The Week Alex Jones Became a First Amendment Hero

Last week, conservatives, who had previously made free speech heroes out of such shady subjects as would-be lady-killer Kevin Williamson and outrage peddler Milo Yiannopoulos, outdid themselves by nominating a new wingnut John Peter Zenger: Alex Jones. Remember, Jones is the nut who is being sued for claiming the dead Sandy Hook students were just faking it and has been actively tormenting the children’s parents, and who recently talked on air about killing Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller after having also called him a pedophile. There have been many other psychotic outbursts.

Jones won conservatives’ support by getting thrown off of Facebook, YouTube, and (partially) Apple for promoting hate speech, which seems pretty fair in his case. But conservatives turned this into what we might call a First Amendment With an Explanation issue — that is, the First Amendment doesn’t really support the argument that private companies should be forced to carry Jones’s content, but conservatives seemed to think if they bitched about it awhile they’d get their way.

Jones’s public-forum slack was quickly picked up by other media players, at least to hear him tell it: He announced he’d added 5.6 million new subscribers just 48 hours after what Breitbart described as his “Big Tech Blacklisting.” NBC News reported that Jones’s move from YouTube to Real.Video “caused a surge in new users and the creation of over 350 new channels on the site in the last day, an uptick from the ‘dozens’ that [Real.Video creator Mike Adams] noted in a video three weeks ago.” Twitter, perhaps sensing a market opportunity, declined to ban Jones.

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You’d think conservatives would be happy about this free-market solution. Yet even as Jones was celebrating his windfalls, conservatives were rending their garments over the big, mean, allegedly liberal corporations who had told Jones to fuck off, thereby violating his civil rights.

Most of the brethren were careful to add that, of course, they didn’t endorse Jones’s rantings — which they sometimes didn’t bother to describe — but were just defending his right to appear on other people’s media platforms as a matter of conservative principle.

For example, National Review editor Rich Lowry, writing in Politico, called Jones a “poisonous toad” — though he mainly faulted Jones for “lunatic theories about the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg group and the Illuminati” that “have been a fringe staple for decades.” See, he’s just like the harmless nuts appearing on public access television! (Lowry only mentioned Jones’s Sandy Hook views briefly in the fourteenth paragraph.)

“But banning Jones,” Lowry wrote, “especially in the manner it was done, has significant ramifications for free speech.” Lowry admitted these corporations “can silence whomever they like,” but contended that the right to do so was not the issue (let alone the discussion-ender a normal person might think it was) because “the power of social-media platforms is enormous,” and to Lowry that power “suggests that these companies have a responsibility, in keeping with their outsize role in the public debate, to give the widest possible latitude to free speech.”

Lowry didn’t say why Facebook’s power makes the company any more responsible to accommodate Jones than, say, the Wall Street Journal or National Review, but he eventually got to his real gripe anyway: liberals. Facebook said it had dumped Jones for “hate speech,” Lowry wrote, which apparently is a liberal thing to do: “There is considerable sentiment on the left for the proposition that using disfavored pronouns for transgender people is dehumanizing.” By Lowry’s logic, it would be problematic if Facebook ejected an asshole who insisted on calling a trans woman “he.” “The possibility of a slippery slope here,” Lowry wrote, “is real and disturbing.”

David French, another National Review writer, was also given space in a better-read journal — the New York Times — to make his case for Jones’s free-speech rights. French too made the obligatory diss on Jones (“loathsome conspiracy theorist”) and about the very concept of hate speech (“ever-changing social justice style guide”), but he also offered the errant tech companies a solution: only prohibit content that meets the legal definitions of libel and slander. “It’s a high bar,” French admitted. “But it’s a bar that respects the marketplace of ideas.”

While Jones’s content is “polarizing,” and includes some unnamed “discredited claims about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting,” wrote Fox News’ Brian Flood, Jones’s removal was “prompting even some of the bomb thrower’s staunch critics to voice censorship concerns.”

As it happened, the “staunch critics” Flood named were conservatives such as Mark Dice, Ben Shapiro, and veteran wingnut Brent Bozell, who claimed in Flood’s story that Jones is not even a conservative, a dubious assertion since nearly everyone Jones excoriates in his rants is a liberal. Flood quoted Bozell as saying he opposed Jones’s removal as “a dangerous cliff that these social media companies are jumping off to satisfy CNN and other liberal outlets.” Flood added, “Bozell said that tech giants caving to CNN’s push ‘is part of a disturbing trend’ that includes influential conservatives being muted on Twitter,” which is in reference to an earlier bullshit story. Attacking a fellow conservative as a nonconservative, then claiming that removing this nonconservative shows bias against conservatives, is some next-level shit.

Even that subgenus of conservatives known as “libertarians” were against Facebook et al. exercising their freedom of association rights against Jones. “Booting someone like Jones from Facebook or YouTube altogether could easily turn him into a martyr among his paranoid fans,” said Timothy B. Lee, a libertarian stalwart at Ars Technica. “Social Media Giants Shouldn’t Be Arbiters of Appropriate Speech,” groused David Harsanyi at libertarian flagship Reason. 

