Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Banned for life

Somehow, Facebook decided that I have become a Spammer. I don't understand - they won't explain. It has something to do with my efforts to contact friends of Virginia Tech students in the wake of the shooting there in the spring, a story I was reporting for People magazine. I've been through several layers of making complaints, all with no result. I finally, in desperation, wrote to the founder of the company some weeks ago. No answer so far.

At first I was really pissed off, because no other website has had any problem with the way I and other reporters operate. But then I cooled off and began to wonder if it might not be kinda cool to be one of the few people banned for life from Facebook. I haven't really decided. Perhaps I should take an informal survey: is it Cool? Or should I fight to the death?

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO
Facebook, Inc.
156 University Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94301

May 24, 2007

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

I find myself in an intensely frustrating situation with Facebook and it is a last resort that I write to you.

I am, and have been for many years, a freelance reporter for People and Time magazines. I am a 17 year veteran journalist. In recent years, as have many other journalists, I have made use of social networking sites – including yours – to contact sources on stories. At no time have I had difficulty with any of these networking sites or received complaints about my activities.

Until this month.

In the course of reporting on the shootings at Virginia Tech last month, I had occasion to contact a considerable number of Tech students and friends of the victims by way of Facebook and other sites. As is usual in a case like this, the majority of those people ignore my inquiry and I made no effort to persist. One person rejected my inquiry with a profanity. But the remainder, easily more than a dozen, responded. I interviewed many of them and I responded with thanks for those that said they preferred not to be interviewed. At no time was my approach to these people rude, obtrusive or harassing. If you review the communications, you will find that I was unfailing polite and respectful, as has been my habit in sensitive crime cases throughout my career.

And yet on May 3, I received a notice that my account had been flagged as having distributed Spam. I appealed immediately, explaining my purpose and behavior in detail. Several days later, however, I discovered that my account had been deleted. I further appealed and had a lengthy discussion with Pam in your appeals department, the contents I will attach. I informed Pam that I had founded a new account after my first one was deleted.

I now find that account has been permanently disabled. Pam informs me that I will never be allowed to have an account at Facebook.

As you will see from my correspondence with Pam and James, I have no desire to act in any way that runs afoul of your rules. It is my invariable purpose to act in good faith – I believe you will see that I was completely transparent and open with Pam and James in this matter. I wanted nothing more than to find out why I had been flagged as a spammer and how I could prevent such a problem in the future.

As a reporter, my inability to have a Facebook account is a serious liability. I have seen no sign that you have engaged in a widespread crackdown on journalists or have forbidden them to use your site. I can only assume this is some sort of misunderstanding, but so far I have been utterly unable to determine how and why I was flagged for having crossed the lines so seriously as to rate a lifetime ban. I want nothing other now than to clear my name and determine how I may use Facebook in good faith and transparency ...

Please help me understand what happened and how I can resolve this matter. I have reached an impasse with any other avenue.

I look forward to hearing from you.

New Media, Old rules

A discussion group I have been a part of - or more accurately, a series of loosely related groups - has been going through an unpleasant period. Lots of hard feelings. Lots of bruised egos. Some nasty childishness. It has been most discouraging. I've known most of these people, electronically at least, for five or six years. It used to be a refuge for me. I spent a lot of time interacting with these people after I started working from home, a move that deprived me of the normal social network provided by working in a newsroom. This was my virtual version of the water cooler. Fortunately, I've managed to keep out of the actual fights online, but the fallout has been hard on all of us.

One of the players wisely observed this:
"We've gotten OLD. We can't take a joke and we can't handle criticism. We don't think people are worth the effort that forgiveness costs, nor do we think they deserve it."

And I think he is right. It got me to thinking about the way the Internet changes some of the rules for building - and dismantling - communities.

These sites of ours illustrate an interesting inversion caused by the Internet. In real life, building a group of friends is relatively hard - you generally have to meet people based on geography: school, work, church, neighborhood, whatever, then overcome social and cultural barriers of age, class, nationality, race, and so on. On the Internet, it is uniquely easy - people of common interest can come together despite considerable differences in age, race, geography, all of that. So that's really good.

