Equal Protection


MENLO PARK, CA, 28 May — It’s heartbreaking to realize that Facebook can be so inclusive to one oppressed minority as the above LGBTQ “It Gets Better” video clearly demonstrates, even as, one week ago, Facebook committed avatar genocide.

“Avatar Genocide”??

I get it. Words like “Genocide” and “Slavery” are enormously powerful words that refer to the myriad examples of human beings treating other human beings in unthinkable ways. Surely there is no level on which these “real” human tragedies can be compared to the “rights” or lack thereof for “virtual citizens,” is there?

I do not believe that I dishonor, trivialize, or insult the millions of victims, or the millions of devastated survivors of genocide and slavery in suggesting that while Facebook’s virtual version is clearly of a much lesser magnitude than these physical tragedies, in fact it is of the same kind. It is considering yourself better. It is considering someone else less.

Although I am not aware of any of my ancestors being directly involved in The Holocaust, I am, in fact, half Jewish. My father’s father’s ancestors were German Jews, and my father’s mother’s ancestors were Polish Jews. Both families eventually found their way to St. Petersburg where my grandmother and grandfather were born. Without ever having met each other, they both emigrated to Philadelphia where they eventually did meet and married.

I know very little about my grandparents’ early years, whenever my mother would ask my grandmother about her life in Russia she would only say, “that’s the past, we’re Americans now.”

Even though I don’t have much specific knowledge, you don’t have to know too much world history to have some idea of how horrific the early years of the 20th century were for Russian Jews. Those that could, got out. Many of them went to New York where they built a new life, and a new world. My father was born in Philadelphia, and they later did move to New York City where he met and married my mother. A few years after that my brother and I were born at Georgetown University Hospital.

I guess because I grew up spending more time in front of the television than in front of the mirror, I’ve never really had much of a Jewish identity. We were raised in my mother’s Christian faith, and I thought of myself as an American. All my mother’s schlepping us around the globe never made me feel like anything else, somehow it made me feel more American.

Still, looking back, there have sort of always been those Jewish boys who seemed to treat me better than the other boys, and although I was kind of oblivious to it at the time, I have been the victim of minor antisemitism. I once worked with a guy, “MB”, who turned out to be a gay white supremacist – apparently being a victim of oppression yourself does not necessarily lead to tolerance or inclusiveness – I always had the hardest time getting even simple things done with him. One day a friend at work, “AH” said, “maybe you have such a hard time with MB because you’re Jewish,” which, crazy, but that was the first time I really realized that I was Jewish!

Anyway, I’ve read The Diary of Anne Frank one-and-a-half times, I couldn’t get through it the second time. Somehow I have managed to read The Rape of Nanking three times. I only met Iris Chang a few times, but I can say that she was an extraordinary person, and I miss her. She was a kind person, but I can’t say that she was lite or fun exactly. She was passionate and powerful. I did sense the tremendous weight she bore, although I did not realize how depressed she was.

kk already.

Sorry for so much rambling. I guess my point is that while I have no specific experience of the human race’s many genocides, neither am I entirely oblivious of them either.

I readily admit, indeed, insist, that “avatar genocide” is of a lesser degree than the many physical genocides the human race has inflicted upon itself. But with no disrespect, and as much reverence for the heartbreaking, endless loss of life as I can offer, I do believe that it is similar in kind. It is a process of othering human beings, of making them less than worthy, less than equal, less than human, at which point you are free to do with them as you please.

Facebook celebrates the diversity of its LGBTQ employees even as it others and then executes it’s avatar members.

Of course, unlike a Jew in Nazi Germany, we aren’t trapped in Facebook, right? We have the freedom to leave any time, right?

The United Nations Human Rights Council defines “ability to participate in culture” as a basic human right. As the dominant social networking platform Facebook is where we participate in networked, global culture. When Facebook exterminates our accounts, they violate our human rights.