“Banning Alex Jones Isn’t About Free Speech — It’s About the Incoherence of ‘Hate Speech,’ ” wrote Harsanyi’s colleague Robby Soave, who added, “I’m saying this for a third time so that I’m not misunderstood: Facebook can define hate speech however it wants.” But Soave continued, social media platforms’ “broad view of what constitutes unacceptable hate speech” may “prompt yet more cries of viewpoint censorship down the road.” And, as we saw in the threats congressional Republicans hit Facebook with recently, “cries of viewpoint censorship” can get serious real fast.

This view of the Jones case soon seeped into what’s left of the mainstream. On a CNN roundtable that addressed the Jones situation, pundits kept calling what happened to Jones “censorship,” as if he’d been banned from the internet rather than from an unwilling transmitter. The most hilarious was “First Amendment attorney” Marc J. Randazza, who, honest to God, did the Martin Niemöller thing for Jones, starting with “First they came for the Nazis…” and then warning liberals, “When [censorship] comes for them, who will be left to speak up?” As if there were a single conservative in America you could name who’d say shit about it.

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Meanwhile, Microsoft told the alt-right site Gab to get rid of neo-Nazi Patrick Little’s anti-Semitic posts if it wanted to continue using Azure servers. Eventually Little “voluntarily” removed the posts, Gab announced.

Surely Microsoft’s threat was, if anything, more of a free-speech faux pas than Jones’s defenestration. After all, even offensive speech deserves protection from corporate interference, right? And Little’s posts certainly weren’t slanderous or libelous, thus passing David French’s test. Yet none of the previously mentioned conservatives, or any other conservatives I could find, leapt to Little’s defense. (Well, the Daily Stormer and the guys at 4chan did, but maybe we shouldn’t count them — at least not yet.)

Despite all the lofty talk, this isn’t about principles, but about power. Normally conservatives think corporations do no wrong. For example, they’ll never claim Monsanto has some vague “responsibility” to make sure Roundup doesn’t destroy the planet. But social media companies have something conservatives desperately want: the attention of millions of Americans. National ReviewReason, Fox News, and the rest do their best to compete with social media companies on the allegedly level playing field of free-market capitalism. But the media companies can’t compete with social media’s reach — that’s why conservatives are muscling these companies. These media companies hope to win not only points from Jones’s adoring, ignorant fan base, but also more concessions from risk-averse social media companies. As often with conservatives, it’s whine-win!


Conservatives Cry ‘Shadow Ban’ Over Twitter Bug, Demand Their Right to Troll

Conservatives are constantly at one end or the other of a giant mood swing: They’re either exulting that they and their beloved Trump are riding a Red Wave that will crush all the puny, impotent liberals — or they’re blubbering that these same puny, impotent liberals are being mean to them and something must be done about it. A ridiculous Twitter “shadow banning” controversy was just the most recent example of the latter.

As commonly understood, shadow banning is a moderator muting an account without letting the user know. What a report in Vice last week discovered instead was that when one did a Twitter search on certain Republicans — including GOP Congressmen Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, and Matt Gaetz, and “Donald Trump Jr.’s spokesman” — their “profiles continue to appear when conducting a full search, but not in the more convenient and visible drop-down bar.”

Vice queried Twitter, which referred them to a blog post suggesting the situation had been caused by “new tools” they’d implemented to combat “troll-like behaviors” — such as “sign[ing] up for multiple accounts simultaneously” or “accounts that repeatedly Tweet and mention accounts that don’t follow them,” behaviors associated with malicious trolls but which could also just be a sign of aggressive self-promotion. Twitter also told Vice it was “shipping a change to address this.”

Not really a shadow ban at all, in other words, but conservatives — including the president of the United States — liked the sinister sound of the term and used it anyway. “Republican feels ‘victimized’ by Twitter ‘shadow banning,'” reported the Hill. “Twitter slammed for ‘shadow banning’ prominent Republicans,” cried Fox News.

Minor as this may sound to normal people, the brethren embarked on several days of shit-fits over it.

Hot Air‘s John Sexton professed to find it “odd that only Republicans appear to have triggered false positives.” When Twitter informed him the search issue affected Democrats too, Sexton was not mollified: “That doesn’t mean the impact is proportional by political affiliation,” he sniffed. “Granted, the number involved is unknown, but obviously, if you expand the disparate impact to 10,000 users or a million, that’s a significant partisan advantage.” And what if you expend it to a kajillion users? It’s bigger than Watergate!

At Fox News, James Hanson made the common category error of referring to Twitter, which is basically a microblogging platform with enforceable terms of use, as a “public square” to which everyone has a Constitutional right to equal access. “What about the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of speech?” Hanson harrumphed. “Like it or not, it protects us all” — from being thrown out of someone else’s house, apparently.

“It sure looks to me like they are censoring people and they ought to stop it,” said Trump loyalist and California Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, who also claimed to be looking at “legal remedies.”

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You may roll your eyes at such conservative snowflakery over such a small thing, but the squeaky wheels got their grease; Vice reported that Twitter hustled to fix the search feature so that it would “no longer limit the visibility of some prominent Republicans in its search results,” and the celebs got their extra nanoseconds of prominence.

