Letter from Facebook Jail

I’m writing from jail… but that’s okay.  I’ve been in jail before.

In 2021, I served two stints in Facebook’s Cell Block H, once for posting about the likely origin of Covid-19 in Wuhan and the fact that masks and lockdowns did far more damage than help… and once for sharing a meme complimentary of Kyle Rittenhouse’s volunteer work in scrubbing graffiti off walls in Kenosha. Thirty days each.

But my current stint came as a surprise to me.

On Sunday, I posted a humorous one-stanza poem by Hilaire Belloc, the great English author and member of Parliament. The title is “Epitaph on the Politician Himself,” and it describes how sad the author is at seeing a corrupt politician die of natural causes when he clearly should have been hanged after conviction for corruption.

A friend asked for clarification on its meaning – not unusual with poetry – and I answered the question. Within seconds my account was restricted, and I received the all-too-familiar notice of a 30-day suspension from the megalomaniacs of Menlo Park.

There wasn’t time for someone to report it, or for a human being to review it.  This was an act of Facebook’s famous Artificial Intelligence, known to its users as the Algorithm, or the Bot, or Blinky’s Minions.

The system registered a reference to hanging and shut down the user who posted it. Immediately.

There was no recognition that this was a literary discussion, analyzing a century-old poem by an English parliamentarian.  The system has no way of distinguishing between a call for suicide or lynching, and a call for legitimate capital punishment following a conviction.  The system has no way of telling whether I was calling for it, or someone else was calling for it, or even, as in this case, two modern poetry fans were discussing a poem about fictional characters from a century ago.

Even if Mr. Belloc had had someone in mind when he wrote the poem – I have no idea – that person is unnamed and long dead.  Belloc’s service in Parliament was over 110 years ago.

But the system cannot tell the difference, and is not interested in doing so, because Facebook – the company, and its human enforcers – decided to implement a single standard upon the world, regardless of language, culture, or context.

Facebook cannot distinguish between fiction and nonfiction, between reality and fantasy, between serious statements, sarcasm, and jokes.  

Post at your peril.

Reflecting upon my perceived crime and sentencing, I cannot help but draw certain parallels to other situations.

If a public school or coffee shop is a gun-free zone, then anything that looks like a gun is banned; police may be unwelcome unless they leave their sidearms in the car, and students can be suspended or expelled if they nibble a Pop-Tart into the shape of a handgun.

If a school has a no-smoking policy, then children can get disciplined for having candy cigarettes, just because they look like cigarettes.

If a surgical team in an operating room, cutting into a sick human being, wears masks in hope of protecting against infection, then surely mandating such masks for people walking in parks, driving alone in cars, and sitting in offices is just as sensible.

If a welfare plan – such as free housing, food, and medical care – makes sense for the aged and poor, then surely it makes just as much sense to offer such a welfare plan to everyone, regardless of age and condition, even regardless of citizenship.  What’s good for 90-year-old WWII veterans who lived their lives in Chicago should also be provided to a caravan of Venezuelans who hiked through seven other countries to get here.  Why not?

The people of Arizona and California have frequent water shortages.  But if you buy a shower head or toilet in Michigan, in the very heart of the Great Lakes, that product must be designed with a water governor to limit your usage too. It’s federal law, applied nationwide, no matter whether you live in constant drought or you reside in a flood plain.

Wind and sunlight are free; to use windmills and solar panels to power a farmhouse in a sunny, windy area might be cost-efficient and sensible… but the federal government is now staffed with legions who worship the sun and wind as cure-alls and seek to impose dependence upon these sources on areas that lack both consistent wind and sun.

Each of these issues seems completely different from the others.  Some are the choices of unions and associations, others the decree of school boards.  Some are the unconstitutional whim of mayors and governors, some are the regulatory overreach of federal bureaucracies.

But what they have in common is a lack of judgment, a lack of understanding that circumstances differ, so situations require localized or personal discrimination.

That’s a trigger word, nowadays, isn’t it?  Discrimination.  At least two generations have been raised to believe that discrimination is pure evil.  And certainly, some kinds (such as anti-Semitism or blind racial bigotry) can be.

But the term itself simply means the act of distinguishing between different cases and judging each accordingly.  Discrimination – sensible, thoughtful judgment, based on the facts – is critical in our personal lives, and is more important than ever in the political arena.

The contest in America and the West -- for at least the past two centuries -- has been a contest between free markets and central planning.  The advocates of the latter – the practitioners of over-regulation at every level – are responsible for the ongoing degradation of the greatest economic and social system in human history.

There are times when wearing a mask makes sense, and times when it doesn’t. There are times when water governors make sense, and times when they’re silly.  Times when welfare is generous and honorable, and times when welfare bankrupts society and destroys the standard of living of entire nations.

The individual can and should make most of these decisions, at the most local level. A company makes decisions for its own management and its own products. A hospital makes decisions for its own operating rooms.  An individual makes decisions for his own life.

When central planning makes bad decisions, its advocates tell us that these mistakes are the exception.  The unspoken message is that “socialism just wasn’t done right, all those other times.”

But they are not the exception.  Central planning makes mistakes because the larger the scale, the more differences there are - the more idiosyncrasies, the more data points there are. The bigger the organization, the more impossible it becomes for anyone, or for any policy, to take everything into account and make the right decisions.

We are all much safer if we follow the Founding Fathers’ advice and leave decisions up to the people.  The sovereign individual citizens.

Central planning doesn’t work in government; remember the USSR. Central planning doesn’t work in appliances; just remember your low-flush toilet.  And central planning doesn’t work in social media; just remember the last time Mark Zuckerberg put you in jail for using sarcasm.

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based international transportation professional.  A onetime Milwaukee County Republican Party Chairman, he has been writing a regular column in Illinois Review since 2009.  His book on vote fraud (The Tales of Little Pavel) and his brand new political satires on the current administration (Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volumes I and II) are available on Amazon.


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