How Facebook is becoming the digital Alcatraz of Social Media
by E.F Fluff
Written early 2016, extract from a larger work
A few weeks ago, for reasons still unknown to me, my Facebook account was suspended. Upon attempting to login, I was directed to a page requesting various types of ID to prove I was who my profile said I was. The foremost of these request was a scan of my passport with its ID number unobscured.
I am remaining anonymous for a variety of reasons including but not limited to needing to remain hidden from the man who attempted to blind and kill me. The same man I am trying to prosecute; the same man who has since been convicted of unrelated attempted manslaughter. With no information privacy or safety guarantees and the knowledge that this information would be handled by obtuse “subcontractors” and given their poor track record in everything, I provided Facebook with real documents with the artist pseudonym I have used for over seven years. None of them included a photo, as I have never linked a photo to that account.
Other equally intrusive options are available, though a quick search of the net will tell you depressing stories of people whose IDs were not accepted, even one or two whose passport were, apparently, not accepted. In some cases, people are using their real names or names slightly altered, (middle name spelt different, a common nickname such as Bob, no surname etc.).
There are very few times in life you will ever be required to provide your passport with its number.
Border control upon entering and leaving a country. Registering as a foreign resident in a country. Opening a bank account in a foreign country as a freelance worker. In some places, dealings with welfare or perhaps, when going to prison.
The passport is a very important document and was historically a document of “safe conduct.” Passport-like documents can be traced back to the Bible. With the current refugee crisis, it is clear the importance of the document has not diminished.
For example, in Finland, male citizens aged 18–30 years require military approval, or must prove that they have completed, or are exempt from, their obligatory military service to be granted an unrestricted passport. Otherwise, to ensure that they return to carry out military service, a passport is issued that is valid only until the end of their 28th year. Other countries with obligatory military service, such as Syria, have similar requirements. In Ireland, you do not own your passport; it is essentially on loan from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Government.
For a company such as Facebook to begin requesting passports, drivers licenses, employment pay stubs and other varied forms of confidential ID, you would think they were an extension of a State body rather than a stealth advertising company whose largest commodity is its “free” users. Users whose information it corrals and spins into billions. Some people are there by choice, other’s are there against their better judgement but feel compelled to use it due to its huge reach. One could possible draw analogies to the Prison-Industrial Complex, where prisoners become the bread and butter commodity, spinning money any way they are turned, in subsidies, contracts and penal labour.
In these days of doxxing, identity theft and swatting, the maxim should be, “You don’t know me, and that, unless I decide otherwise, is the way I want it.” Indeed, we should encourage obfuscation of identity, for safety, for cultural richness and truth-telling.
Increasingly, Facebook is being used as a means to background and credit check. Now, unless carefully hidden with maintained privacy and anonymity settings, soon your disparate web searches can be used to deny you opportunities formerly based on your credit history. After reading about Al Capone, did you go and search syphilis? A start-up out there, or the Chinese government (depending your location), has likely crawled the conclusion you are a sexual liability and your file will reflect this. In the time of unregulated data collection, your social media footprint is going to be used to scrutinize you.
When Facebook’s formative period is examined, it is difficult not to spin it in any way that does not sound vaguely sociopathic. This way of operating continues at every juncture as Facebook strives to accumulate more power and influence. In contrast to early Google and its “Do No Evil,” Facebook has the robber-baron moxy to not blink, when it lies — not only with customers, but also with the FTC, about how it experiments on its customers. It is closed, working to be in complete control of its traffic, weaseling to make itself appear to be completely indispensable.
Until recently, Facebook has never required a “Do No Evil” facade. It’s since introduced tag yourself safe and other similar mechanisms, cynical attempts at appearing good whilst further increasing the detail of its vast data mining enclosure.
As New Statesman columnist Laurie Penny put it,
“Facebook has made itself mandatory for participation in modern social and professional life. I need a Facebook profile so that I can carry on doing my work as a journalist and staying in touch with friends as I travel — because that’s where all the people are…. Like many users, I really feel like I’m being held hostage.”
But we are not hostages.
Hostage is defined; a person seized or held as security for the fulfillment of a condition.
Further, the Merriam Webster definition of Hostage,
- 1 a : a person held by one party in a conflict as a pledge pending the fulfillment of an agreement
b : a person taken by force to secure the taker’s demands
- 2 : one that is involuntarily controlled by an outside influence
Merriam Webster defines Prisoner as
- 1: a person deprived of liberty and kept under involuntary restraint, confinement, or custody; especially : one on trial or in prison
- 2: someone restrained as if in prison a prisoner of her own conscience
There is no fulfillment of agreement with Facebook that will allow us greater freedom or release from fuliginous Terms and Conditions. Because none is offered and the Terms and Conditions can change at any time.
Without a condition on our release, our position within the ever expanding confines of Facebook and its presence on the Internet begins to resemble a prison (a warped form of walled minimum security prison) more than it does any form of being held hostage.
In essence, we have watched Zuckerberg & Co build a new digital Alcatraz around us, distracted as we were by being miserable about how our lives compared with others or trying to shake some of the spare pennies from it — still rapt in the dream of the digital gold rush. Elsewhere, others are caught by Facebook growing increasingly essential for business.