This is why conservatives constantly bitch that social media companies are persecuting them: It’s another of the many ways they work the refs so big media companies, terrified that they’ll be accused of bias, give them unearned breaks. (See the New York Timeslatest Trump-fluffing article as an example.)

When Facebook changed its algorithm to promote news sources they considered “trustworthy,” “informative,” and “local,” publishers of all kinds suffered drops in traffic; conservatives did, too, but tended to attribute it to ideological bias. Gateway Pundit, for example, a notorious volume dealer in bullshit and disseminator of Russian propaganda, experienced a drop in traffic, so they denounced the new algorithm as a “purge” (“Conservative Publishers Hit Hard By Facebook Algorithm Changes — Gateway Pundit Hit the Hardest”).

At National Review, Ben Shapiro noted Facebook’s claim that it “determine[d] whether a source is ‘broadly trusted,'” and favored that content by “ask[ing] users if they are familiar with a news source and then whether they trust that news source” — but Shapiro claimed this was actually prejudicial against conservatives because “activists on the left are more common on Facebook than activists on the right, so the Right will be more easily damaged.” In other words, they were outvoted, which is by definition unfair. (Well, conservatives aren’t known for their faith in democracy.)

One might ask: Why don’t conservatives, who claim to believe in the free market, just shrug and take their business elsewhere? After all, there are services like Gab and Ricochet that cater to conservatives — they ain’t much now, but surely patriots can build them to greatness just as they built this great country out of the wilderness. But persecution mania beats principle for a lot of these guys, and some have begun to talk about the need to use government to force social media to their will.

At National Review John Hawkins made “The Conservative Case for Breaking Up Monopolies Such as Google and Facebook,” on the grounds that “big tech companies discriminate against conservatives.” Also at National Review, Victor Davis Hanson complained that “none of these tech giants are held to the same oversight that monitors rail, drug, oil, or power companies” even though “Google alone determines each day what sort of imaging — much of it ideologically driven — billions of Internet users will see on screens.”

And in April Congressional Republicans held hearings — featuring the false testimony of wingnut buffoons Diamond and Silk — that were self-evidently intended to show Facebook and other social media companies their power. And shortly after the hearings Facebook apparently got the message, hiring top conservatives to review their practices.

There was another big piece of social media news last week when YouTube removed some videos by, and Facebook suspended, Alex Jones, the InfoWars psycho who, among other atrocities, has suggested that the kids slain in the Sandy Hook massacre were actually “crisis actors” only pretending to be killed.

Jones’ suspension is only for thirty days, and InfoWars itself has not been touched, which observers believe shows how nervous Facebook is about interfering with prominent right-wing entities, however nuts.

Facebook’s VP for video explained that while InfoWars was “absolutely atrocious … we have the hard job of balancing freedom of expression and safety … if you are saying something that’s untrue on Facebook — you’re allowed to say it as long as you’re an authentic person and you adhere to our community standards — but we’re trying to make it so it doesn’t get that much distribution.” (Some refs were apparently born to be worked!)

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Still, you may be pleased to hear that only a few actual conservative friends stood to defend Jones. Sure, the Daily Stormer was all in (“Facebook Cracking Down on Alex Jones NOW! After JewTube Already Did!”), as was Jones’ InfoWars colleague Paul Joseph Watson. But even Breitbart headlined its related story “Facebook Suspends Alex Jones for ‘Hate Speech’ Days After Execs Said It Wouldn’t,” as though the issue were merely a contract dispute, and most of the big conservative outlets let the event pass in embarrassed silence (including National Review, which last addressed Jones in the July 17 essay “Why Facebook Shouldn’t Ban InfoWars“).

But Jones has at least a few out-and-proud major defenders in rightwing world. For one, Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson claimed CNN was “agitating for Alex Jones to be pulled off YouTube,” and added, “Now I know we’re supposed to think Alex Jones is way more radical than, like, Bill Maher, Michelle Wolf, or Rosie O’Donnell, but he’s got a point of view …” Jones is also a comedian, see, only one who specializes in dead-children jokes.

And Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, locked in a surprisingly tough race with Democrat Beto O’Rourke and apparently hoping to stir up his base, tweeted, “Am no fan of Jones — among other things he has a habit of repeatedly slandering my Dad by falsely and absurdly accusing him of killing JFK — but who the hell made Facebook the arbiter of political speech? Free speech includes views you disagree with. #1A.”

“[Cruz’s] tweet on Saturday confused legal experts,” reported Salon. But those of us who know how scared big media companies, social or otherwise, are of even the fringiest wingnut and how likely such complaints are to produce the desired effect, were not confused at all.


Notes on Leaving Facebook

The first thing I know I won’t miss about Facebook are the “Memories.” It’s entirely typical of Facebook to assimilate a universal human capacity into its brand by means of a simple capital letter. The feature is simple enough: It ports algorithmically determined “memorable” moments onto your feed — grinning photos, particularly well-received bon mots — and implores you to share them, thus regurgitating what you’ve already fed into its sleek blue maw. In my case, as a recent divorcée after nearly a decade of partnership, the cheap rush Memories are meant to offer has lately been a torment instead. Remember (photo of the two of us at New Year’s, fireworks sizzling into life in the black air) when you were married? Remember (photo of the two of us cleaning a park in north Manhattan, with shovels and big grins in the long grass) when your life was full of love? Things are different now, and for so many reasons I no longer want to offer my life, free of charge, to the site. Leaving Facebook is a bit like leaving New York — while not yet a classic essay genre, it’s really about leaving a version of who you were.