As the de facto 21st century communication standard, doesn’t Facebook have a social responsibility to be inclusive? Shouldn’t the privilege of their current monopoly carry with it the responsibility to have flexibility in choosing who Facebook will bestow free speech to and who Facebook will deny speech to? Is speaking on Myspace or Friendster and being heard by two people truly free speech? You can censor a book by burning it, and you can effectively censor a book by allowing it to exist but making it inaccessible. If I have a thousand contacts on Facebook but am only allowed to speak to the two on Myspace, that is a sort of censorship, isn’t it? How ironic that persistent avatar identities spend more “real” money online than average humans, yet are treated by Facebook as sub-humans.

Can’t Facebook have a little largesse? Why can’t Facebook be a mensch!? Where’s your mitzvah, Facebook?

Click to see a full-size version on flickr

The image above is a close-up detail of a part of the “Touchgraph” of my Facebook social network after The May Purge of 2011. Each of the almost uncountable fine lines runs between two human beings and shows the vast web of interconnections between myself, my Facebook friends, and each other. It is a most elaborate tapestry of unimaginable beauty and complexity that we have woven together. Indeed, the connections are so dense it is often hard to resolve them as individual connections rather than as a thick, solid mass. And yet for Facebook the elegance of this remarkable complexity is nothing more than soft butter for them to cleave apart when it suits the fancy of their dull knife.

Facebook can’t truly believe that they can simply exterminate select individuals without devastating consequences to these detailed and delicate tapestries, can they? It’s like performing brain surgery with a shotgun.

It reminds me of Heathcote Williams’ epic poem Whale Nation in which he describes the whalers who slice through their victims extraordinary sound libraries as “deaf maggots”

Cetacean oil,
Cunningly used to protect the whale’s sound-library from the cold,
Is extracted by hard-nosed, gimlet-eyed parasites
Who view the whale only as an industrial resource,
And eat through their musical society like deaf maggots –
Land-lubbing whale-lice,
Unable to detect the presence of oil
In the body of a fellow creature
Without desiring to suck it out.


Vaneeesa Blaylock’s Facebook post
Daniel Voyager’s Blog
Khannea Suntzu’ Facebook Post
Ener Hax’ Blog

In addition to this May purge of 2011, I also wrote about Facebook’s January purge of 2010:

I’ve previously noted that many of us paradoxically live in physical democracies, but spend significant portions of our lives in the totalitarian states of web2.0

Here’s my flickr set of Touchgraph images from “800 friends,” and the last 7 images in this set: the first 4 of the last 7 are images of my 930 friends in early May, and the last 3 are images of the network post The May Purge of 2011.

Freedom, free speech, and civil rights must extend into our online and virtual worlds or they will cease to have meaning and relevance in this, the networked, century.

In April 2007 Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger stated that the United States had a greater number of Full-Time Equivalent citizens living in Second Life than it had soldiers living in Iraq and shouldn’t it care about their well-being?

— VB

As a virtual public artist my work invites avatar communities to express their identity, explore their culture, and demand their civil rights.

7 thoughts on “Equal Protection

  1. I’m sure Mister Zuckerberg himself uses nicknames on the internet, but now denies everyone else -their- online identities.

    I use Facebook, but not of my own good will. Simply, all my friends use it, every event, every gathering, every party invitation is done through Facebook, so to opt out is to sign out completely. The second they have the users and have them move all of these social arranging interactions into their site, they have everyone in the network, people like me and several of my friends who dislikes the FB service, but have no alternative. Do I feel a little like a prisoner? – yes actually I do. Probably as much as this makes SL people feel like outcasts.

  2. Agreed, genocide should not be reduced to specificaly define events such as the Holocaust during WWII.

    In fact to expand on the United Nations quote above we also have:

    “Article 2 of this convention defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”

    Note “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life” and similar.

    This was written in 1948, before, of course, virtual worlds existed, and the concept of alternative identities could even be fathomed.

