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Facebook’s Ugly Underbelly

A couple of weeks ago I made a comment on Robert Scoble’s blog about feeling like Facebook was too juvenile to be taken seriously. Some of the other commenters responded, including Robert, said that it was easy enough to “grow it up” by removing the stupid applications and keeping the more “serious” ones. Maybe.

Then today Ronni Bennett posted this collection of hate speech she found on Facebook. Excerpts from posts she found and posted:

Let us unite and join for a common cause, abolish social security and legalize euthanasia.

I like to beat the living crap out of old people

sometimes i see old people in wheelchairs and i have a strong urge to push them down the stairs.

As Ronni points out in her post, if you were to substitute the term “black people” or “handicapped people” or “gay people” in these and other statements she found, they would be removed by the Facebook folks as a violation of their T&C, which clearly prohibit “derogatory, demeaning, malicious, defamatory, abusive, offensive or hateful” speech.

If the phrase “old people” were substituted with the phrase “teenagers”, the writer would run the risk of being prosecuted for child abuse.

Ronni has correctly concluded that hate speech directed toward “old people” (and I’m not truly sure what demographic that would be) is deemed to be acceptable speech on Facebook. I am seriously considering removing my profile from Facebook based on that double standard.

Facebook is the new darling of the geek world. They’re quick to embrace the toys, but slow to evaluate the damage done when ugly evils like this are a part of the network they inhabit. The words posted by anonymous and ugly people against elders should not be brushed away with a dismissal and excuse like “that’s just the trolls talking”, or “that’s just the flush of youth being rebellious”. Such words, when allowed to stand and inhabit any world unchallenged are the seeds of action. Is it responsible for us to support and promote a site which serves as the compost pile that feeds these weeds and allows them to grow unchecked?

This goes back to my series of posts over the Kathy Sierra blowout back in March. Whether you agree or disagree with my position on that specific incident, the roots are the same. Hate speech should not allowed to be nurtured and even legitimized by cohabiting on a site which is currently promoted as the new “business card”/”business meeting place”/”social network”/”Web2.0 darling”.

Facebook aside, I was truly shocked to see such attitudes expressed to the degree they are on Facebook. Here’s a list of 50. FIFTY. FIFTY groups spewing hate toward a group of people — vile, odious hate. Is it pushback because ‘their site’ is being invaded by ‘old people’? Who is an old person to these folks? What sparks their desire to not only feel that way, but take the time to write it and form groups around it? What will they do when they’re old?

I would love to get Danah Boyd’s take on this. Danah is brilliant when it comes to analysis and understanding of social networks among teens, and has recently taken more than a small share of heat for her post about the social divisions between Facebook and MySpace.

In the meantime, I’m going to have to evaluate whether I leave my profile on Facebook or pull it down. After all, with birthday #49 looming over me in less than a month, I’m definitely a middle on the elder side. And even when I wasn’t, I liked old people and they liked me. My kids are raised to appreciate the depth of knowledge and experience they bring to the conversation. Sticks loves his seniors in the Seniors of Note group — he even arranged his college schedule so that he’d be home to play with them on Tuesdays. He makes a point out of being there, because he loves their stories, their love of jazz, their sense of making music today that they learned to make yesterday. What a loss it would be not to have that time with them!

What do you think? Should this kind of speech be tolerated on Facebook? What’s an appropriate response to it?

Update: Shelley Powers deactivated her Facebook account — not in protest but because she felt it was unproductive. She has some compelling arguments that touch around the edges of what I’ve been thinking about it as well. More on this when I can make those thoughts gel a bit better.

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