By John F. Di Leo -
On September 20, AD 2011, my father, Fred J. Di Leo, passed away at the age of 80.
Dad was special, in many ways… An active member of his parish, a retired middle manager at Standard Oil of Indiana, a wonderful actor in Park Ridge community theater in the 1970s and 80s. Dad had been a competitive pistol marksman in the 1950s, then a park commissioner and Republican party activist in Evanston in the 1960s and 70s, and his life was full of thousands of wonderful moments, so many wonderful anecdotes to remember him by.
Normally, I write a Facebook post or two on anniversaries like this, recounting those anecdotes for friends and family, helping his memory live on. Most of us with accounts on Facebook do the same, posting sweet, funny, or sometimes sad, memories of those we have lost, on the anniversaries of their births or deaths.
Today’s column is not such a memorial – I’m not here to write about my wonderful Dad – but an explanation of why I could NOT make such a post today, and why so many others cannot either, because of an odd, modern, and particularly offensive form of censorship: the concept known as Facebook jail.
Sometime ago - I don’t know when, because it was certainly not announced publicly – the minders at Facebook lost interest in the ever-challenging goal of rightly finding and booting computer hackers and identity thieves… and instead decided to start policing the political content of their good members' posts and memes.
It began rather suddenly. We have all known people on social media who curse too much, post offensive pictures, generally go too far in their use of the platform. At first, that’s who Facebook went after.
So, in those first few years, many of us learned to moderate our vocabulary, to hold back our tempers, to write, in fact, as we would speak if we were at a cocktail party or church social: cordially, politely, even when the subject matter was serious enough to merit righteous anger.
Speaking for myself, for example, I always prided myself on keeping a vulgarity free page. That probably protected me from the excesses of the Zuckerberg brigades for a few years.
But the Facebook minders have become cocky in recent years, and have begun to censor and punish posts for any reason at all, often for the most foolish or political of whims.
I have known people who were shut down by Facebook, for days or weeks, or even permanently, for posting a historical photo, or even a joke that the megalomaniacs of Menlo Park simply didn’t get.
Facebook algorithms hunt down buzzwords, to let them know if someone is commenting on global warming, or the China virus, or lately, the vaccine mandates.
If they discover a post that disagrees with the prevailing winds – say, Dr. Fauci‘s morning delusions or Greta Thunberg's deranged fears – they can cover the post with a warning, hide the post from friends’ newsfeeds, or even shut down the posting person's account entirely.
Much has been written on the question of whether they can or should have such power to intervene in their members' communications. Such intervention would certainly never be tolerated in any other means of communication.
Can you imagine the phone company disconnecting your call because they overheard something they disagreed with? Can you imagine the post office ripping open your letters and either refusing to deliver them or denying you mail service as a result of their disagreement?
No utility would ever be allowed to do such a thing… And social media, even though privately owned, functions in much the same way as these utilities, and fully deserves to be limited in the same way, where censorship is concerned.
I don’t propose to address or solve the question of how best to draw these lines, in today’s column. The well-intentioned, but ill-thought-out, 1990s regulations that gave social media their imagined immunity to the laws of God and man are not on my mind today.
Rather, as I live through this difficult day, the 10th anniversary of my dear Dad’s passing, I am angry for other reasons. And not just for myself, because I am not alone in this.
The powers behind Facebook are feeling their oats these days. They have incredible, unprecedented power. Since Gutenberg‘s printing press first appeared on the scene, only governments have had the power to restrain speech to this extent. Today, this unregulated crew of very bigoted, very judgmental, utopian socialists have taken it upon themselves to police the very conversation of a free country.
They have no such right, and it should not be allowed.
Partially because of the ripple effect of thi censorship, as I experience today, and it has thousands and thousands of others experience as well, every day.
A dozen years into the popularity of Facebook, it has become the primary communication system for many Americans.… And many others worldwide, as well. We talk to our friends, communicate with family, share pride in our jobs, our kids, our spouses' accomplishments …. All this, we do on Facebook, the same platform where we may occasionally say something political about illegal mask mandates or the climate change hoax or crippling taxes or the Afghan surrender debacle.
We also use this platform to boast about our wives’ paintings or our husbands’ carpentry projects, sharing photos and welcoming kudos from our friend groups.
We use this platform to post photos of our sons and daughters in cap and gown, on graduation day, complimenting them on the hard work of gaining that high school diploma, that college degree, that master's, that doctorate.
When we are sick, we post requests for prayers… When our friends suffer losses, we post our condolences, so they know they are not alone in their grief.
As for me, personally, I have long used Facebook as my way of keeping my parents' memories alive, sharing the tales of my Dad‘s famous practical jokes, the stories of my Mom‘s leadership of local gardening and bridge clubs…
And everyone I know uses this platform for similar purposes.… In addition to those occasional political statements. We announce the plays that the local theater troupe is presenting… We announce the victories of our kids' baseball and football teams. We compliment our nephews and nieces on their dance or voice recitals.
