UPDATE: Napster founder Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, has kicked in $100,000 to back marijuana legalization in California, according to Sasha Horwitz, a spokesperson for Proposition 19. Parker's contribution follows a $50,000 donation from cofounder Dustin Moskovitz. While Facebook's cofounders are backing the initiative, Facebook the company is blocking ads from Just Say Now, an organization backing the same proposition. A Facebook spokesman says that the image of a pot leaf violates its advertising terms. "Our advertising policies prohibit the paid promotion of illegal content, and when we find this, we take action as necessary," said Facebook's Andrew Noyes.
* * * * *
Facebook has recently blocked ads supporting the legalization of marijuana, but its cofounder Dustin Moskovitz has contributed $50,000 to the organization leading the effort in California on behalf of proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana.
The contribution from Moskovitz, who listed his occupation simply as "cofounder," highlights the bizarre position Facebook has put itself in by blocking speech on behalf of a political position backed by many of its users and at least one of its founders. Moskovitz is still a part owner of Facebook but has largely ceded operation authority. The donation was first reported by the East Bay Express.
"We wouldn't comment on what an employee of Facebook -- past or present -- does with his or her own checkbook," said Andrew Noyes, a Facebook spokesman, adding that the company has only banned pot ads that have an image of a pot leaf. (Other Facebook users, such as the Libertarian Party, have been told that any pro-legalization ads run counter to the company's policies.)
Michael Whitney, a spokesman for Just Say Now, which had ads removed by Facebook, applauded Moskovitz's donation, but pushed Facebook to follow his lead. "It's nice that a Facebook co-founder is donating to Yes on 19's campaign, but Facebook itself is still afraid of a pot leaf," he said. "The social networking site is censoring political speech from people who want to pass Prop 19 and legalize marijuana. Facebook should drop its Reefer Madness hysteria and catch up to where its users - and even its co-founder - are, and stop censoring legalization ads."
The censorship puts Facebook, which migrated from Harvard's campus, out of step with Silicon Valley culture. The computer science field has long had a complementary relationship with psychedelic drugs and a broad acceptance of marijuana. In the recently released movie "The Social Network," the early days of Facebook's California life are depicted as one long party, complete with a six-foot bong that interns needed to stand on a couch in order to use.
Indeed, psychedelic drugs have influenced some of America's foremost computer scientists. The history of this connection is well documented in a number of books, the best probably being What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer, by New York Times technology reporter John Markoff.
Psychedelic drugs, Markoff argues, pushed the computer and Internet revolutions forward by showing folks that reality can be profoundly altered through unconventional, highly intuitive thinking. Douglas Engelbart is one example of a psychonaut who did just that: he helped invent the mouse. Apple's Steve Jobs has said that Microsoft's Bill Gates, would "be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once." In a 1994 interview with Playboy, however, Gates coyly didn't deny having dosed as a young man.
Toward the end of his life, LSD inventor Albert Hofmann sent a letter to Jobs, suggesting that the Apple founder fund research on acid in return for the drug's contribution to his professional and creative development.
John Gilmore, who contributed $2,000 to the Prop 19 camp so far, was the fifth employee at Sun Microsystems and registered the domain name Toad.com in 1987. A well-known psychonaut, he's perhaps best known for Gilmore's Law, his observation that "[t]he Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." Most of his colleagues in the sixties and seventies, he said, used psychedelic drugs. "What psychedelics taught me is that life is not rational. IBM was a very rational company," he told me in an interview for the book This Is Your Country On Drugs, explaining why the corporate behemoth was overtaken by upstarts such as Apple. Mark Pesce, the coinventor of virtual reality's coding language, VRML, and a dedicated Burner, agreed that there's some relationship between chemical mind expansion and advances in computer technology: "To a man and a woman, the people behind [virtual reality] were acidheads," he said.
Gilmore doubts, however, that a strict cause-and-effect relationship between drugs and the Internet can be proved. The type of person who's inspired by the possibility of creating new ways of storing and sharing knowledge, he said, is often the same kind interested in consciousness exploration. At a basic level, both endeavors are a search for something outside of everyday reality--but so are many creative and spiritual undertakings, many of them strictly drug-free. But it's true, Gilmore noted, that people do come to conclusions and experience revelations while tripping. Perhaps some of those revelations have turned up in programming code.
Stephen Silberstein, the founder of Innovative Interfaces, a company that supplied computer software for the automation of college and city libraries, also contributed $50,000 to the Prop 19 camp in October, according to filings with the California Secretary of State.
Noyes said that it isn't the content of the message but the pot leaf itself that runs some pro-legalization afoul of Facebook policies. "Like many content services, we have different policies for our paid and free services. Our advertising policies prohibit the paid promotion of illegal content, and when we find this, we take action as necessary. Content created by users is governed by our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which can be viewed here. We want Facebook to be a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others. Our team has worked with "Just Say Now" directly and explained our policies in depth. We'd like to reiterate that "Just Say Now" can promote their campaign and petition through Facebook Ads as long as as they use another image," he said in a statement.