Thursday, January 20, 2011

Biased Opinion - Cyberpunk, Neuromancer, Brooke Taylor, and Facebook

The beautiful and completely
non-nude Brooke Taylor
There is a famous quote attributed to Sinclair Lewis that says "When fascism comes to America it will comes wrapped in the flag and waving a cross". Though many doubt whether Lewis actually said this, and several other possible sources have been touted for it, or something similar to it, the point of the quote is that if fascism were to come to the United States, it wouldn't take the form that most people assume, with jackbooted thugs and concentration camps, but rather as an attractive expression of patriotism and faith that droves of people would gladly voluntarily sign up for.

For years cyberpunk authors like William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, and Bruce Sterling have written of dystopian cyberpunk futures in books like like Neuromancer and Mirrorshades. And an oft-seen element of these dystopias is the domination of huge megacorporations, answerable to no government which use people and toss them aside like used tissues - an element so common in cyberpunk that it forms one of the core components of the GURPS: Cyberpunk campaign source book. One might wonder how such unfeeling and powerful corporations come about. I think I have found one way: they get people to willingly sign up for their service in droves and become so indispensable that they can do whatever the hell they want to. In other words, they act like Facebook.

Another non-nude photo of Brooke
Now, I'm not saying that Facebook is going to run out and hire Sally Shears to bump off the corporate leadership of Myspace, but Facebook is starting to act a little bit too much like a cyberpunk megacorporation. As recently as 2006 Myspace was the largest social media network in the world, now it is a tiny fraction of the size of Facebook. Quite frankly, Facebook deserved to win that battle, as Myspace's layout was really poorly organized and annoying to use. However, the decline (and in my estimation, probable demise) of Myspace  leaves Facebook as really the only option for someone wanting to engage in social media. Although there is a vast internet out there that is not dependent upon Facebook (like the blogosphere, of which this blog is a part), for many people, Facebook, and the social network it provides, is the primary reason they use the internet. I'd suggest that for a small but growing percentage of internet users, Facebook effectively is the internet: they don't get on the web for any reason other than to access their Facebook page and see what their Facebook friends are doing. If this continues, having a Facebook profile is likely to be more or less the equivalent of having a telephone or an e-mail address. It will be that basic of a requirement for participating in modern society. I'd suggest that in the near future, being shut out of Facebook will more or less be the equivalent of social death.

So why is this relevant, and why are those pictures of the lovely Brooke Taylor stuck on this post? Well, because Brooke, and a couple of her coworkers have, in their dealings with Facebook, what I think is something of a cautionary tale for the rest of us. In the course of researching for my Cathouse reviews I have found and interacted with some of the women featured on the show via social media: specifically Facebook and Twitter. Many of the women who work at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch are on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, or some other web service. Though they are not legally permitted to market their services over the internet, most want to be accessible to their fans, and several have more than enough admirers to max out the Facebook limit of five thousand friends. In my experience dealing with them, I have found them all to be friendly, engaging, and sweet women. They are all also pretty smart ladies, and generally know exactly what they can and cannot do under the terms of service of sites like Facebook, and adhere to those guidelines quite scrupulously.

But the problem is that even if you follow Facebook's rules to the letter, it may not matter, and if Facebook decides they don't like you, there isn't much you can do about their decisions. The reason that the pictures of Brooke Taylor are featured in this blog post is that those specific pictures were repeatedly reported by a user on Facebook for violating the Facebook terms of service because they allegedly included nudity. As I was a Facebook friend of Brooke's at the time, I watched the subsequent events play out first hand. In response to these reports, Facebook removed the pictures. Because they don't actually include any nudity (seriously, go back and look at them and try to find any nudity in those photos), Brooke reposted them, whereupon they were reported again and removed. Brooke attempted to locate contact information so she could speak with a Facebook representative and find out what about them supposedly violated the terms of service. However, Facebook has made it essentially impossible to locate any contact information by the simple expedient of not actually providing any other than a completely generic "contact technical support" e-mail system that requires the use of an extensive checklist that actually doesn't allow for asking questions about reported photos, or protesting the decision to remove photos that allegedly violate Facebook's terms of service. Facebook claims that a member of their staff reviews complaints about photos to determine if the complaints are valid before removing them, but this appears not to be the case, as one of Brooke's photos that was reported and removed for nudity was a picture of Bella, her dog. After her photos were repeatedly falsely reported for nudity, her Facebook profile was summarily deleted for violating the terms of service. The Facebook profiles of both Mika Tan and Bunny Love, two other women who have appeared on Cathouse, suffered similar fates.

So what is the point? Well, the immediate point is that Facebook treated these very nice women quite shabbily. But the larger point is that Facebook was able to do what it did, and shunt these women off of the social media center of the universe based upon false information, without giving them an opportunity to be heard or appeal the decisions that were made concerning their content. In fact, it seems that Facebook has made it impossible to contest or even get an explanation for the decisions made in matters like these. Making matters worse, Facebook's reporting system is completely anonymous, so anyone can submit a false report complaining about another user without revealing their identity, or without any fear of any possible negative consequence. In effect, we have willingly and cheerfully turned over control of our social address book, our photo albums, our home movies, and our ability to communicate with our friends, to an entity that reserves the right to snuff all of that out on, essentially, the whim of an angry anonymous jerk with an axe to grind. This is most obvious in the case of Brooke and the other bunnies, because they are polarizing figures to a certain extent, as many people have a prejudice against them because of their perfectly legal profession. But what should concern the rest of us is that everyone is susceptible to this sort of treatment. That jerk of a neighbor who is angry with you because he thinks your patio is ugly doesn't need to take any real effort now to get petty revenge. All he has to do is search for your Facebook profile and begin reporting you for posting nude photos, even if there isn't any nudity at all in them. And Facebook doesn't care that they are being used as a vehicle for personal vendettas, they just don't have to care. After all, who is going to make them care? And we have put Facebook in the position to be able to do this by flocking to them in droves. Just as fascism would come wrapped in a flag and waving a cross, the megacorporation seems set to take over our lives with a happy facade and the promise of an address book full of friends. If a cyberpunk dystopia comes about, it will be because we cheerfully made it come about by putting the megacorporations in control so we could play FarmVille and Bejeweled Blitz with our friends.

Special thanks to the beautiful and gracious Brooke Taylor for agreeing to allow me to use the disputed pictures as examples for this blog post. As a side note, both Brooke Taylor and Mika Tan have new Facebook profiles, but both have decided to limit their Facebook involvement on the grounds that their new profiles might suffer the same fate as their previous ones. As of this date, Bunny Love has not created a new Facebook profile.

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1 comment:

  1. Facebook is intolerable when you report a problem. It was blocking messages from my boyfriend for ages, starting when they did a message box format change. The technical help page and so-called contact form is a joke. Even when you are filling out the form, there is a sentence to the effect that they might work at the problem, but will not respond. Its doubtful that Facebook even truly investigates what is reported to the company, as you can see with the photos of the Bunnyranch girls. The problem with Facebook is it really has found a niche, it serves a purpose in easily connecting you to long lost and distant friends, and the majority is rarely concerned about the marginalization of a few. I've heard of employers demanding to have your facebook password to view your page fully as a condition of employment. What happens then for someone who does not have a page, and how does that effect our ability to conduct our private lives when so much social interaction is now on Facebook? Corporations in general already do have more power than governments as they do not have the restrictions of national boundaries. If a corporation does not like the laws a nation places them subject to, they can move their headquarters taking the money with them. Subsequently governments bow to corporate wishes. The direction we are moving in is ominous. Thank you for your well-written post.

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