Rumination on the Book of Faces

I was banned from Facebook for a month this week, like I'm the President of the United States or something. I committed multiple "violations", apparently. They don't tell you why: re-education isn't the direct point. Suppression is. I hadn't posted anything in a while, so I figure they must have done a sweep at the same time they booted the President of whatever is deemed objectionable material this week. I expect I am now considered personally to blame for an insurrectionary coup and an enemy of the regime now.

The occasion allowed me to reflect on my time on Facebook. I learned a lot from people over the years on the platform. For all the complaints, by considering the background and thoughts of a varied crowd over the years I felt I gathered insight into what various sorts of people were thinking, and why. I never really understood the haters. It was a valuable information-gathering resource that informed my working endeavors, and it allowed me to gather "data" myself and experiment rhetoric and ideas by evaluating the reactions to my posts.

I was very much a part of the blogging era, and an early Facebook adopter. When I was young, what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to encounter and engage with a variety of arguments on assorted topics. I learned to foster these discussions without acrimony or, for the most part, heart burn. I kept up with different cohorts from various parts of my life in fruitful ways. I used it to promote discussion of an obscure Thomist (Charles De Koninck) and it helped me obtain all manner of jobs and references. 

When our six-week-old son died of SIDS, my wife and I were deeply moved by the outpouring of support, which assisted us greatly at the worst time in our lives. The central channel for that was Facebook, oddly enough. My life changed after that, and what I enjoyed most was seeing other people's kids and happiness, as well as their sorrows, and the ability to reach out to others in some small way myself.

But as everyone knows, much of this dynamic changed as the age of Trump commenced. Deep lines have been long since drawn beyond those that separate us in what used to be perceived as "normal" political times. Regime politics are about fundamental and often irresolvable disputes. Words matter less. Persuasion matters less than signaling and action in the heat of such battles. Facebook had already become unmanageable—and even dangerous—because of these deep divisions.

But through all that, I was never banned until this week.

I know I'm "old" and many have long since done the same: but whether I cancel my account or not, I can't see using it again except as a reference for contact information. What particularly strikes me is that through the years my account must have been worth at least tens of thousands of dollars for the "Book of Faces", as we used to call it.

I've always liked Mark Zuckerberg's story, or wanted to. I actually pity him in a way now: he's stuck in between even larger and more powerful forces than the company he build, and not a very political soul to begin with. The new internet we must now build has to allow human beings to keep and own themselves—their data, their communications, etc.—and serve them rather than the other way around. If we succeed, I'll say we learned everything we needed to know from the Book of Faces. 

Thanks, Mark.


Matthew J. Peterson (@docmjp) is Vice President of Education at the Claremont Institute and Editor of The American Mind. He directs Claremont’s annual fellowships and heads our initiative for a new center to support graduate level scholarship.