By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
I’ve often read my friends' bitter complaints about being sentenced to “Facebook Jail,” but I was never sure what they meant. Obviously they had received some kind of suspension, but exactly why wasn’t clear to me. They usually groused that something innocuous they’d posted had been deemed offensive — although in the case of one chap who dishes salty material, I wasn’t surprised that he’d run afoul of the law more than once.
So I was shocked — shocked! — to receive a notice on Feb. 18 that my account had been restricted. For the next two days, I was forbidden to post things, make comments, or even render “likes.” I couldn’t imagine what had caused this sorry state of affairs … until I read that one of my comments in a school-bus drivers group had violated community standards against malicious or salacious material, hate speech, personal attacks, spam, or flooding Facebook with content.
The comment in question: “There’s a kid in the back of my bus who raises hell with his friends every day. I want to poison him … until I get to his stop. Then he picks trash up off the floor, deposits it in the garbage box in front, and wishes me a nice day as he leaves.”
I was also stunned to discover that I had received a commuted sentence last November for posting this reply to a friend’s comment:
“I’ll give it a stab, Stu. Many thanks”
I’d missed that notification and I don’t recall what the “it” I was going to stab referred to — I often use “give it a stab” instead of “try” — but Facebook considered it an innocent mistake and let me go with a warning.
Now, without the context of either discussion or knowledge of my hyperbolic sense of humor (which I inherited from my sainted mother who used to say things like, “Honestly! I could just poison your father for buying that huge ham!”), I am now a two-time loser who comes across to Zuckerberg’s authorities as a drooling psycho fixated on stabbing and offing people with toxic substances. And my record of offenses is permanent, kind of like it was in grade and high school.
I was given the option of filing an appeal or letting a nameless group of people levy a sentence. Ordinarily, Facebook’s justice system works on an escalating scale: a warning for a first offense, one or two days suspension for a second, three days for a third, seven days for a fourth, and 30 days for a fifth. Repeat offenders who are deemed truly dangerous, like Donald Trump for example, can have their accounts permanently suspended.
Gambling that I wasn’t quite on a par with Trump, I chose to waive the appeal and take my medicine, mostly because I think it’s good that Facebook is trying to police its content. To be sure there is plenty of nasty stuff up there — usually politically-motivated attacks and misinformation — that claims “free speech” as its shield. Violations like mine are frivolous by comparison, but I still see erring on the side of civility as preferable.
So with two days of inactivity ahead of me, I got to wondering what I used to do before social media and smart phones came along. I mostly scroll through Facebook during periods of down time or when trying to ignore people in a socially acceptable way. My algorithms mainly send me posts about my favorite bands and sports teams. For whatever reason, much less news and political commentary is coming my way, which is fine because I’d been frequently engaging in snarky, sometimes undignified exchanges with Trump supporters and Flat Earthers.
Now I mostly gaze at photos, read pointless “greatest” lists, and engage in dumb debates with fellow New York Giants fans who trash quarterback Daniel Jones no matter how well he plays. I also called a muttonhead in a Pink Floyd fan group a “nimrod” because he told me to “enjoy the war” in Ukraine. (Facebook let that one pass.)
Surely there must be better ways to spend my time, but damned if I can think of, or remember, what they are. Fortunately, I seem to be moving away from social media as a matter of course. I’ve never had the time and energy for Twitter and I’m even happier to ignore it now that Elon Musk is in charge. Likewise, I’ve no desire to trouble myself with Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, and Reddit.
Facebook is all I can stand, and that likely won’t be for much longer, not because they tossed me in their hoosegow. According to news reports, FB will soon charge users for publicly verifying that their accounts are authentic and for some security features, such as two-factor authentication. I suspect even more fees will follow.
Thanks, but no thanks. The friends I want to stay in touch with I can contact via text, email, the U.S. Postal Service, or carrier pigeon. I can get my news via websites, TV and radio. And with all my new free time, maybe I’ll even think of something enriching and productive to do.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.