    Facebook has a big problem with virtual identities.

    Facebook sees them as an abomination.

    Their deletion solution doesn’t get any more final.

  3. great post and here are my Canadian two cents – as you know (from your link) my avatar account was canned and i was most upset because of the number of “friends” it had (around 4000) and that a good number of those participated in blog comments on facebook. it was a very effective channel to carry on the conversation

    much of that conversation was in the use of OpenSim for education

    i knew i was violating there terms and i even place in the info box that used to be on the front page of an FB account that i was an avatar. i wasn’t trying to fool anyone

    i understand FB is a commercial venture and also understand the monetary value that complete and “real” data holds for them but at least offer some fix like a self-identified pseudonym flag to check and not total banning?

    i now have a business page (formerly a fan page) but it’s not the same level of intimate interaction

    i see it as facebook not having the “smarts” to capitalize on a subgroup of users. avatars are not freeloaders. when i was inSL i had 19 sims! and most avatar accounts on facebook spend money as avatars on their pursuits

    as to facebook being like the Holocaust – both my grandparents were killed by the Nazis and my mother sent as an infant to Canada and i don’t see facebooks culling of avatars in the same light but fb is discriminating to an extent

    if others want to compare fb’s account deletion to the Holocaust, i have no issue with that and i believe you are free to express it in as stark a manner as you see fit

    facebook is like any other corporation – it’s here to make money and not for social good (although that has been a benefit from it)

    imo, facebook closes off another monetizing opportunity that could be dome in a manner to allow pseudonyms and for them to profit

    thanks for the very good article, i enjoyed it and agree =)

    1. Thanks for visiting Ener!

      Sorry about your content loss on FB.

      Yes, you’re right, they could go another way, but so far they haven’t chosen to.

      Actually, if you look at your “Social Network History” Friendster had the same policies that Facebook and Google+ have today. I don’t think they ever really acted on it, but apparently Friendster had visions of being a dating site, so they were eager to kick off all the “Fakesters” who used Friendster to “experiment with identity.” Also a lot of bands wanted to be on Friendster and again, that didn’t fit their user model so they kicked them off too.

      Then this new social network called MySpace came along and surveyed the landscape. They said, oh, hey, you’ve got a band, cool, what can we do for you? The musicians were shocked, “wait, what? you actually WANT us on your site??” And MySpace was (and still is) cool with pseudonyms, so all the kicked off “Fakesters” were welcomed to MySpace.

      As you know, MySpace built an enormous Social Network. Obviously they were eventually eclipsed by Facebook, but really, MySpace had quite a run. And even after Facebook had pretty much killed MySpace, they had become so big with bands, that that niche continued still for quite a while longer.

      Obviously Facebook and Google+ aren’t likely to change their perspectives, but the success, in its time, of MySpace shows that another world is possible.

      And of course Tumblr, Twitter, WordPress, and many other places have always welcomed pseudonyms.

      Facebook is now the undisputed winner for The New Town Square. So I’ll never post original content there, but as long as I have an account, I will always “pimp my stuff” there. Grandiose as it seems, I do sometimes think about Thomas Paine printing pamphlets in his workshop, and then running off to the town square to distribute them to as many peeps as he can. For me WordPress is a good print studio, and yes, Facebook is the town square.

      Every platform on the internet data mines our lives a lot, for a lot of cash, for the privilege of sharing stuff online — which is really pretty much the basic functionality of The Internet and of The World Wide Web to begin with. So they’re pretty demanding for that extra bit of functionality they give us.

      Nothing is immune from disruption, still, I do feel more comfortable posting work on a wordpress install like iRez than on a platform like Facebook. Sure, we’re still depending on The WordPress Foundation and WP Engine and Woo Themes and Automattic to all survive and thrive. Nonetheless, I do feel like “my work” is more “mine” than if I were posting it on Facebook.

      Oh well, keep up the good work. Keep up the good fight. And, of course, thank you for visiting!

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