I’m not the only one to make this decision over the past week; for longtime observers of cybersecurity, it must be bemusing to watch masses of people seemingly awaken all at once to the scale of the mining and sale of their data. No doubt for many, the tipping point was the revelation of Cambridge Analytica’s shady machinations — helmed by the comically evil-sounding “Dr. Aleksandr Spectre,” a second-rate Bond villain by both name and profession. But for me, at least, the decision to leave Facebook came after years of attrition, the slow accumulation of frustration. For ages I had willingly handed my joy and my sorrow, my debit card information and my family tree, my work and endless photos of my face, to a company that was selling it piece by piece all along.

Facebook makes it remarkably difficult to remove your page, a fact that might confound the thousands that took to Twitter to voice their desire to #deleteFacebook. A plethora of guides to what ought to be a simple maneuver have cropped up in recent days. The easiest option is to “deactivate” one’s account — leaving it suspended in digital amber until the next login, all its data retained by the company. When you choose to deactivate, the site displays photos of what it’s calculated are your closest friends: “Are you sure? Your friends will miss you.” To fully delete one’s account is far harder. It is almost impossible to do so through simple clicks (in fact, it is not even possible to achieve through your account settings). Just above the deactivation option, however, is the “Legacy” button, wherein you can ask Facebook to delete your page after you die. When Facebook adopted the Timeline in 2011, it allowed users to retroactively plug in events that occurred in their lives before Mark Zuckerberg arrived on the scene: The first option is birth, accompanied by a large, faceless silhouette of an infant. First you’re born, then you post, and then you die. Only then can you leave.

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My first status update was on September 9, 2006. I had just turned sixteen. Back then, each status was prefaced by “[Your name here] is” — before the status update evolved into a chaotic blank space for electoral musings and propaganda. On September 9, 2006, I was “electrified: deified: undenied.” I don’t know why, although my whole body was one electric charge that year: it was the first time I ever saw a penis, the first time I ever really, truly wanted to kill myself. My first kiss was still new. I adopted Facebook fairly early in the lifetime of the site for the same reason one starts frequenting a local café or takes up a hobby: My friends were there. Defenders of Facebook like to say that joining it is a choice, that the Terms of Service are readily available and transparent about the ways the company can help itself to your data. But this doesn’t consider the age of many adopters of the site. At the time, I might have been able to understand the terms of service, but I was not inclined to caution. The whole earth was ripe for me to bite; I wanted to fling myself into love and let it burn me alive. Sharing myself with a site was, if I saw it as a risk, one so mild I didn’t even think about it.

It’s ironic now to think that I entrusted Mark Zuckerberg with that degree of passion, and the language I used to convey it. The man has an almost stunning, rigid anti-charisma, like a wax doll cursed into life. In many ways, his public persona mirrors the way Facebook handles human sentiments: His smile seems like a simulacrum of a smile, just as Facebook traffics in slick but slightly unsettling approximations of, say, friendship, or celebration. In an age in which crisis communications have a lightning-fast turnaround, in no small part thanks to Facebook’s speedy delivery of information, it took him five days after the news broke to address the unwashed, profiled masses. In his post regarding the Cambridge Analytica crisis — which was, incidentally, nearly impossible to access unless you are an active user of Facebook — he neglected to use the words regret or apology or sorry. Instead, he blithely revealed the massive scale of the breach, both of data and of trust.

Per Zuckerberg’s own words, Facebook enabled apps to access vast quantities of social data about its users in 2007; the Spectre data theft, which would later be exploited by Cambridge Analytica, occurred in 2013; and in 2014, Facebook initiated restrictions on what data third-party apps could access. The post further announced an audit of precisely what information these apps had retained since — eleven years after the company had created the problem; four years after it attempted to solve it. (My archive informs me that I used to play a match-three game called “Farm Heroes Saga” — “Switch and match the collectable Cropsies in this farmtastic adventure!” — and I wonder how much data it harvested from me, as I was busy harvesting tiny digital onions with humanoid faces.) “I want to thank all of you who continue to believe in our mission,” Zuckerberg concluded. According to Facebook’s investor FAQ page, that mission is “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Facebook’s mission, in other words, is to get people to use Facebook, to remain in its close quarters, to give, and give, and give to these careless stewards of our tender hearts. It’s good at this mission; that’s why its market cap is still $463 billion, despite a brief dip last week.

Before you leave Facebook, the company gives you the option to download your archive — the sum total of all that you have posted, your messages and photos. In just over a decade, I accumulated 586.6 megabytes of curated life: enough for an hour of high-definition video, or an education, various youthful travels, a marriage, its shattering, and the slow, grim process of repair. I clicked through the photos: me during my first month at Harvard; in Yalta while it was still in Ukrainian hands; in Amsterdam, stoned and woozy on a canal boat; being proposed to, grinning wide as a cracked geode; nervous and bridal in the big white dress like a cruise ship; adopting a tortoise named Percy Shelly, et al.… What you give to Facebook is an accumulation of any number of tiny decisions, handing over the bright, irreplicable shards of your life in exchange for fleeting hits of dopamine. 