Make no mistake, Facebook is like a prison and it is working on making itself a better one. The average user is scratching out the days on a wall, waiting on care packages in the form of likes and posts. Logging in is akin to shuffling to the various roles where we labor at creating free content and providing more sources of revenue for Facebook — where, like a prison, our main revenue return is our very presence within the system and the river of data that flows from us.
Users can get poked and often harassed by strangers. The prison owns their life and they can be used as slaves by it.
It is worth noting that although the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, it did so
“…except as a punishment for crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Facebook cannot be said to be an originator in this line of thinking. It can, however, be said to be a Silicon innovator in that it has set about creating its own penal colony, in a similar way that nouveau Robber Baron theory was applied to long developed and regulated industries such as taxis in the case of Uber. Incidentally, as of the time of writing, McDonald’s, Whole Foods Market, Koch Industries and others are fans of using penal labour to keep costs down and drive profits up.
From 1934 to 1949, Warden James Aloysius Johnston (1874–1954) was the first warden of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. A rigid disciplinarian, he is regarded as a reformer and the victor’s pen of history and the murkiness of Alcatraz’s early years allows him the benefit of doubt.
As Mitchel P. Roth observes in ‘Prisons and Prison Systems: A global Encyclopaedia’,
“It could be said his true reform period is overshadowed by the brutal “mad scientist” place he would push penology during his time at Alcatraz”
[p. 148, Prisons and Prison Systems: A Global Encyclopaedia, Mitchel P. Roth].
Facebook, and by extension, Zuckerberg seem eager to become like Warden Johnston, albeit, more of a prison film version. Maneuvering themselves to reform the Internet as they fit and how they see fit is to make you into the product they want, and ready to hop when they want you to hop. They hope to achieve this by strict discipline built on silence. They won’t talk unless they have to, and as more news outlets funnel through them, they gain more control over who and how silence is broken. Just like in prison, the post is monitored and likely increasingly so… rule of silence.
Contravening their nebulous Terms of Service is a labyrinth filled with dark alleys of its own style of swatting, doxxing, nebulous wording, potentially, or often, outsourced moderation or automated moderation. Contravene it in any way, willingly or not, and the guards arrive and bustle you off to the hole. And all that’s left is silence.
Within its growing state within a state, Facebook is effectively dual-wielding solitary confinement and the silent treatment as the solution for whatever falls in the way of its dominance and its march to strong-arm its users into becoming the model productive “members” of its advertising penal colony.
*Solitary confinement. For the purposes of this paper, the hole will be used interchangeably with solitary confinement.
Let’s look at the current M.O. for punishment on Facebook.
- You get in trouble with the warden.
- You get let off or you go in the hole.
The hole in this case is suspension of your account.
With its complete lockdown of access to your Facebook. You cannot even access a compiled account download, if you had one waiting. You cannot log-in, everything is blocked and your contacts see that you are suspended.
You are transported immediately to the hole.
There is a temptation to use “they,” “they’re”. Because that is how the warden likes it. People don’t fuss so much because it’s only happening to them or those other people or they. Easy to turn away, keep tapping out free content as long as it’s happening to them.
Spend long enough in the hole. Your username disappears and you become “Facebook User.” Facebook seems to think about forty days is enough for you to begin to become forgotten.
Some prison facilities argue about the psychologically damaging effects of solitary confinement. Research on its possible psychological and physiological effects dates back from the 1860s — prison records from Denmark during the 1870s indicate staff noting inmates exhibiting signs of mental illness after solitary.
Once in the hole, Facebook’s customer service policy is one of silence. No information will be given for your ostracism. This is for safety reasons. Your safety is never mentioned. If you were Facebook swatted, this will not be mentioned. This is for safety reasons. Your safety is never mentioned. If you provided papers that are refused, no reason will be given. This is for safety reasons. Your safety is never mentioned.
The silent treatment is universally viewed as a form of manipulative punishment. It is the fourth most common of all workplace bullying tactics and is recognized as a form of abusive supervision. It may range from just sulking to malevolent abusive controlling behavior. It may be a passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse in which displeasure, disapproval and contempt is exhibited through nonverbal gestures while maintaining verbal silence. It is often the most common method for manipulation and punishment in the narcissist’s toolbox and it pops up a lot in discussion about sociopaths and psychopaths.
Social exclusion is a powerful weapon.
On the 20th of April, 1999, two students from Columbine high school began a massacre that would leave thirteen dead and many others injured. It would later be revealed that the students had planned the shooting as a form of retaliation for years of being ostracized by their peers. (see Leary, Kowalski, Smith, & Phillips, 2003)
By allowing Facebook to buttress its digital Alcatraz, by pretending that off-line — in meat-space — we don’t have an onus to dictate to the dead-eyed robber barons of the cyber age how to treat humans, we are opening ourselves to all forms of abuse and exploitation. Where facebook us too powerful not to have. Where if we keep our heads down, keep our mouths shut and, with any luck, hope no one rats us out for something real or spiteful, we should be okay. At the grace of the warden, at least.
With its frigid shark-filled waters and the rule of silence, Warden Johnston’s Alcatraz, with its strict work ethics and penal experimentation is the perfect example of what we are allowing Zuckerberg and Facebook to create as our place on the Internet.