Last week was my worst week ever. Okay, maybe not ever, but definitely my worst week in 2008.
The trouble started on a Tuesday night. Shortly before I entered a bar to meet a friend for drinks, I updated my Facebook status on my BlackBerry, with an opinion about the upcoming Clinton-Obama debate.
As soon as my friend and I parted ways, I immediately whipped out my BlackBerry to check Facebook again. (Yes, I’m one of those people.)
My BlackBerry informed me that my account had been “disabled.” Disabled? I had never heard of such a thing. Perhaps it was a problem with my BlackBerry? I rushed home in a panic.
Alas, when I tried to log in on my computer, I was denied once again. This time I received a slightly more detailed message: “Your account has been disabled by an administrator.” I was referred to an FAQ informing me that accounts can be disabled for violations of Facebook’s Terms and Conditions, which prohibit such things as spamming or harassing other users.
Then, I waited. And waited. To devotees of Facebook like myself—the type of people who use “Facebook” as a verb—life without the popular social networking site is unimaginable. If it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen.
With each passing day, I sank deeper and deeper into my Facebook-deprivation-induced depression. What to do? First, overeat! I inhaled massive quantities of saag paneer and gained about five pounds. I slept constantly, racking up a disturbing total of 16 hours of sleep on Saturday. It was only when I was asleep that my troubles vanished. I still had access to Facebook—in my dreams.
I COULD NOT figure out what I had done to deserve banishment. At the very least, my expulsion violated my due process rights. I was not given any advance warning before my account was suspended, I did not know the nature of the allegations made against me and I was never given the chance to confront my accusers. Okay, so the Bill of Rights has not been held applicable to Facebook, yet. But I still felt I was the victim of fundamental unfairness.
Also, being kicked off Facebook has all sorts of unfortunate consequences. Most were personal: Friends thought I had de-friended them. One wrote, “Was it something I said?” But the site is also essential to my job as a legal blogger. Readers of my blog, Above The Law, regularly submit tips to me via Facebook, which is often safer than e-mailing, since e-mail can be tracked. When I need sources for a story, I can post a note on Facebook and have a dozen sources within a matter of hours.
Losing Facebook was a significant professional blow, especially since I had spent so much time building up a network of contacts there. I even stopped updating my Microsoft Outlook contacts, since I figured Facebook would always be there for me.
On top of it all, I had to endure the shame of being an online outcast. When I would explain my predicament, friends would express their sympathy. But I couldn’t help wondering: Are they secretly judging me? I felt like the Hester Prynne of the virtual world, with “FB” branded across my chest.
FINALLY, ON MONDAY—almost a week after my Tuesday-night expulsion, and without hearing anything from Facebook’s Kafkaesque justice system in the intervening period—I received an e-mail message from “Jerry,” in Facebook’s User Operations department.
Apparently, I’d been deleted because I had posted parts of another user’s Facebook profile to my blog. This was true: I had written about the profile of an Arizona beauty queen-turned-law student, who was indicted on charges of kidnapping her ex-boyfriend. She allegedly tied the guy up with plastic cables and duct tape, bit him and threatened him with a butcher knife. Not a good person to have as an enemy.
Thankfully, though, my punishment was reversed, with the stern warning that I “remove these reproduced sections and refrain from doing this again in the future.”
I did not view my infraction as a grave offense. But after enduring the hell of five days without Facebook, I will not stray again. The sanction has served its purpose.
The irony, of course, is that, as The New York Times reported last month, users who actually do want to leave Facebook were finding it nearly impossible to erase themselves completely from the site. So what’s the greater punishment? A prison you can’t break out of, or one you can’t break back into?