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Di Leo: My 24 Hours in Stir: A Personal Memoir

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Prison cell

By John F. Di Leo –

I don’t normally write in first person. It’s not a matter of being pretentious or anything, but the monks trained me well: in high school English, with our trusted copies of Warriner’s Guide to English Grammar and Composition perennially at hand, we were reminded that the first person is to be avoided at all costs. Write like the dispassionate observer, out of the action, unless you’re penning a film noir or a personal letter.

But when you find yourself in jail, and you need to write about the experience, well, there’s no substitute for the first person. If you need to tell your audience what happened to you, it’s appropriate to break that fourth wall and speak plainly and directly.

So here it is, folks: 

My name is John, and I spent 24 hours in jail this week.

I know what you’re thinking: John’s not the type to get himself arrested for anything. He doesn’t drink to excess, would never dream of stealing or fighting, earns a living and pays his family’s bills, even pays his taxes (though he probably postpones the process until the IRS’ last possible deadline because he hates it so much).  He probably doesn’t even exceed the speed limit very often.

All true.

But I wasn’t arrested. My jail sentence didn’t involve a policeman or grand jury; I didn’t get to hire a lawyer – heck, nobody even read me my rights.  It bore no semblance whatsoever to the legal process we’ve been raised to cherish as a fundamental part of The American Way.

No, I was sent to Facebook Jail on Monday, for just a single day, without notice or opportunity to appeal, for “violating Facebook’s community standards.”

Friends have asked me for years how on earth I’ve avoided this fate, when so many of them have been in the klink again and again.  I use my real name on social media, and my page is certainly political, but I had never suffered a ban yet… until now.  And it’s because I am very, very careful.

I don’t allow vulgarity on my pages, and my definition of vulgarity is stricter than anyone else’s.  I have made sure, since my first day on social media, to give no reason for anyone to find my page objectionable.  It may be funny, informative, silly, pointless, political, or personal, but it will never be vulgar or criminal.

I see my social media pages as my own living room, a place where I believe I should be able to talk with my friends on my own terms.  If they don’t like how I talk, they don’t have to return… and if I don’t like how they talk, I don’t have to invite them back, ever again.   Real life is like that; it’s about personal freedom, to associate with those with whom you want to associate. Simple as that.  We don’t need some higher authority to listen to our living room conversations and step in, kicking our guests out in the middle of the party, or even kicking us out of our own homes. 

But the social media giants have grown full of themselves, and they now see themselves as the omnipotent enforcers, feeling their oats and ready to put their power to use.  You get the impression that if these people had control of nuclear weapons for 70 years, like so many countries have, they could never have resisted the urge to use them, because they think power is there to be used.  For good, of course… their idea of good… but still, to be used, nevertheless.

"Production for Use"

One of the great plays of the early 20th century, filmed again and again for the movie screens, was the great Chicago story, “The Front Page,” a tale of a corrupt city hall, a gaggle of reporters, a lunatic killer named Earl Williams, and just to provide a little something for the ladies, a love story.

Earl Williams was a poor simple-minded nebbish impressed by a socialist haranguer in the city parks, one of those who gave speeches on “production for use.”  Well, the nebbish remembered that speech when he accidentally happened to pick up a gun, and he started firing it, because in his addled state, he just thought that was what a gun was for, to shoot people.   The comedy is brilliant, and each version of the show, both under its original name – "The Front Page" – and in the Cary Grant / Roz Russell retooling entitled “His Girl Friday” is a magnificent entertainment.

But still the idea sticks with you – under all those great laughs – that there are people out there – not the brightest, not the most sensible, but still – there are people who think of “production for use”, and they can’t help but use things, whether they ought to or not. If they have power, they will wield it.

Like the compulsive eater who can’t stop at one piece of stuffed pizza or one pint of ice cream… like the alcoholic who can’t stop at two drinks even though he knows he can’t handle more… like the dirty boxer who likes fighting so much, he breaks the rules and keeps on beating up his opponent even after the bell is rung… there are some people in positions of power who can’t resist abusing it.

Our Founding Fathers knew this, so they devised constitutions – both for the national government and for the several states – that would restrict the power in politicians’ hands, so that even should we foolishly elect people with such predilections, those people wouldn’t have much power to wield, so the damage they could do in office would be greatly limited.

What the Founders could not anticipate, however, was that, one day, we would have private businesses with so much power, they could rival the tyrants of history in their ability to inflict harm on innocent citizens.  The Founders gave government the ability to act in such cases, but it has been needed so rarely, it’s hardly their specialty. 

Today, however, the government needs to act.

