A Postcard From Menlo Park (CA)

Greetings From Facebook Jail


This week’s postcard is actually from several places.

It’s from Menlo Park. But it’s actually from East Menlo Park. To be more specific from the campus of Facebook in East Menlo Park.

More specifically it’s from the cyber location called Facebook Jail.

No, I’m not in jail, but in the last few weeks a couple of my friends have been placed there, so like in Monopoly, I’m just visiting. I get to pass Go and collect $200.

It’s the algorithms I tells ya, they rat you out before you can even finish the comment.

Take my friend Don. Nice guy. We used to write together. We even wrote a musical for him to star in.

He’s the blonde on the left. If you’re thinking to yourself I know that face it’s probably from one of his many commercials or appearances on Letterman. He semi-gave up the glamour of show business for the academic life a few years ago and now teaches creative writing at a college in Connecticut. Which makes his crime even more, what’s the creative writing term for it, ironic.

Why is he in Facebook Jail? Because he had the temerity to make the following comment as a reply to someone else’s post:

We have more stupid Americans than at any other point in my lifetime.

That’s it. That’s all. For making the rather obvious statement of fact/opinion that a huge swarth of the American public are stupid. If I’m not mistaken Tucker Carlson has built an entire career on the basis of that assumption. The Repugnicant party as well.

I can hear you now saying to yourself “self, what’s so bad about saying a great number of people are stupid? It’s not like he called a specific person a particular racial slur or maligned an entire group of people by saying all were stupid, he just said there are a lot of stupid people living in America.”

Well self here’s the answer. The algorithm Facebook uses to check for hate speech on it’s site considers the word “stupid” to be hate speech.  Why? Apparently because some people still use stupid as a derogatory synonym for mentally challenged, hence stupid in the context of other human beings is hate speech. Stupid in the context of The Bachelor is okay, though don’t call whoever is the bachelor on The Bachelor stupid even if he was mentally challenged enough to go on a reality dating show.

But stupid has other meanings in relation to humans.

  • “A benumbed or dazed state of mind” as in “I was rendered stupid for awhile after I fell off the ladder”.
  • “Tediously dull, especially due to lack of meaning or sense” as in “This party is stupid”.
  • “In a state of stupor” as in “I am stupid from staying up all night”.
  • “Annoying or irritating” as in “This recitation of all the meanings of stupid is stupid”

So Facebook, do I go to jail for saying “Man last night I was so stupid from going to that stupid party that I tripped on the curb, hit my head, and got stupid for so long that I was stupid to the guy who gave me a ride home”?

The point here is that words have contextual meanings which can’t be codified into any sort of algorithmic logic. Humans understand them, computers don’t. Facebook coders, didn’t you learn anything from all those Sci-Fi movies where a computer caused world wide chaos because it didn’t understand the nuance of human interaction? Shall we play a game?

Obviously there is no contextual situation that mitigates a homophobic, racist, sexist, ageist, whateverist slur and those should be flagged and taken down, but words that have several meanings need to be reviewed in the context of how they are used. At this point in time computers, AI, algorithms, all of it can’t do that. Perhaps there are a couple of college kids in a dorm somewhere who are working on the problem, but they haven’t shown themselves yet. Until they do we need to have humans making human decisions based on human knowledge. According to Facebook, they can’t afford to hire enough people to do that kind of monitoring. They have to use the machines to handle it. And if a few innocent commentators get thrown in the hoosegow well that is just the cost of cleaning up the internet.

Yeah and if we throw some screenwriters out of work because they went to a few Communist party meetings back when the USSR was our ally against the Nazis that’s the breaks as long as we got all the REAL Commies out of Hollywood.

So Don sits in his  dart board and treadmill equipped cyber cell, his account suspended for 30 days. He can read (because in this particular jail it’s bread, water, and your ration of advertising) but he can not post or respond to posts. In a private message to me he expressed the following:

If you are asking me to find reason or logic in the administration of this global phenomenon by artificial intelligence, I’m afraid I can’t help ya. But I do have a suggestion: At some point they are going to need an antonym for Artificial Intelligence. So since we can’t say Artificial Stupidity, let’s just call it Zuckerberg.

I’ll let that be the last word. He’d appreciate that he finally got it from me.

I used this version instead of The Clash because I just heard on CRIMINAL the fascinating story of Bobby Fuller.

Shapiro Out

5 thoughts on “A Postcard From Menlo Park (CA)

  1. I don’t give a shit if the Algoreurythmics first sang this at the Newport Jazz Festival. You can’t shift the blame for a poorly built tool that you built yourself. I would like to know if Facebook has designed the algorithms in use to improve themselves through use, or if Facebook considers their very existence all that they need to do to get their Get Out of Stupidity Free Card. And did you mean a huge swarth, as in the swarthy pirate, or swath, as in he mowed acres of grain that morning, cutting the stalks in sweaty, sweeping swaths? Jussayin

  2. Thank you for your advocacy on my behalf, Michael. I will soon have repaid my debt to society; (I used Venmo.) And the worst thing about Facebook Jail is the tortured cries one hears late at night, from people who regret having gotten rid of their MySpace pages. The food isn’t bad here; it’s all just pictures of what other people have eaten. And I like my job in the Facebook Prison library: I roll around a cart with grumpy cat memes and old The Far Side cartoons. But really: Facebook is considering letting The Orange Menace back on, but I go to Facebook Jail? I can only deduce that we live in an unjust world.

  3. I too was in FB jail for 24 hours. What I commented was very tame. I used the term “ugly American”. That is considered hate speech apparently. I reference the 1963 movie with Marlon Brando about Americans behaving badly in other countries at that time SEAsia.
    The kid who monitors my comment or the so called AI has no awareness of history, literature or movies.
    If FB lets Trump back on I am gone.

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