A classic like 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory works on many levels. When I was a kid, I thought I was too grown up for such stuff. In truth I was not grown up enough.
My recent efforts to reestablish a Facebook account in my real name have been met with suspicion and distrust. Twice now I’ve received demands for additional information, which I’ve provided, only to be ignored for 24 hours or so, then summarily dismissed for some unspecified violation of terms.
I got the bum’s rush. I exited the Chocolate Factory via the trash chute.
Facebook thinks I’m a bad egg.
My only option for appealing Facebook’s judgment — which, let’s face it, was probably made by a computer doing some sort of algorithmic facial recognition comparison or by a contract laborer in a digital sweatshop — was to click a link embedded in the sentence “If you think your account was disabled by mistake, please let us know.”
“Let us know” took me to a page entitled “Confirm Your Identity With Facebook” which said, “Before we can review your account, please fill out the form below to help us verify your identity.” Thus, to go even one step further in appealing Facebook’s dismissal, I had to provide documentation to support my claim of identity.
There is a rather long and detailed list of acceptable ID types. The least objectionable and most readily available “group one” document I possessed was my voter ID. So I sent a digital photo of it.
What happens now is anybody’s guess. Facebook only says that they may contact me for more information. This implies that they may not. My account is still disabled. I have no proof that I sent them anything. They have made no promises whatsoever.
I cannot help but think about one of the final scenes in Willy Wonka, where Grandpa Joe asks Wonka about the promise of a lifetime of free chocolate, which causes Wonka to explode in accusations and rage. Wonka bellows, “You get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!” Grandpa Joe, stunned, replies, “You’re a crook.”
Does Mark Zuckerberg turn out to be the benevolent Willy Wonka who has merely set up a moral test for young Charlie? Or does he turn out to be the mean-spirited autocrat who tempts and punishes all those who prove to be merely human?
Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes argued in his New York Times op-ed that Zuckerberg isn’t a bad guy, he’s just too powerful. I don’t know Mark Zuckerberg and couldn’t begin to know whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy. But he’s human, and he wields a tremendous amount of power within Facebook, which is a vast, worldwide communication network. That’s too much power for any one person.
One might argue that banning an Alex Jones or a Louis Farrakan is a good thing or a bad one. Many would argue that Donald Trump should also be banned. But where does it stop? Who decides, and by what criteria? If Donald Trump can say whatever he wants, why not… whomever?
Whether or how Facebook should or can be brought under some kind of control is too big a question for tonight’s little blog post. How to regulate speech and limit presidential power are also big questions, but ones society will have to consider.
I’m just a real person who is currently unable to get on Facebook, presumably because the company is trying to protect someone with my name and/or likeness from having his identity usurped. My prior use of Facebook undoubtedly generated a lot of data, including many pictures of my face and name. I suspect that Facebook may have tripped over their own data; they think I’m trying to impersonate myself.
Facebook may have the best of intentions, but I’m still being shut out. And there should be an appeal process that includes the ability to talk to an actual human being. There should be some transparency about how these decisions are being made.
We need to be pushing back against Facebook’s concentration of power and influence as well as the opaque way in which it is exercised.