The 24 Hour Ban

Back we go, to my personal day in stir.  My crime was to share a meme – not one of my own, just one that had been going around the internet for a while – a picture of Adolf Hitler with a caption complimenting neighbors who snitch on neighbors for not wearing a mask, saying “you did the reich thing.”   It’s a meme – it makes a political point with a sense of humor, even with a pun. 

In no sane world would such a post be considered objectionable, but at Facebook, simply sharing it on your page kicks in one of their famous bans.  You will be caught, either by their army of censors or their system of algorithms.   First offense, one day. Second offense, three days.  Quickly, you move up to a week, a month, or a permanent ban from the platform.

It is tempting to dismiss this tyranny.  It’s a free service; how can you complain about being denied a free thing?  It's easy to assume that, since society got along fine without it until a decade ago, surely we can live without it again. 

But there is much more to it than this.

Who are they banning?  Facebook and other social media are full of hackers, out to steal identities, run cons and scams, and peddle porn.  But they devote their censorship operations to identifying conservatives, covering or deleting memes, links, and posts that effectively argue against leftwing talking points. The primary form of communication for billions of people all over the world has been politicized for the cause of statism.

Why do they do it? Because they can.

But why do we let them get away with it?  Because we foolishly think we have to let them. Because they’re private.  Because we assume that we can’t apply the First Amendment to them, because the First Amendment only bans the government from restricting speech, religion, assembly, and the press.

But this isn’t the way to look at it at all.

Who Are The Censors?

Twitter, YouTube, Google and others are famously guilty of the aforementioned tyrannies too.  YouTube has banned the devout Dennis Prager on the ridiculous charge that his videos are violent or offensive. Google execs have admitted – testified under oath, in fact – that it politicized its search engine in 2016 to aid the faltering Hillary Clinton campaign. Twitter recently closed Candace Owens’s popular account just for existing – as a black female conservative.

But Facebook is the elephant in the room on this subject, so let’s concentrate on that one for a moment.

What is Facebook?

Facebook is a messenger service, with which we communicate, one on one on Facebook Messenger, or by broad shout-outs on our timelines.  In this way, it corresponds with the post office, and with UPS, FedEx, and DHL, as we use them too, to send written messages, either one on one (by first class mail or an overnight letter) or in bulk, as in the process of 3rd class bulk mailings.

Facebook is also a verbal communication service.  We can engage in one-on-one phone calls or group chats, through Facebook Video. At any time of day, in this regard, it corresponds with the cellphone and landline providers from AT&T to Sprint to Verizon, and it corresponds with the webinar and videoconferencing giants like MS Teams, GoToMeeting and Cisco WebEx. 

Now, can we imagine any of these other companies getting away with the abuses of which the giant leftist social media platforms have been guilty for years now?

Imagine the post office opening your mail and refusing to deliver it, even locking your mailbox shut for a day or a week or a month, because they disliked the jokes in your Christmas letter, or because they didn’t get the humor in a birthday card your college roommate mailed to you.

Imagine FedEx, UPS or DHL ripping open the contents of your document pouch and refusing delivery because they disagree with the terms of the contract, or dislike the product being advertised in the catalog in that overnight letter.  Would they do it? And if they tried, would the public stand for it? Would the government?

Imagine your cellphone or landline provider – from Comcast/Xfinity to T-Mobile, from AT&T to Dish Network – listening in on your phone calls and deciding to drop a call in the middle, or to put a block on your numbers so you can’t call each other for a while… or ever… just because they disagree with your discussion about tax policy or global warming or religion or the shutdown.

Imagine you’ve spent a mint on a contract for webinar hosting, and Citrix or Zoom decides, halfway through your program series, that they  don’t like your content, so they’re cancelling your ability to reach your clients, effectively killing your business immediately?

Well, none of that will happen.  It’s not allowed, and restrictions against such action would be enforced if those companies tried any such antics.

But the giants in social media, somehow, are immune, even though, in many important ways, these social media entities exist in the same space as these other businesses, utilities, and government agencies.

It just doesn’t make sense, does it?

A Time for Action

Why does it matter?

The argument is made that these are free services; you join them at their pleasure, and you have nothing to complain about if they boot you out, because you aren't out any money. Or people debate the number of angels on the head of a pin, as they argue whether we should view Facebook/Twitter/Youtube/Google as "publishers" or as "platforms."   But this unnecessarily complicates the issue.

Social media is the way that people communicate nowadays, so when a person is banned – especially unjustifiably, because their so-called "community standards" are unpublished and so vague as to allow the censors to act on their whims – the person loses the ability to communicate, certainly with friends, but more and more often, with commercial colleagues and customers as well.

