From Smirking Chimp
I was oblivious to the real significance of Facebook in everyday life until the company disabled my personal, private thomhartmann account. The list of "possible" reasons they posted for doing this included "impersonating a celebrity," so maybe they shut me down because they thought I pretending to be that guy who's a talk show host and author. (Facebook, if you're reading this, I am that guy.)
It's also possible somebody at Facebook took offense to my interviewing Judd Legum around that time about the groundbreaking research he's been publishing over at popular.info pointing out the right-wing slant Facebook's corporate management and founder have taken. Fact is, though, I have no idea why they did it.
When they first disabled my account and asked me to upload my driver's license (which I did at least seven times over several weeks), I figured it was a mistake. Then, a month or two ago, they delivered the final verdict: I was out. I could "download" all my information if I wanted before they finally closed the door, but even when I tried to create a new account using my personal email address, they blocked my attempt saying that I already had a (disabled) account and thus couldn't create another.
My first response was to say, on the air, the truth that I only checked Facebook once a week on average, and only followed close friends and my widely scattered relatives, having configured my personal account to be as private as possible. I figured I could do without knowing what my cousins' kids, or my nieces and nephews, were up to; I could just call them or send them Christmas cards, after all. And the Salem International private group of international relief workers I was a member of could keep me up to date through our email listserv.
What I've discovered in the weeks since, particularly when one of my Salem friends in Germany was badly injured in a car accident last week, is that I was shockingly reliant on Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends. As the Joni Mitchell song goes, you don't know what you've got till it's gone.
Which raises for me the question -- has Facebook gone from merely being a destination on the internet to something so interwoven in our lives that it should now be considered part of the commons and regulated as such?
Is it time to discuss taking Facebook out of private, for-profit hands?
Or, alternatively, is it time for the federal government to create a national town square, an every-person's civic center, to compete with it?
The history of Europe and the United States, particularly throughout the 19th century, often tells the story of how wealthy and powerful men would congregate in exclusive membership-only men's clubs to determine the fate and future of governments, businesses, and even local communities. You'll find them woven into much of the literature of that era, from Dickens to Doyle to Poe.
Because these clubs had strict membership requirements, they were often at the core of governmental and business power systems, helping maintain wealthy white male domination of society. The rules for both initial and continuing membership were typically developed and maintained by majority or even consensus agreement of their members, although the homogeneity of that membership pretty much insured that women, men of color, and men of "lower" social or economic status never had a say in public or private institutional governance.
Then, at the cusp of the 20th century, things changed.
The Panic of 1893 crashed over 600 banks, closed 16,000 businesses, and pushed one in five American workers out of a job. That, in turn, provoked a strong progressive backlash in the United States, including a celebration across the nation when, following the 1901 death of President McKinley, his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, came out publicly as a progressive himself.
The first decade and a half of the 20th century saw an explosion of progressive reforms, best remembered as the time when Roosevelt and progressive Republican President Taft (who followed him) engaged in massive trust-busting, breaking up America's biggest monopolies to make room for local, small, and medium-sized businesses to grow.
An often-overlooked phenomenon that also spread across the nation during that era was the creation of egalitarian, public civic centers, usually built and owned by local or regional governments.