Friday, 30 June 2017

Facebook & Arbitrary Power

"Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many - they are few."

Facebook has just proved itself to be an idiot again - or rather its algorithms have proved idiotic. Its guidelines on 'nudity' (a particular cultural neurosis emanating from the dark recesses of American disgust with the otherwise perfectly natural human body) are actually crystal clear that if an 'artist' paints a nude, then it is somehow just dandy.

This is, of course,  a concession to the nonsensical idea that, for some romantic reason, artists can represent safely what is not permitted in the real world. However, those are the guidelines - no nudity (except for a political concession to breast feeding mothers) unless it is art and then it is permitted. Let us be clear - if it is an artistic representation, it is expressly permitted.

In this particular case, I posted, in a Closed Group dedicated to art and with members who are all invited adults, a picture by the mid-level baroque female painter Artemisia Gentileschi, somewhat of a feminist icon. Indeed, I have the cynical notion that Facebook only backed down when I threatened to set the feminists on it for blocking their heroine, one of the few female artists to 'make it' in the seventeenth century - actually a fairly average and over-hyped artist.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, not only did their moronic algorithm not recognise a work of art and blocked it but the operation did something unconscionable - it arbitrarily halted me from posting anything and anywhere for 24 hours. It gets worse by the way, but wait for the end on that one.

My response was immediate, aggressive and utterly contemptuous. They got a message on their help desk every five minutes for two hours pointing out the idiocy of the blocking with a one hour twitter campaign of direct contempt for their inability a) to recognise art and b) to understand their own guidelines as well as an expression through every means of direct anger and outrage that they should arbitrarily block anyone for 24 hours rather than just block something that their idiot algorithm could not recognise as a rather unerotic bit of baroque flummery.

The net result was that the block on my posting was lifted within six rather 24 hours and the picture was restored but my contempt for this arbitrary act and algorithmic stupidity has returned me to my high level of distrust for Facebook that had existed some three or four years ago when they suspended my account without adequate cause and were forced to relent after another time-wasting and determined twitter campaign and complaints to the regulatory authorities in Ireland. At least this time, it was a matter of hours and not months!

But then they blundered again. This time in a way that is almost comical. I made it clear to two Groups that I would no longer be posting on them as a mode of resistance to self censorship but also to preseve rights that now seemed to threaten my right to post in some 15 or so others of an educational nature.

A debate ensued in which a bit of consciousnes was raised about Facebook's arbitrary power and then I commented on another sixteenth century Northern Renaissance nude, posted in the past where others saw 'attachment unavailable'. In other words, Facebook had arbitrarily stopped others from seeing it without giving me fair warning of why this was so. When I commented on it, the result was that the algorithm stupidly marked this art work (well within Facebook's guidelines) as problematic and, yes, in another arbitrary act, banned me from posting for another 24 hours. There is a moron out there, either a programmer or an AI.

Facebook needs to understand that it has every right to set the rules for its platform but there are two things it cannot do. First, it cannot breach its own guidelines - those guidelines give a rather silly priority to art but that commitment to permit art must be met. Second, blocking a picture may be unfortunate and immature but it is permissible within those guidelines. However, it is outrageous that it can behave like a medieval despot and remove posting rights and make threats of loss of account on any basis, let alone a breach of its own guidelines. Body neurosis is tiresome - it shows a weak and decadent culture incapable of standing up for maturity. It also evidences an even more tiresome American cultural imperialism. But this weird thing about Art/Good and Body/Bad remains Facebook's privilege. Arbitrary incompetence or algorithmic malice does not.

What is really disturbing here is something much deeper. Because of its administrative errors, my digital existence is being put at threat because these blunders are inexorably leading to my own digital arbitrary execution.  

The Debate on the Art Group during the brief period when I had access to posting was instructive because Facebook's acts are raising a sort of 'revolutionary consciousness' through its arbitrary acts which have not just affected me. It is a sinister algorithmic attempt at socialisation that is going very badly wrong.

I do not accept defeat but I recognise the reality of power which is that Facebook, if I persist, can remove, in an arbitrary way, my entire six year Facebook ouevre comprising engagement in over 15 groups and with nearly 400 Friends and 160 Followers. In other words, Facebook, like a despotic ancien regime estate, can execute me in the digital world on the whim of one of its own aristocratic algorithms. It is as decadent, corrupt and villainous as any ancien regime. 

So what does a rebel do? He does, as Churchill points out, like any oppressed peasantry take to the hills ... or he engages in guerrilla activity or he emigrates or he gets educated and plots or he engages in a calculated 'dumb insubordination' and 'go slow' or he raises the next generation to understand power and eventually seize it. Or all of those as circumstances dictate. The understanding of power is a fine art - first one must know one's powerlessnes (which few really appreciate) and then one must know the power of the powerless (as Foucault pointed out) in its insidious ability to destroy its oppressor. Eventually conditions change and there is a revolution against arbitrary power.

