BEA 2009: James Ellroy

Back in April, it was revealed that the galley for James Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover contained a note asking all of Ellroy’s readers to become his Facebook friends. Well, since Ellroy happened to be at BookExpo America, I decided to ask him about what the nature of this “Facebook friend” relationship entailed. Ellroy promptly placed his arm around my shoulder and gave me his explanation. I think it’s safe to say that Ellroy’s idea of “Facebook friend” is much different from Jonathan Franzen’s.

Is Katie Roiphe Necessary?

Sixteen years ago — just a year before Kurt Cobain blew his brains out — Katie Roiphe wrote a book called The Morning After, in which she failed to grasp the basic moral concept that women who are date raped are indeed victims. Two years ago, when I interviewed this decidedly surly specimen, Roiphe still believed this. She had not altered her position one smidgen, and she seemed quite proud of this. It was as if she had gone to Princeton not to earn a Ph.D., but to pick up the complimentary barbeque set that a broken man hands you after you sit through his interminable sales pitch.

But two decades is a long time to coast. And the first question that any reasonable person should ask when reading Rophie’s latest nonsense is whether there even remains any practical use for Katie Roiphe. Why indeed is she even associated with a Web magazine that purports to be written by women for women? (Let’s answer that. Because Double X comprehends Third Wave developments about as well as J.J. Abrams. If you’re under 30 and you’re selfish in an anti-Bitch sort of way, then Double X is for you. The rest of the sad pack — meaning anyone who wears a rumpled suit, has dated hair, or has the effrontery to age — can be run down by the callous locomotive. Who is John Galt?)

This troubling idea that bell hooks and Maxine Hong Kingston don’t exist is reflected in Roiphe’s lede, which raids the three-year-old corpse of Betty Friedan for an argument about three-year-olds that Friedan never really made. Apparently, Facebook has brainwashed young mothers. These mothers have dared to put up profile pictures of their children in lieu of their own. And all this is “a potent symbol for the new century.” Never mind that Facebook, like all social networks, could be gone in about five years. Never mind that the privacy concerns fizzle somewhat with a website’s impermanence. And even if we can accept the viable notion that images of women do affect the cultural landscape, the Facebook mothers probably didn’t have Susan J. Douglas’s Where the Girls Are in mind.

Besides, this is small potatoes. We’re not talking about images on billboards or photos that saturate the mass media. We’re talking about thumbnails seen by strangers who are merely surfing around for friends. Roiphe doesn’t seem to understand that Facebook users can control whether or not other “friends” can see photos. She also doesn’t seem to understand that a substitute image for one’s self does not automatically mean that a Facebook user intends to project a persona. When I had a Facebook account, I once put up an image of Buster Keaton because I figured that it would make others smile. It wasn’t that I wanted to be Buster Keaton, although I admire Keaton very much. It simply projected the comic mood I was in at the time. Just as a parent’s kid’s photo projects that parent’s essence. And this really isn’t all too different from sharing a photo of someone special that you have in your wallet.

Roiphe doesn’t seem to ken that the private has morphed into the public. She also doesn’t seem to be aware that digital cameras have replaced the analog forefathers. The days where mothers would huddle around the table flipping through a photo album have been replaced by afternoons in which they can pass around an iPod Touch, or text these images to each other on their cells. Rather amazingly, it also hasn’t occurred to Roiphe that these mothers might wish to boast about their kids not out of hubris, but because it’s second-nature to who they are. Avoiding the camera may not even be a consideration.

And if these Facebook photos represent child exploitation, then I think the time has come to go after all those picture frame manufacturers who use children in the mockup photos you remove before you insert your own. Let’s make the bastards pay. And I’m wondering if a mother who shares a picture of her child on her laptop should likewise be pilloried because some stranger happens to observe the photo over her shoulder. After all, don’t the bitches have it coming? Much as those date rape victims do?

We tolerate another child’s squeaky sneakers because that’s what being an adult entails. It’s the same impulse that involves losing sleep during a kid’s early years. It’s looking at the world beyond yourself. Permitting children to grow and discover. Not letting your own hangups get in the way. And unless you’re a sad narcissist pining for another fifteen minutes, living is nothing to mourn over.

I’m Done With Facebook

It was bad enough with all the apps and the winks and the intrusive nonsense that greeted you every time you logged on, but this was the last straw. Facebook, showing how smug and contemptuous they are of community, now wants to seize the rights of anything you create and happen to distribute through their networks, by changing the Terms of Service to suit their avaricious purposes. I never agreed to these Terms of Service, and chances are that neither did you. For the record, I sure as hell do not grant Facebook any right to store archived copies of any content imported form my blog, and if these boneheads even try to use my content, they will face severe legal ramifications. And it won’t be limited to arbitration. Because I never agreed to the new terms of service. And nothing in the OLD terms of service indicated an automatic update to the NEW terms of service.

