Opinion

Life on the Facebook Blacklist

Since Yael Ilani had the temerity to use a forbidden word on the social network and then complain about being blocked, she says her relations with Mark Zuckerberg’s empire have spiraled into the Kafkaesque

Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking during the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Peru, November 19, 2016.
Esteban Felix/AP

A person wakes up one morning and discovers she has been blocked. She can’t send messages or comment on Facebook. That probably doesn’t sound like such a big deal to most of you (I hope so, anyway). But it is for me and, much as it pains me to admit it, these past few months the new Facebook – by which I mean the Facebook whose censorship policy was just revealed – has been making life difficult for me.

Maybe it hurts so much because I still have a soft spot for the platform from bygone, more innocent days, without censorship and punishments. At worst, an unseen hand would remove ads that were somehow deemed problematic, without sending anyone to sit in the corner, and everyone was happy.

Maybe it’s because Facebook has been part of my life since 2007, an entire decade, and has spawned a good number of wonderful friendships that found their way into the real world, and even a few job offers. Maybe it’s because after I moved abroad, Mark Zuckerberg’s social network became my pipeline to Israel and to the people I love who were now far away. It’s amazing how much “virtual closeness” means to you when you’re feeling homesick.

The problem is that, for some months now, all of this goodness has disappeared. The platform I was once so fond of has transformed into a vengeful enemy.

It all began a few months ago when I posted a screenshot on Facebook of an amusing texting exchange between me and a friend when her phone autocorrected the Hebrew word osim (“doing”) to the Hebrew word kushim (“blacks,” in the most derogatory way). My appalled friend had hastily corrected the error and I had responded, with childlike glee, about the vast difference in meaning and the intensity of her reaction. I shared the photographed moment on Facebook. Big mistake.

I subsequently found I’d been blocked for 24 hours. At first, I found the situation amusing. Just a silly mistake, I reasoned. As soon as I was back on Facebook, I posted a status wondering about Facebook’s blocking policy. In response, I was blocked for two more days. Since that time, nearly six months ago, I’ve been blocked four more times, with the “sentence” getting more and more severe each time (in the finest American tradition).

The third time, for instance, I was again blocked for that post in which the K-word appeared, even though it had been removed. The fourth time was for a link to a YouTube video from a few years ago that included the Hebrew children’s song “Kushi Kelev Kat,” about a little black dog. Most recently, the blocking was in response to my protest over rapper The Shadow’s body-shaming of singer Achinoam Nini, who was photographed in a bikini. He wasn’t blocked. I was. Incidentally, that picture was also a few years old – i.e., it was retroactive blocking.

So my account is suspended “for now” – though my sense is that “for now” really means “most likely forever, due to one thing after another.” Meanwhile, I keep receiving messages to which I cannot respond, and the posters are starting to sound impatient. If only I could communicate to people in Morse code that I’m missing them, too.

Attempts to contact Facebook have hit a wall. The link is broken, in the full sense of the term. That’s what you get with a monopoly in the world of social media.

Yes, I know there are worse problems in the world. But it’s upsetting when you’re deprived of communication at the push of a button and for no reason; it’s upsetting that many of my friends whose posts I liked to read have been blocked for sarcasm, jokes in supposedly poor taste or their political views. It’s upsetting the more I realize how arbitrary this blocking policy is, and it’s especially upsetting to realize how captive I am to a medium with such fickle rules (to put it mildly), with no alternative.

If you think you’re immune, I hope for your sake you’re right. But I’m not overly optimistic about it, because something bad is happening to Facebook. I won’t lie: the other morning, when I awoke to find I’d been blocked yet again, I was mad about it. Now I’m mainly sad. They’ve taken away my virtual friends, the entertaining exchanges and the mundane chatter that made me feel a lot closer to people than I actually am.

So, basically, what it comes down to is this: If you’re looking for me, come say hello in person or call. Facebook hasn’t bought up all the communications platforms, “for now.”