When actress/singer/performance artist, Ann Magnuson posted photographer Austin Young's artfully done recreation of the 1974 Roxy Music album, "Country Life," as her Facebook profile photo on Monday, April 5, 2010, she had no idea of what the consequences would be on Wednesday, April 7, 2010. On that morning her husband, architect John Bertram, started receiving Facebook emails asking why Ann's page was missing. Soon the viral word was spreading that Facebook had taken away Ann Magnuson from our midst. Let there be panic, action, organizing and protest. Suddenly over 4,000 friends and over 1,000 fans had no contact with Ann unless you had her email, and she had no way to reach us. No more tales of private parties at the old Magic Castle or other posts on her interesting activities. Word spread so fast that day that blogger Richard Metzger of Dangerous Minds gave over his space to Ann so she could put up a post about the situation and he gave her the following introduction:
"Dangerous Minds pal Ann Magnuson was rather unceremoniously booted from Facebook this morning? If Facebook wants to look seriously unhip, picking on someone as awesomely cool as Ann Magnuson would seem to be the right way to go about it. But I'll let Ann explain."
Ann went on to speculate as to what she thought happened to her. As soon as this blog was posted, fans and friends immediately started commenting on the situation. The very first comment was the inspiration for what happened next.
Marc Campbell wrote that when Mikal Gilmore (writer and senior editor at Rolling Stone) had been booted off Facebook for posting a 1960s album cover of a topless Joey Heatherton on his wall, he had started a Mikal Gilmore Group Page to pressure Facebook into reinstating Mr. Gilmore. He suggested that someone do the same for Ann.
When Thomas Negovan read the post he did exactly that and threw up a Facebook page, Reinstate Ann Magnuson on Facebook (That group has 5,013 members as of this writing). But word was still spreading. Ann reports her fellow performing pal from NYC, Tom Judson, was talking about her situation on a drive time radio program while promoting his new show. A Facebook employee called the show to say he would look into it. Other people with Facebook connections started pulling strings.
By April 8th Ann reported she was having "Facebook withdrawls" and wondering where all her information went? Where were her photo albums? Where were all her contacts?
"I feel like I got yanked out of bed and sent to Siberia in the middle of the night. What is scary is that they never tell you why. You just vanish.'"
By Friday morning, with Ann's profile still missing, it was clear nothing would happen without more pressure being placed on Facebook so I searched the site for any kind of contact information to reach an actual person. What is fascinating is that there is nothing in the way of a Contact Us button but there is massive amounts of info regarding the taking out of Facebook ads. If you want to give them money, they are absolutely available to you, but try and find someone to talk to about a Facebook eviction and you are on your own.
Next strategy, google Facebook. The Wikipedia entry said that Sheryl Sandberg was the COO. I Googled her and found she is on the list of 50 most powerful women, but I also found a Facebook link. It took me to a place on Facebook I had never seen before called the Press Room. Now all of a sudden there were contacts galore to reach the Facebook press office, so at 8:30 a.m., I asked for a statement for this Huffington Post story about why Ann Magnuson was ejected from the site with no notice or warning.
At approximately 10:15 a.m. on Friday morning, Ann's page suddenly appeared, minus the "offending" photo. We will never know exactly what motivated Facebook to restore Ann's page but it raised a lot of questions about what is and isn't "appropriate content". Just like the old raunchy 42nd street, with it's peep shows and strip joints gave way to the child friendly Disney world of today, Facebook feels compelled to make everything "kid friendly." Those who agree with Bill Maher that the world should not be reduced to its lowest common child denominator find it constricting to abide by arbitrarily enforced rules that limit creativity. One must look to Facebook's legal counsel to get a clue as to who is setting the rules.
The VP and General Counsel is a guy named Ted Ullyot. He was George Bush's Deputy Assistant and he was also Chief of Staff at the Justice Department. He was U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia's law clerk when he left Harvard Law School. I would not bet against someone who said this guy is probably best friends with people who admire Dick Cheney. Is it any wonder there is no recourse when one is "rather unceremoniously booted from Facebook?" Should we be surprised that there is no fair process to determine what is or isn't "sexually suggestive content."
After reinstatement a friend suggested Ann check her privacy settings. She reports that she was shocked to discover that she had neglected to "click Friends Only."
"I didn't realize I had to redo my privacy settings yet again after Facebook's upteenth 'facelift.' And while I'd hate for innocent tots to be exposed to the 'horrors' of Seventies-era Roxy Music spoofs, the Kardashians are probably exposing them to worse daily."
Ann is being quite the lady about the whole brouhaha, now questioning whether or not this was the "best thing to post." But she says the lesson she learned is that there is nothing private, that this is her "wake up call to always be aware that I am not in my living room with friends where I can say anything I want."
She feels we might be just an "eensy weensy bit naïve" to treat the Facebook corporation as anything but "They are a business after all", she reminds me, "Plus, we did click on that box agreeing to those 'terms' Having said that it is a bit like a lopsided relationship where you, a little too late in the game, suddenly realize they know everything about you and you know really nothing about them! Haven't you handled divorces where that is the case? When one side has all the incriminating information and the other party is left holding the WTF bag?"
True, but at least when you are getting divorced, you may not see it coming, but there is oversight and a process that allows you to have input. What a helpless feeling it must be to have your Facebook life disappear, with no notice, not being able to save anything. For Ann and those of us who love to follow her on Facebook, there is a happy ending but the overwhelming majority of people whose Facebook account is terminated are not so lucky. We are their customers who generated an estimated income of $550 million for Facebook in 2009. One would think that before an account was terminated, the party would have an opportunity to defend oneself or at least have a way to save content and contacts before being cast into outer darkness.
"When I posted on the (Reinstate Ann Manguson) page "We are a community, not a series of binary codes." Thomas Negovan told me, "I meant that we should not be policed by robots who haphazardly make decisions that, when we try to communicate with the establishment, is like screaming into a digital abyss. This shift from human customer service to webcrawling digibot is far too representative of what our culture has become."