People who have moved far from home, for school or work or retirement, use social media to retain these connections to far flung friends and family. We have learned to count on it, often as the only means of communication we have.
We may not have the phone numbers or even physical addresses of hundreds of these friends and family members, because Facebook has been such an efficient means of communication for us for so long.
And remember: Facebook designed itself that way. In its early years, in particular, it marketed itself as a way to communicate with your friends, more convenient, and infinitely cheaper, because it was free. Their business model was that our free participation would give them an advertising audience; we get communication services for free, and in exchange, they can market to us.
Facebook users accepted that deal, happily. It was and remains a wonderful idea, and a great bargain for all sides.
What if they had told us, when they set it up, that they would get us dependent, then start yanking it away on the whim of their partisan employees? Would we have joined if we had known, going in, that Facebook management would someday be on such a power trip that they would start indiscriminately yanking participation privileges, without notice, usually without means of arbitration, even to the point that they sometimes shut down and delete whole profile histories.… Would anyone have joined, if we had known that risk?
Millions now use their Facebook accounts to store treasured family photographs, videos of their kids’ performances in high school choir, debate, or sports. It's the only place we have them.
I know. Buyer beware. The lawyers will remind us that there are terms and conditions of participation in Facebook, in which we foolishly signed away all such rights by joining. But to an extent, this is bigger than the legal technicalities.
In international trade, there is a concept known as dumping. If a foreign country sells at a low price, they can do that; that’s the free market. If those sales end up destroying the local manufacturing base of the importing country, they can do that. That’s the free market. That’s life.
But if the importing country discovers that this was done unfairly… That the exporting country was using its government benefits, such as tax credits or subsidies, to artificially lower those prices with the intention of stealing marketshare from the importing country, with the intention of taking over the industry in a corrupt endgame once the addiction to their product had been cemented… Then international law provides for appropriate penalties against that corrupt foreign country. Anti-dumping duties can be established to restore proper pricing… Other punitive tariffs and other products can be implemented to teach the offending country not to do it again… Sanctions, quotas, and a plethora of other penalties can also be used, to discourage people from using such maneuvers in the future.
We find ourselves in exactly that position today, with these fascistic social media companies. They roped us in, promising free storage for life, at no charge, no obligation. They told us it would always be free. And we believed them, because the marketing value of our accounts and their advertising revenue opportunities all made sense together.
But today, Facebook and others have broken that contract. If they talked you into storing your photos on their site, and then they can wipe them out by the click of a button, then that has been a classic bait-and-switch technique, which a thousand years of western common law have considered anathema.
Nothing is going to happen on this subject anytime soon. While the party of corruption continues to control the federal government, we cannot hope four quick relief.
But the pendulum shall swing, and with the continuous dictatorial methods of the madmen of Menlo Park, I expect that that swing, when it happens, will indeed be severe.
As for me? In the month of my current Facebook ban, I have seen several of my Facebook friends post that they lost family members, to cancer, to old age, to Covid. I could not post my condolences online, because of my jail term.
Also in the past month, I have seen a couple friends post the joyous news of the birth of a child or grandchild. I could not post my compliments to them.
Every day, I get birthday reminders on Facebook: wish your friends a happy birthday today! Well, I can’t. Some of these friends get a list of 100 notices, they don’t miss my absence. Others probably do miss my absence, and, not knowing that I’m in Facebook jail, they think I forgot them.
Since the lockdowns last year, more and more Americans are stuck at home, either working from home, attending school from home, or otherwise limited in their outdoor activities.
Humans are social animals; we need interaction with others. What has this done to the mental health of those who are now restricted from talking with friends online, just because some minimum wage moron in California decided to exercise his unjust powers to zip shut the mouth of a perfect stranger, thousands of miles away, just for fun?
I know what you’re thinking, as you read my complaints. There’s an easy answer, to anyone who can’t communicate by Facebook: why didn’t I just phone them, or send them a card?
Because Facebook told me I didn’t need their phone numbers or their addresses.
Because Facebook told me that I could communicate with them on Facebook, for free, forever.
Copyright 2021 John F Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based transportation and trade compliance professional, writer and actor. A one-time political activist and former county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, his columns have been published by Illinois Review since 2009.
John's first book, a collection of his short stories about voting fraud originally run in Illinois Review, is available on Amazon under the title "The Tales of Little Pavel."
The first volume of his new fiction series, "Evening Soup with Basement Joe," a political satire, set in a parallel universe not quite identical to the Earth of 2021… in which a confused, crooked old man becomes president, and a young aide brings down his nightly bowl of soup and engages him in conversation, in a losing battle to restrain the onset of dementia. Volume one covers the first ninety days of this strange new world.
Don't miss an article! Use the free tool in the margin to sign up for Illinois Review's free email notification service, so you always know when Illinois Review publishes new content!