Every arbitrary act by the ancien regime increases resentment and eventually the heads of the aristocrats roll, eventually humanity will command these AI-driven platforms by revolutionary fiat. I engaged the platform in struggle and temporarily won the 'pay rise' to which I was owed anyway but the power relationship has not changed and the capitalist may still fire me at will when conditions change. He may have put me on a blacklist. Indeed, that is what happened. Within hours of the first suspension, I got 'locked out' again with the suspicion that I am a 'marked man'

I can engage in an idle and short term trades union reformism or I can take the revolutionary route and plan for the long game - the utter overthrow of the arbitrary regime and its replacement by a dictatorship of the subjects! The Art Group remains - it just does not have me posting. It is for others to carry on the revolution in the factory. Better to die on your feet than live in fear on your knees so off to the hills I go with mental kalashnikov in my fist. My investment elsewhere is too valuable in the revolutionary cause and there is nothing they can do about that except 'kill' me. And, if they kill me, others will arise to protest their arbitrary power. My very small amount of power has been redirected with more force. The only thing I can hope is that I have raised the revolutionary consciousness of my own fellow Facebook proletariat.

What is going on here? I think Facebook is running scared of legislation from an equally neurotic government structure and is trying out algorithms that restrict and contain us, all on the spurious grounds of protecting us. The platform is weak and governments are oppressive and, between them, we could be but nuts in their nutcracker. The answer is simple as it is to all arbitrary power - expose it, fight it and apportion blame where it is due: in this case, cowardly and greedy unchecked corporate power and weak and oppressive states. We must never be the nuts ... the nut cracker must be broken, and we should be allowed to grow into great oaks.

Appendix: My Protest At The Second Suspension

To Facebook

I cannot believe your stupidity or is it the stupidity of your algorithms. Yesterday, you suspended me for 24 hours on a seventeenth century artwork which met your guidelines. Six hours later you restored me. I commented on 'old' posting of a sixteenth century artwork (well within your guidelines) this morning and you suspended me again for 24 hours. Now I fear that your algorithms are marking me out for account loss on your idiot mistakes.

This really is not acceptable. I want the painting restored. I want the 24 hour suspension lifted. I want my algorithm corrected to remove all references to these arbitrary actions outside your guidelines.

If this is not done clearly and quickly, I will do the following: I shall write to the regulatory authorities and to my elected representative (who is a member of a minority government putting datas regulation through Parliament); I will produce a blog posting on your failures which I shall circulate widely; and you will have a Twitter reference every ten minutes for as long as it takes.

This is an absolute outrage - two blunders in 24 hours against your own guidelines with arbitrary and unjustified attacks on service provision.

UPDATE

On July 22nd, 2017, I posted a photographic art work in a thread on the photographer Man Ray in the same closed Art Group censored above. In this case, it was borderline because it is moot whether a photograph is art to some people though few actually contest Man Ray's status in this respect and the picture was part of a series, all classically correct, as representative of Man Ray's work including his anodyne but attractive 'Pebbles'.

This particular work was interesting because it was a staged (and very obviously staged) image of 'crime passsionel' which only a moron would not see as expressive and poetic rather than either as a) an incentive to crime or b) some sort of vicious misogyny though, of course, some of the half-educated wallies coming out of the universities nowadays seem unable to draw a mental distinction betwen reality and fantasy which is, I suppose, a sign of the times. If the American President cannot do this, it is probable that his subjects may have difficulty as well.

However, accepting that Facebook are not sophisticated and they have rules, in this case, I am perfectly happy to see the picture removed as borderline since they are clearly trying to protect any one in any sex-negative, body-fearing, unthinking culture to which they want to flog their advertising from having their imagination or brain cells tested very far.

What I do not accept is a) the blocking from posting for 24 hours and b) the bullying threats associated with the blocking. What they should do (as I made clear in my main posting) is remove the picture without threats and advise that this has been done and suggest the possibility of a problem if there is a pattern of such activity within some system of adequate due process. This is what I wrote to them:

"You've done it again .... removed an art work. In this case, a clearly staged photographic art work by the great photographer Man Ray in a thread about Man Ray's work in a closed Group dedicated to Art.

"I have dealt with your censorship behaviours in depth in the past (as above) which I urge you to read with care ....

"In this case, I recognise that it is borderline in terms of the actual posting and that it is reasonable for you to remove the picture in the light of your guidelines - idiotic though the act is in every other respect (the closed and dedicated nature of the Group and its dedication to art amongst consenting adults who do not include primitives).

"However, it is not acceptable to block an individual for 24 hours and offer threats but only to remove the picture and a note to this effect will be added to the posting if posting rights are not restored within one hour.

"I accept that the picture may be removed. I do not accept your arbitrary decision to block posting without due process."