These sites – again, especially Facebook – have encouraged their members to use their pages as storage for their photo albums, from family pictures to vacation records, from family reunion group photos to business dinners, from home movies to our children's voice recital videos.  When they ban you, those records are gone, records that they have spent a decade pushing you to store, safely and conveniently, on their pages.

We usually have no other way of contacting the friends we make on these platforms – again, because the platforms have encouraged it – our friend list is our address book.  When we are banned, our very personal address book is stolen from us.

Again, no other provider outside social media in a similar position – not a phone company, a mail delivery service, the post office – would ever be able to get away with such antics.  It may not be criminal, but it ought to be.

It is time – long past time, in fact – for the federal government to act… now, not in the future, and for two reasons.

First, because it’s evident, from the continuous misbehavior of the social media giants, that their power has gone to their heads, and they will continue to up their levels of censorship until somebody stops them.  They’ve admitted it, even with pride; they will happily and continuously stomp on the rights of their members in order to serve their “progressive” politics.

And second, because it is going to happen someday. There is no way that this cabal can escape regulation forever.

Eventually, regulations will come down from government; they have to. There is a vacuum, and government always moves in to fill a vacuum.   And as long as it's going to happen anyway, it must happen when Republicans are in charge of the regulatory bodies, because it is simply terrifying to think of what kind of regulations the Democrats would implement if they were to win the White House and the Senate again.

A Republican bill – or a Republican agency regulation – might say, for example, that huge social media outlets cannot regulate the content of individual posts outside of such traditional obscenity standards as bans on porn, snuff films, and incitement to riot or terror.  Such a rule would absolve Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter of any liability from members’ communications, just as the Post Office, phone company and internet provider cannot be held liable for the correspondence or phone calls between individuals.  Such a Republican bill would safeguard the speech and assembly rights of the citizens, without endorsing big government overregulation.

By contrast, a Democratic bill or Democratic agency regulation would most likely legitimize – maybe even mandate – the fascist actions that the social media giants have already developed and used.  If the Democrats get to write the rules on this, they will most likely mandate that Facebook ban funny conservative memes and shadowban conservative websites, that Facebook cover pictures and posts with which they disagree politically, that YouTube keep on denying Prager U its platform, that Twitter keep on ejecting members based entirely on their political positions.

This is our choice, America.  Someone is going to write the rules under which the social media giants will act.  Do we want those rules to support freedom of speech and expression?  Or do we want those rules to double down on squashing the minds of America, and to endorse the petty tyrannies of the modern fascists, the censors and socialist activists who run our largest communication platforms?

While the Senate and the White House are still in Republican hands, they need to move, and fast.

If they wait until they lose an election, and let the Democrats have a crack at this plum, Mark Zuckerberg and his acolytes will make sure that the Republicans never have a chance to win an election again.

Copyright 2020 John F Di Leo

John F Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based transportation professional, writer and actor, educated at Marmion Military Academy in Aurora, Illinois.  Being something of a nonconformist, he refused both the orange jumpsuit and the striped set for his night in prison, and just wore poplins and a sweater instead, so he could blend in with the crowd more easily upon his release from Facebook jail.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Sorry to hear about this John. I agree completely about the tyranny coming from the social media sites—it’s horrible. Zuckerberg is a complete coward and still lies about not targeting conservatives and conservative thought. Excellent essay!

  2. Facebook and similar applications, including internet services, should be regulated as common carriers. Common carriers are largely private companies, which does not give them the unilateral right to censor their customers. They are not like newspapers, which create content (often from whole cloth) and happen to distribute in on paper. Social websites, in that analogy, are the paper and ink, not the text.
    Facebook, Twitter and the like give ordinary people the ability to communicate with a broad audience without prior approval from the government nor subject to the proprietary rights of the news media.
    Nobody in politics seems to agree. The Republicans see that as a restraint on free trade. The Democrats see regulation as a means to limit free speech without violating the Constitution.
    The so-called “Net Neutral” regulation had the unintended consequence of banning faster service to those willing to pay for it. In other words, make everyone equal by beating down anyone who stands out.

  3. “The so-called “Net Neutral” regulation had the unintended consequence of banning faster service to those willing to pay for it. In other words, make everyone equal by beating down anyone who stands out.”
    We don’t have net neutrality. It was repealed in 2018.

  4. Fb has gone over the edge. It’s ridiculous and I’m sorry to say you are not my only
    Fb friend this happened to. My other friend I have known for
    over 30 years. Like you, he keeps his page about his job as a Pilot, his beautiful family,
    dogs, and Bible verses. He got 30 days and is now leaving for other platforms.
    I’ll stay on fb for family and soup, but I have backups for my silenced friends. Glad
    you are back.