I once knew a man called ________. I have chosen not to actually reprint his name here because, in fact, I don't want him to gain any notoriety as a result of this writing. I think it best he be forgotten. That isn't so unheard of, is it? When a man commits an unspeakable crime, his name goes unspoken. His legacy is forgotten. He may as well never have existed. This is the story of such a man. For the purpose of our story, we're going to call him Cain.
We met in college. We were members of the same club. I never spoke to him once he graduated, and he never spoke to me. At some point after graduation, I cleared off my entire high school from my Facebook friend list, but I left most of the people I met at college. I felt I had a little more in common with them. After all, the people I knew in high school were acquaintances only as a result of random chance; the people I knew in college were at least members of the same club. I was probably twenty-five at the time, and I won't claim I was brilliant. The point is, until tonight, Cain was listed as a "Friend."
I looked at Cain's wall tonight. Nothing but birthday wishes. I looked at his wall because Facebook asked me to wish him a happy birthday. I did not; I only looked at his Facebook wall to see if anyone else had. In fact, he has many well-wishers. That's almost the only thing he has. Going back four or five years, there's nothing on his wall but well-wishes like the ones added today.
That's because, in 2015, Cain murdered his wife.
I don't know if he has access to his Facebook account while in prison. I would guess not. If so, he hasn't used it. Maybe he has another account, under another name, but the only things posted to this one are seemingly dozens of "Happy Birthday" messages from people who, knowing Facebook, may well be ignorant of the murder. There is, however, one exception: Cain's mother-in-law.
Cain's mother-in-law posted today that she is disgusted that anyone is wishing him happy birthday. Her message was written in what I took to be a clear state of distress. The anger practically seethed from every word. Upon seeing this message, I took a moment to wonder if she does this every year: if she faces, every year, the prospect of dozens of people obediently and vacuously paying their respects to her daughter's murderer. I thought about the injustice of that ugly reality, and I decided that I should do something about it.
I went to Cain's page and clicked the
Report button. The button presented me with a lot of useless options amounting to, basically, "Is this person being bullied," or, "is someone bullying this person?" They aren't worded clearly, of course; it's all newspeak. I clicked the wrong option the first time (amounting to "someone is bullying this person") and I'm afraid I may have caused the mother-in-law some grief. She could be considered to be bullying him. I don't know. In any case, that's obviously not what I meant.
What I wanted to do was to send a message to the hypothetical humans at the core of Zuckerberg's monstrous machine that this profile is A) not in use, and B) causes significant emotional harm to someone who probably deserves a break; I meant to ask them to use their power to take it down. It would have been one case of censorship that even I could almost get on board with.
Of course, that hypothetical human does not exist. If he does, he's too busy thought-policing someone who posts something politically incorrect about one hot button topic or another to care about real damage to a real person. He is insulated from the real concerns of actual people. His job is not to make their lives better but to ensure that they don't infect others with any dangerous ideas.
Social interactions in the real world are an emergent phenomenon resulting from the countless choices made by the totality of participants within a social context. Things like condemnation happen automagically in such a world, without a need to plead with an all-powerful administrator to take into account the suffering of a grieving mother, or to somehow sneak through the labyrinthine processes of a treacherously multinational megacorporation. Justice, once upon a time, was a thing that we visited upon one another. It has become something we ask for.
Social media is such a poor approximation of social interaction that I genuinely believe it is a net negative for society. Facebook ought to be taxed based on the harm it has caused to our nation and our economy, but I don't see how they could possibly have enough money to pay for the damage they have done. This is only one example, I know, but before you push it aside, let it tug at your heartstrings for just a moment. Imagine yourself in her shoes, confronted every February by the smiling visage of your baby's killer, and there is nothing you can do about it other than send a strongly worded message.