But the interesting thing is that in real life, breaking up a group is fairly easy. People move away, get married, develop new interests, get a new job, go to a new school. Groups tend to disperse. On the Internet, however, breaking up is relatively hard. None of the things that allow a group to be fluid, to drift apart before the members get on each other's collective nerves, don't really matter. If you move? No problem. Get married? No problem, nobody notices. Go to a new school? Get a new job? Move across town? Still in touch. To get away, you have to actively drop out and quit going to the discussion group, which is in a way much more difficult than drifting away, as you would do in real life. So the group remains, year after year after year. Resentments build. Interests change. On and on and on. We get tired of each other.

Imagine what would have happened if your best group of best buddies from College or High School had kept living in the same dorm together for years and years on end. I bet you wouldn't be such good buddies now. Or at least there would be ugly fractures among the group. But I'd bet your best buddies have all scattered, or at least spun off to some degree. Sure you're all still good buddies, but now, instead of seeing each other 12 hours a day, seven days a week, you see each other 12 hours out of every few months, or talk on the phone once a month, get together on the weekend once in a while. That doesn't happen as easily on the Internet - you're much more in or out. You either living there in the dorm day after day or you've dropped out of school.

That's what happened to us, I think.

New York

I stood on the 45th floor looking out over Central Park and experienced a moment of vertigo, more existential than physical. It occurred to me what an astonishing monument to impermanence the city really is. It is a city that is dependent entirely on its outside support network. Every element must work to near perfection. If any element fails, the city would die in a matter of days. It's like one of those Renaissance aristocrats who displays his power by engaging in no physical activity, awesomely powerful in society, but defenseless in person. New York has rendered itself nearly helpless as a symbol of its immense power - it alone can command the kind of support it takes to keep eight million people alive on a low-lying series of islands and peninsulas. Perhaps this is why New Yorkers are so edgy about crises, from power outages to terrorism - on some level, they know that if that intricate support network were to fail, even partly, their lives would not only become impossible, but unimaginable.

Humans like, I think, to imagine that the places they build are as permanent and solid as the mountains. But the Manhattan schist that pokes out of Central Park and the towering bluffs along the Hudson mock that. Humans can move flatten those mounds of rock, but only at enormous cost and effort. One could fly a fleet of aircraft into those bluffs along the river and barely make a mark.

As I looked out along the northward spread of Manhattan, I became suddenly aware how little stood between my feet and the ground 500 feet below.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Just when I was beginning to weary of the Green Flash Brewing West Coast Pale Ale, I find this - the Green Flash Imperial IPA. It's incredibly strong and hoppy - 9 percent alcohol with a considerable hop kick, but lots of flavor. For a beer this strong and hoppy, it has an excellent balance. I would say it is better than Victory's Hop Wallop, which I love.

Friday, July 06, 2007

From the AP this afternoon:

ENID, Okla. (AP) - Detectives arrested a 12-year-old girl and her 10-year-old sister for allegedly abducting their neighbor's 1-year-old son and demanding $200,000 for his return.

Brandon Wells was safe back at home Thursday night, hours after intruders broke into his family's residence and took him while his mother, Sheila Wells, slept, police said.

"I've been doing this 18 1/2 years, and this is the first time I know of when a 10- and a 12-year-old kidnapped a 1-year-old," said police Capt. Dean Grassino. "It definitely ranks up there with the unusual crimes."

The siblings, who were not identified because of their ages, are accused of sneaking into Wells' home at about 5:30 a.m., taking Brandon and leaving a ransom note.

"If you want to see your son again then you won't call police and report him missing and you will leave $200,000 on the sofa tonight and we will return your son back safe," the note read, according to police.

The note was signed, "the kidnappers."

The plan began to unravel when the girls' mother saw them with the child, police said. They told their mother they had found the boy on the corner, police said.

I have to say I am impressed. This is the kind of go-getter spirit we need in the younger generation. Well thought out, decisive, well executed (except for the whole Letting Mom See You With the Baby thing, of course). And $200,000? What a perfect number. I say let's get this girls into business school, not reform school.