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Your Online "Existence" Belongs to Others

Daniel Solove: Facebook Banishment and Due Process: (Y)ou exist on Facebook at the whim of Facebook. The Facebook dieties can zap your existence for reasons even more frivolous than those of the Greek gods. Facebook can banish you because you’re wearing a blue T-shirt in your photo, or because it selected you at random, or because you named your blog Above the Law rather than Below the Law.

On the one hand, this rule seems uncontroversial. After all, it is Facebook’s website. They own their site, and they have the right to say who gets to use it and who doesn’t.

But on the other hand, people put a lot of labor and work into their profiles on the site. It takes time and effort to build a network of friends, to upload data, to write and create one’s profile. Locking people out of this seizes all their work from them. It’s like your employer locking you out of your office and not letting you take your things. Perhaps at the very least banished people should be able to reclaim the content of their profiles. But what about all their “friends” on the network? People spend a lot of time building connections, and they can’t readily transplant their entire network of friends elsewhere.

He has it right the first time: It is Facebook’s site, and they have every right to enforce ridiculous and counterproductive rules. Due process? It’s not a judicial system and we shouldn’t treat it that way.

But the issue is why users put so much of their own lives up on the site in the first place — particularly when it’s clear enough that Facebook doesn’t give anyone an easy way (or, really any way other than endless cut/paste) to take the data elsewhere. The fact that they can’t “readily transplant” their network and data is too bad, but Facebook makes no pretense about its unwillingness to provide this service in any useful way.

When you start a blog at, you can always take the data with you in a portable way that you can then import into a new blog. That’s how it should be done.

Facebook isn’t interested in giving people those same kinds of options, and it’s a shame. But let’s put some of the onus on the users, who find it so useful that they risk losing everything at the whim of the little gods who make the decisions.

3 Comments on “Your Online "Existence" Belongs to Others”

  1. #1 Delia
    on Mar 3rd, 2008 at 5:57 pm


    I think the real problem is that Facebook is for profit and, as long as it can get away with it, it’s against its interest to let people easily move “their existance” elsewhere. So unless it MUST allow this (maybe some regulation? or serious competition), form the business POV, it makes no sense for them to do it…


    P.S. As for the people joining these things, if they *want* to have the kind of “existence” Facebook provides, they don’t have much of a choice, do they? Where are they going to go? Whatever other for profit alternatives might be around, they are going to have the same counterincentives.

  2. #2 Jon Garfunkel
    on Mar 3rd, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    As I posted to CoOp, they *do* have an appeals process. Robert Scoble got his account suspended two months ago; he appealed, and they reinstated it. Lat asked them for a reason, and they told him. They let him off with a warning.

    It had nothing to do with his own data portability; it was about other people’s. Facebook actually *is* dealing with privacy leakage in a very clever way: you’re not allowed to post other people’s pictures onto the open net (where it would be slurped up by Google, bounced around the blogs, etc).

  3. #3 tictac- ungeNEUerlich « Worte,Zeichen,Bilder
    on Mar 4th, 2008 at 8:19 pm

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