Let me not exaggerate my sacrifice: I post on Twitter to an astonishing and frankly irresponsible degree. But I deleted Facebook (and Instagram) with a twinge: I can no longer casually browse photos of my old friend Gahl’s two adorable daughters in Tel Aviv, or correspond with fellow writers for a women’s comedy outlet; I have excised passive consumption of the lives of people I know but don’t speak to daily, and I know myself too well to assume I will seek active knowledge of their whereabouts. In essence what is lost is not true connection but a sense of connectedness — the idea that we are all proximal in that sterile antechamber to life, that we could touch lives briefly if we so desired, even if we never, ever do. What won’t change, even if hordes flee, even if more depredations are revealed, is Facebook’s impact on the way we use language: so many words, flipped over like stones, have attained new meanings — timeline, status, like, memories, friendship, share, feed, heart. While I’m not one to quibble with the lexical laws of common usage, I would rather a heart be a muscle filled with the stuff of life; I would rather feed my companions steaming garlic bread and borscht on winter nights than watch from a distance as their lives scroll by.


The Harpy is a new column in which Talia Lavin examines the interplay between politics and pop culture in America.


Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Understand Diversity

On Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stopped by North Carolina A&T State University, a historically black school, as part of his 50-state tour. Zuckerberg responded to students’ questions on technology, politics, and every Silicon Valley company’s most glaring liability: diversity.

For college students, getting a whiff of Zuckerberg’s entrepreneurial spirit must be inspiring; he’s a 32-year-old billionaire who sprung to success during those same formative years (full disclosure: I worked for Facebook’s editorial department for several months in 2015 and 2016). Yet the image of Zuckerberg in his plain grey t-shirt centered in a room full of Black students is more risible than riveting.

At Apple, 7 percent of its tech workers are Black. That’s an abysmally low number, yet compared to Microsoft’s 2.4 percent, it seems progressive. But Facebook’s staff diversity pales in comparison (pun intended) to its tech peers.

At Facebook, white employees comprise 51 percent of Facebook’s tech workers, while 43 percent are Asian, and about 1 percent are Black.

These figures have for the most part remained stagnant since the companies began releasing diversity reports semi-annually since 2014. Progress has been slow and Facebook is lagging.

Zuckerberg mentioned he’s implemented new training techniques to quell biases in his hiring processes. Still, there are absolutely no people of color holding a management position or seat on the board at Facebook. So how does an all-white board of directors solve a diversity problem?

“We do this really rigorous training for every manager at Facebook where you have to go through and understand what your unconscious biases are,” Zuckerberg explained.

That’s a start, but it takes more than few training sessions to unlearn centuries-long lessons of heavily engrained systematic oppression.

“There’s way more demand for engineers than there are engineers,” Zuckerberg told the students, adding that there were more than enough jobs in tech for underrepresented groups. That’s not entirely true. Research suggests that there actually isn’t a shortage of engineers, and when it comes to Black college graduates specifically, they make up for only 2 percent of the Silicon Valley workforce.

There’s privilege in Zuckerberg’s power; his whiteness, his maleness, and his not-so-humble upbringing that positioned him amongst the majority who look just like him and go on to rise to the ranks in tech at exceedingly higher rates.

When delving into these kinds of unconscious biases managers at Facebook may have during the hiring process, Zuckerberg said, “a lot of people who think they care about diversity actually still have a lot of these biases…it’s often people who think they’re doing the best who are doing the worst.”

Zuckerberg went on to use Facebook board member Peter Thiel as an example of how to diversify viewpoints.

This is the same Peter Thiel who co-wrote The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus, an attack on affirmative action, and who pledged to contribute $1.25 million to Trump’s xenophobic, sexist, anti-immigration presidential campaign.

“I personally believe that if you want to have a company that is committed to diversity, you need to be committed to all kinds of diversity, including ideological diversity,” he said. “I think the folks who are saying we shouldn’t have someone on our board because they’re a Republican, I think that’s crazy.”

Zuckerberg also seems to be conflating ideological political differences with actually hiring skilled, underrepresented peoples. The lecture presented the task of solving corporate diversity issues as this complex riddle when the answer is clear: hire people who aren’t white men and cultivate spaces for them to rise in ranks. Then, hire more people who aren’t white men.

Having Zuckerberg act as an authority figure on diversity in front of a room full of people who are affronted with the reality of these issues is the antithesis of what pushing for diversity should mean. Whether Zuckerberg’s lecture was well-intentioned or not doesn’t matter. If he’s amplifying his own voice over that of the very marginalized people he seeks to be more inclusive of, then something’s wrong. When diversity calls, let the silenced speak. Know when to pass the mic.

One student asked Zuckerberg, “What advice would you give to us as minorities to strategically navigate the entrepreneurial world so that we can be included?”

His response: “Frankly, I think that that’s our problem to figure out.”


Is Banksy Really Holding a Meet-and-Greet in New York City in January?

