It began, as many do, with a leisurely morning surf along the teeming shoals of Facebook. There, amid the colorful flurries of indigenous lifeforms, I found the usual kernels of sustenance and stimulation. Until, by chance, I clicked on a link to my own website, davidshaldane.com. Instead of the long-familiar page, a bubble popped up bearing an ominous message: the site had been banned for “violating community standards.”
Assuming the misdirection to be a fluke, I quickly tried several other links with the same result. Then scrolled through the posts on a page I manage called “Expat Eye; My Philippine Journey” and noticed, with a sinking stomach, that most had been removed. That’s when I fell into the bottomless pit. One minute, it seemed, I’d been jogging happily through familiar terrain thinking about the taste of strawberry jam, and the next – well, the next I was hurtling head first into a dark abyss with the giant knuckles of fate choking the air from my windpipe.
Many people who use Facebook, of course, consider it important. In my case, the activity has taken on added significance since I started writing this column. My usual routine, in fact, is to post “Expat Eye” on my website the minute after it appears in the paper. Then I throw a few links on Facebook and, voila! the piece is accessible to friends and potential fans (hey, it’s my fantasy we’re talking about here) living abroad where they’re unlikely to come across Mindanao Gold Star Daily. So being banned from Facebook, as you can imagine, could have a seriously damaging effect not only on my vast imagined readership but, more-to-the-point, on my oh-so-fragile ego!
The worst thing about being banned is that nobody ever tells you why. I mean, aside from the amorphous “violates community standards” boilerplate, there is simply no explanation in sight. I know this because, as I was tumbling down that aforementioned dung hole, I literally spent an hour frantically searching for a contact point by which to communicate my despair. The best I could come up with was a tab suggesting that, if you disagree with this assessment of the Facebook gods, you should just “click here.” When you do, a space is indeed provided to air your grievance. It’s also accompanied by a note declaring that, while it’s impossible for Facebook to review individual comments, the company does pay attention to general trends. In other words, you are certainly free to make your argument but rest assured that no actual human being will ever read it.
Which, of course, led to loads of speculation among my FB friends regarding why the web site had been banned in the first place. The most plausible explanation; a 2015 memoir touted elsewhere on the site entitled Nazis & Nudists, two words clearly ripe for banning in this brave new world of political correctness gone mad.
Which reminds me of an early 20th-century German-speaking novelist named Franz Kafka with whom I became enamored in my youth. One of his most famous works is The Trial, published in 1925, which tells the story of a man arrested and tried for a crime that’s never disclosed. The book’s dark view of a universe controlled by invisible-yet-powerful bureaucracies jived exactly with my generation’s fears at the time, leading to dire and widespread predictions regarding the “Kafkaesque” future into which we believed we were headed.
As far as Facebook is concerned, those are no longer merely predictions.
The Trial ends with the defendants’ summary execution for reasons that he never understands. In my own case, the fates were kinder; after twenty-four hours, the proscription of my website was lifted without warning or explanation. Had someone defied company policy by reading my comments and changing his or her mind? Had the whole thing just been an unfortunate mistake?
I doubt that I will ever know. What I do know, however, is that perhaps it’s time to reread Kafka.
(David Haldane, a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, is an award-winning American journalist, author and radio broadcaster who recently moved to Surigao City with his Filipino wife and their eight-year-old son. This column tells the unfolding story of that adventure.)