Buzz is another example. My point is we are going to see a lot of these sharing agreements in the future, with users being unaware, as companies attempt to go more "social." It is an example of there is no real online privacy.

    The "where's my free speech rights!?" on YouTube always reminded me that many people in the US don't really understand much about our rights in general.

    Thanks for commenting.