Banksy, the internationally renowned graffiti artist, provocateur, and creator of Exit Through the Gift Shop whose true identity has never been revealed, will unmask himself in New York next year. At the Waldorf Astoria. And he’ll totally paint your face. That’s according to a Facebook event that has already amassed thousands of RSVPs.

There’s only one problem: That’s all news to Banksy.

The Voice reached out to the artist’s London-based spokeswoman, Jo Brooks, who said she was aware of the rumored event but added that it was merely a hoax and had “nothing at all to do with Banksy.”

The Facebook event barely disguises itself as an elaborate joke: It misspells the artist’s name, for one, and the event’s photo is of Michael Whatley, a theater administrator in Louisville who insisted by phone that he is not, in fact, Banksy. Through a spokesman, the Waldorf Astoria called the event “bogus.”

And when you reach Steven Rausch, the Facebook event’s creator, it only gets weirder. Asked via Facebook message how the Banksy event came about, Rausch told the Voice, “Well me and Bankers were hanging out, just watching Gilmore Girls…the episode where Rory is presented to the DAR, and Bling was just like, ‘Mate, I think that’s what I want to do…’ ”

Rausch said he lives in Washington, D.C., and works for a lab that does “quality assurance for bean canning companies.” He isn’t worried about what happens if thousands turn up at the Waldorf — “New York can handle it,” he said. But he bristled when informed that Banksy wants nothing to do with him.

One of Banksy's pieces from his October 2013 trip to New York City. This one appeared in midtown.

“I would recommend you fire hose those Bangee fax codes past me first to see if that was a legitimate Bungy communiqué,” Rausch wrote. “But if it happens to be, then I got one word to say to Bangee, ‘sorry I spilled thos Beans.’ ”

Still, even if the event is merely the bored creation of a 25-year-old bean canner, it hasn’t discouraged 10,000 people from saying they will attend the January 16 “meet and greet” with the artist. And to a certain extent, that’s no surprise. Though the Voice interviewed Banksy in 2013 prior to his last (known) trip to New York, the street art cult hero is rarely represented publicly outside of his art. It is perhaps Banksy’s mysterious profile that makes the hoax so alluring — and yet so unlikely to fool its key demographic.


Facebook And The Law: NYPD Deputy Inspector Targeted On The Social Network

In a week filled with headlines of a fired LAPD cop gone on a killing spree after posting a murderous ‘manifesto’ on Facebook, this story should unsettle you.

Yesterday, the New York Post reported that NYPD deputy inspector Joseph Gulotta was virtually targeted on the social network when an anonymous user posted intimate details on the specific Precinct’s page about said inspector and ordered a “hit” on him. The details included the police officer’s schedule (down to the exact hours) and car model. Almost immediately, the D.I. filed a complaint against the harrowing message and it has since been removed.

Mr. Gulotta is in charge of Brooklyn’s 73rd District – home to Brownsville, East New York and other neighborhoods with particularly high levels of violence. His unit is known for its knack to monitor Facebook for suspected criminals – kinda like the one we’re dealing with here – and its most recent social media gang bust landed 49 members. As of now, the NYPD believe the user may belong to a gang prevalent in the area known as OccFam.

But whoever it may be, the lesson here is simple: Facebook can be a real dark place for criminals and police… if it wants to be.


Mark Zuckerberg Will Fundraise For (Facebook Friend) Chris Christie’s Re-Election

It’s good to have someone with over 17 million Facebook friends on your side, especially when it involves a political campaign.

According to Buzzfeed, Mark Zuckerberg, the social network billionaire, will hold a fundraiser next month for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie out in Palo Alto, California. The donations are intended to go towards Mr. Christie’s re-election efforts later this year; a race where he maintains a 60% approval rating over the only Democratic competitor so far, State Senator Barbara Buono.

In 2010, the two met when Mr. Zuckerberg decided to donate $100 million to the Newark school system. He announced the enormous amount on the Oprah Winfrey Show, alongside Mr. Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker. And, ever since then, the three have worked together on improving education in Mr. Booker’s stomping grounds.

In terms of electoral prospects, Mr. Christie has been riding off a wave of applause from his state. His Sandy recovery efforts (and friendship with Pres. Obama during it) landed him on the national stage; his snubbing of the Republicans in Congress for delaying aid money won him widespread acclaim; and his appearance on SNL probably helped a bit, too.

But the news of Mr. Zuckerberg’s fundraiser is important for a few other reasons.

In the tradition of social media politics, Silicon Valley has always sided with the Democrats. Whether it’s West Coast liberalism or the younger faces in the Democratic Party that underlies this relationship, this is pretty much a known fact in 2013. So, Mr. Zuckerberg’s fundraiser for a Republican governor speaks volumes on two levels: it cuts into the opposite side’s base and, as we all know, this guy has a ton of money to go around.

And, as we mentioned a few days ago with Cory Booker, winning the Internet is key in campaigns nowadays. Picking up Mr. Zuckerberg’s endorsement adds to that notion for Mr. Christie; now, all he needs to do is an AMA on Reddit.

