Free speech on Facebook

So after watching the vice presidential debate last Thursday, I decided in my light-hearted way to poke fun at Sarah Palin’s folksiness with a oh-so-clever status update on my Facebook page. The update was perfect, just the right collection of all her choice phrases from the debate — well, it was perfect enough to garner a laugh from my girlfriend, which isn’t easy to do.

Yet, by the next morning, I had somebody respond to my light-hearted fun-poking with heavy handed, admittedly conservative invective. And this came from one of my supposed Facebook friends — of course it did; that is how the site works after all.

I found myself in a moral quandary. Do I delete the comment which unfairly labels me as one of “you liberals” (I refute all political labels, thank you, and I choose to make fun of whoever I want to make fun of) or do I leave it there out of a journalistic sense of integrity (and yes, some of that remains buried inside me, even since my move out of newspapering and into public affairs). Well, I figured, while I didn’t agree with what the commenter said, I certainly wouldn’t deny him the right to say it. Besides, the comment didn’t offend anybody except me, and mildly, so I let it stand. End of story.

Or so I thought. A couple of days later, I happened upon a blog post by Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amature, about Sarah Palin. Since Palin has been a big talking point at our house lately, I decided to post the article for all to see. Keen’s post wasn’t even really “against” Palin. In fact, Keen only mentions Palin to frame remarks made by political activist Todd Gitlin about the difference between “elites” and “elitism.”

Within an hour or two, I had another conservative rant on my hands — and mind you, I’m usually reserved about labels, but this guy’s writing made it clear which side of that particular debate he was on. The rant talked with great earnestness about taxes and political policies and other issues that are, frankly, above my level of involvement or interest in politics; I cared for and understood very few of the details about what Mr. Red State was trying to get across. What did come across, though, was that he had taken my posting to Facebook as an affront to him and an attack on Sarah Palin.

Of course, if he had bothered to read Keen’s post, he probably would have seen that it wasn’t really aimed at Palin at all; at least I hope he would have seen that. Mr. Red State did take English literature classes with me in college, so I hope that he would have the reading wherewithal to pick that chunk of meaning out of a blog post.

So again I found myself in a moral position, but I was angrier this time. I felt like my Facebook wall was being turned into Mr. Red State’s soapbox, like he was sitting on his live friend-feed hoping to catch another one of my clearly biased liberal posts so that he could spew more electrons in defense of the Republican Party.

I had enough. I sent him a curt message that basically told him to fuck off. I deleted his comments. I un-friended him.

What’s the lesson I take away from this? Facebook is not a democracy. Facebook does not provide for free speech. You cannot use my Facebook wall for incendiary comments that offend me because, while everything on the site belongs to Facebook, my wall belongs to me. I choose what goes there, and if I don’t like your comment… well, I’m not the paper of record, am I?

Write a letter to the local newspaper, why don’t you, Mr. Red State.

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