It remains to be seen, of course, if Mr. Zuckerberg will throw his weight behind Mr. Booker’s senatorial run in 2014. If he does, the same rules will apply, minus the being-a-Republican factor. Nonetheless, cherish the 17 million friends and the vault of money behind them. It can get you a long way.


The Last Year Of My Life, Brought To You By Facebook

On average, an ordinary, freedom-loving American spends about eight hours a month on Facebook. That’s sixteen minutes a day, seven day a week, ninety six hours a year. Simple math aside, Mark Zuckerberg has you under his watch for eight full days. And, if you have Facebook on your smartphone, well then…

Some might use that tidbit of information as viral proof that, yes, the Mayan calendar is definitely accurate. Others might attribute this social media addiction to an absence of interpersonal communication in the self-obsessed  digital age. And other others might just be on Facebook right now, too busy to care about those dumb statistics. But what do we Facebook-digest in those eight full days of the year?
Of course, we have cat photos, baby photos, last night photos, lyrics as Facebook statuses, funny articles to share, memes, gifs, jpegs, m4as, mp3s, blaring political statements, endless events, birthdays, declarations, proclamations, graduations and consolations on the stream of informational consciousness that is the “News Feed.” None of these items bare any repeating.
But, this year, the day-draining site’s engineers have taken it a step further to remind you how much time you’re living/wasting with their product. The bubble has been reinforced when Facebook rolled out the new “Best in 2012” feature yesterday. When I logged on in the morning, personal listicles of what the social network deemed ‘The Biggest Shit These People Have Done’ on and off of the computer screen popped up on the screen like acne.
I took a look at what my 2012 existence was worth in cold hard megabytes, according to Facebook’s logic. And, you know, I learned a lot about what I’ve been up to. But I still (nor never will) have no idea if I feel happy about myself.
I learned that I was in a bunch of blurry photos with people.
I learned that I have made exactly 153 new friends, many of which say ‘Happy Birthday’ on my wall once a year.
With that being said, 109 friends posted on my wall on July 15th, 2012. The rest of my friends who didn’t? Well, I don’t talk to them anymore so I wouldn’t know.
I learned that I went to Myrtle Beach, North Carolina, in mid-August. I don’t remember what happened that trip because I didn’t take any pictures. Facebook made sure that I would notice my mistake.
However, Facebook also reminded me that I went to Montreal in October and did take pictures. Lucky me!
I learned that, in November, I registered to be an organ donor as an attachment on my request to switch voting locations. It was done strictly for scientific purposes.
I learned that I started (and soon left) a blogging job for a separate company that I’m pretty sure was a mob front. Good grief.
I learned that I shot photos of street art and stickers. Nobody liked them.
I learned that a friend of mine once thought I looked like this guy:
I learned that I opened up a book once and found the following message. Also, I am still absolutely positive that this summarizes America’s discontent with their elected representatives more than anything else than exists on the World Wide Web:
I learned that many of my friends enjoy my post-graduation fears.
I learned that I started working at the Voice almost a year ago.
And I learned that 2012 has come to an end.
The “Best of 2012” feature is this uncomfortable satisfaction for us users as we edge our Internet heads into the new year – one abound with even more memes to dissect and GIFs to laugh at. It is Facebook’s way of telling you that you are a member of society. Just look at everything you’ve done! You went to North Carolina! You became an organ donor! And you told people about it! More collectively, you told Facebook about it!
It is this awkward shift in social media to further solidify your bond with everyone else around you, whether it’s a geotagged tweet, an Instagram of the beach, a check in on Foursquare or, in this case, a Facebook timeline of all the (mostly) great times you had with those people over the past few months. And, looking beyond 2012, you can always go to the end of your social network: last stop on the timeline – birth. Man, oh man, how the Internet and ourselves are transforming right in front of our eyes (read: monitor).
I’m getting too deep into this for my own good. I need to get back on Facebook. Onward into another year of stalking.

“Krills,” “Yams,” and “Grizz”: Decoding NYC Gangsters’ Facebook Faux-Pas

In October, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly publicly announced that he was doubling the size of the Department’s Anti-Gang Unit and would be stepping up efforts to bust gangsters using social media websites like Facebook and Twitter — where gangsters have recently taken their turf wars.

New York City’s gangsters must not read the papers — 10 more alleged thugs got popped recently, much thanks to their social media stupidity.

According to the NYPD, 10 leaders of the “violent, drug dealing” street gang “WTG” were indicted yesterday on six counts of conspiracy to commit murder, assault, weapons possession and sales, and narcotics possession, as well as 35 related substantive counts.

Many of those indictments were aided by law enforcement’s ability to crack the gangsters’ social media codes.

From the NYPD:

WTG’s leadership made extensive use of social media and developed a distinctive “lingo,” or system of code words and phrases, to communicate with one another about their criminal activity in thousands of exchanges on Facebook. During the investigation, Special Narcotics prosecutors and analysts, and members of the NYPD, reviewed of Facebook messages from January 2011 to the present, as well as additional images and messages on Instagram. Facebook and Instagram messages and photos were obtained through court authorized search warrants.

“DubbTee” refers to a member of WTG, while “Fake Dub” describes members of the rival Dub City gang. Shootings, drug sales and firearms were routinely discussed in WTG leaders’ Facebook messages. “Grip,” “glocc,” “swammy,” “slammer,” and “hammer” are all terms WTG members used to refer to firearms, while “floced” or “clapped” referred to a shooting. “Krills,” “grams,” “yams,” and “grizz” are terms used for narcotics.

Facebook also served as a primary means of gang recruitment. Messages and other intelligence reveal that WTG leadership required prospective gang members to provide money for the purchase of communal firearms, or to provide an actual firearm, in order to gain admission to the gang. New gang members were then placed “under” a leader, to whom they answered. WTG maintained readily available, loaded communal firearms for use by members. Gang leaders directed minors aged 14 and 15 to possess, transport and store the guns in order to avoid the arrest or detection of adult gang members.

In a May 2012 Facebook message, SHAQUILLE HOLDER, “aka Boogz,” wrote to another prospective WTG, saying, “If yuk an western union me 125 right now you can be WTG under me and b official.” That same month, HOLDER received a Facebook message from an individual seeking to help another individual become a member of WTG. “My manzz want to be Dub Tee under u,” the message said, to which HOLDER replied, “Gotta send n glocc or 200 cash and mac wich ya guyuzz.”

In a March 2011 Facebook message, RONALD DAVIS, aka “Ron G,” directed a prospective WTG member, “Yo bro, I want u to be WTG but u gotta put up chipz on da glock dun u my bro,” adding, “100” when asked how much. A prospective gang member asked, “You gonna turn me dub tee or when I pay for the gun?” and DAVIS responded, “Friday but if u dnt give me dat den ugonna get parked. Parked = droped from WTG Imma teach u the lingo.” HOLDER, WILLIAMS and DAVIS face Criminal Solicitation charges in connection with these recruiting activities.

Earlier this year, we consulted our go-to gang source (a 20-year-old “Crip” who happens to live next door to us) in regards to the recent spike in social media thuggery.

“[That’s not] how real gangsters do shit,” he assured us. “They put that shit up there [on Facebook] like they don’t know the cops is readin’ it. That’s dumb shit — amateur shit. That’s how niggaz end up in jail.”

Our source has been shot four times — including one shooting incident that involved him shooting himself in the leg (he happened to be sitting on our couch at the time, as evident from the bullet hole in our faux-leather sofa).

As he puts it, he and his homeboys are “for real gangster.”

“These fake-ass gangsters don’t know what they’re doing, son,” he continues. “The reason gangs survive is by not letting the cops know we is doin’ shit. We don’t do none of that Facebook shit and if you do an ‘OG’ is gonna let you know about it.”

Moral of the story: gang business has no business on Facebook.


Mile End Deli: Social Media Flare Sours Smoked Meat’s Return

It took Mile End Sandwich almost a month to get smoked meat back on its menu after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the Red Hook commissary. But after raising the sandwich price from $12 to $14, a heated discourse between owner Noah Bernamoff and unhappy patrons hit Twitter and Facebook.

A disappointed customer took to Facebook and accused Bernamoff of “stealing” since the bagel she ordered wasn’t the deli’s signature Montreal bagel, and thus started a backlash on the social media platforms between Bernamoff and Mile End customers.

Last night, EVLocal chronicled smoked meat’s return. Bernamoff said the meat was produced upstate and transported back to the city, which accounted for the post-Hurricane price increase.

“Our issues are much more fundamental than a dollar a sandwich,” Bernamoff said on Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve increased costs because of our inability to do stuff in Red Hook. Traveling upstate, working in other people’s kitchens, taking the help of some of our restaurant friends . . . that comes at a cost.”

“When you create an analogy between a $13 sandwich and robbery,” Bernamoff said, “I took it personally because I’m not stealing anything from anybody.”

Bernamoff said he received many e-mails in the past 24 hours, but one stood out. “I woke up this morning and got an e-mail from a total stranger who was like, I love your place, but there’s no way you’re going to make the situation better,” he said. “You should apologize and eat the shit sandwich. That person was absolutely right.”

This morning, an apology note appeared on Mile End’s Facebook page.

I apologize for having offended a customer who was trying to voice an opinion. The subsequent use of unprofessional language to fend off her army of Facebook friends was clearly not in my best interest. Mile End has always been a very chill place with a staff that works hard to please its customers as most of you who have visited can attest.

This past month has pushed and prodded the emotions of everyone at Mile End in ways that, unfortunately, too many of us can now truly understand. The business faces new challenges; the way we address them will define who we are and what we hope to be.

I have always welcomed constructive criticism — when constructive qualities are traded for mere snark, however, the line between what’s personal and what’s suggestive can be blurred. That said, I recognize that I crossed those same lines in response and for that I am sorry, particularly to our customers, fans, and Facebook followers.

Mile End has made massive headway since it got power back on in the Red Hook kitchen 10 days ago, but it will take a while before things are back to pre-Sandy standards. “We’re taking baby steps in the next couple of weeks,” Bernamoff said. “My hope is that come January we’re at the critical basis that Mile End stands for.”

About the flare on Facebook and Twitter, Bernamoff said: “It feels like reality TV to me. I have a warehouse to rebuild.”