So I’ve deleted my account. If you want to delete yours, the magic link is here.

Nothing that I create will ever be distributed on Facebook again. If you want to contact me, you can get me on Twitter or email.

I would advise any writers, artists, and photographers to remove their content posthaste, and not give Facebook the right to profit on your hard labor. Creative Commons and community is the solution. Not autocratic assignation of rights.

UPDATE: J.F. Quackenbush has put up a post in relation to this, suggesting a certain hypocrisy among those who are up in arms about Facebook’s decision. (In Quackenbush’s view, since we have no problem copying a picture, we should, in theory, have no problem giving up our content.) He also calls out Chris Walters for failing to contact a Facebook representative is lousy journalism. Ordinarily, I would agree with him on the second point. But in this case (and unlike the Washington Post Book World/NBCC contretemps), we have very specific language in the TOS to work from and interpret.

To respond to Quackenbush, what’s not to suggest that Facebook wouldn’t do precisely what Eric Bauman did? Bauman, as you recall, took the content that other people created, hosted it on eBaum’s World, and profited without distributing the money back to the people who created it. This was the scummiest of business practices, running counter to the open distribution of content — that is, if we can all accept the ideal model for rights and sharing to be some optimally tuned Creative Commons license. When you upload a YouTube video and it becomes a hit, Google (most of the time) ensures that the content producer is involved with revenue. And Google, to its credit, amended the Chrome EULA when there was public concern about content rights.

But the Facebook language clearly dictates that you are giving Facebook an irrevocable and perpetual right to distribute and make derivative copies of content you upload to Facebook for any purpose. ANY. Whether it be a book, a film, or whatever other options Facebook may have cooked up. Recall Alison Chang, who saw her Flickr photo turned into a Virgin Mobile advertisement without her consent. I certainly don’t want my likeness being used for advertising “for any purpose” without my consent. And that’s precisely what I’m giving up under the Facebook “license.” Granted, my interpretation here assumes that “on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof” will be interpreted fairly broadly. (And actually, the trickiest bit in the paragraph is the final sentence, which conflicts with the previous sentence. If you’ve already granted Facebook the irrevocable right to give up your content and likeness, then how can you still have “all rights and permissions?” Perhaps an IP attorney can sort out this thorny language.) Since Facebook has demonstrated no reservations in sharing private data with developers, the company’s history suggests that this same recurring invasion of privacy will carry forth under the new Terms of Service. The only difference is that Facebook now intends to profit from the content you upload, and they can now use it in any way they want, because you’ve capitulated all your rights to it.

UPDATE 2: The Photo Attorney thinks the new Terms of Service are bunk. And Dhananjay Nene explains why he deleted his data. MediaVidea conjures up some sordid possibilities for what Facebook will do under the new TOS.

Mashable: “Until now, users had options with regards to how the data they generated on Facebook was used. Now, they have no options whatsoever, rather than quit the service altogether. It’s a major difference; I’m not going to take it lightly, and neither should you.”

Meanwhile, Andy on the Road compares Facebook and YouTube’s respective Terms of Services. When you delete a YouTube video, YouTube does not have any control over the data. The license ends. And it’s also worth noting that Twitter’s Terms of Service maintain a what’s yours is yours policy.

UPDATE 3: Amanda French compares Facebook’s TOS against other social networks. The results, in the words of Ms. French, are “extraordinarily grabby and arrogant.” Facebook has responded, claiming, “We certainly did not — and did not intend — to create any new right or interest for Facebook in users’ data by issuing the new Terms. None of the news or blog reports at the time we announced them on February 4 suggested any confusion or misunderstanding.” On the contrary, the current Terms of Service spell out Facebook’s intentions quite clearly. If Facebook genuinely was not interested in “confusion or misunderstanding,” then why didn’t they inform the users of the ToS change? This is insulting corporate boilerplate from an arrogant organization that truly believes its users are idiots. Boycott Facebook!

UPDATE 4: To clarify my stance for the FOX News crowd (you know, you could have contacted me), my quibbles are with both versions of the blanket license. But the newer one is especially diabolical because of the manner in which it abrogates rights to content that you have deleted without informing the user. As abundantly proven by Ms. French above, none of the other social networks do this.

UPDATE 5: More spin control from Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in which he claims that Facebook’s philosophy is predicated on people owning their information and content. Alas, like the Facebook spokesman cited in the Standard article in Update 3, Zuckerberg does little to mollify the salient issue. You can have all the philosophy in the world, but it’s the language that exists in the terms that matters the most. Zuckerberg promises that “over time we will continue to clarify our positions and make the terms simpler.” He may want to think about speeding up that time window, because, according to Brian Stelter, a story is running in the New York Times tomorrow morning.

UPDATE 6: Facebook has revised its TOS back due to public outcry.

Issues with Scrabulous

I am currently getting my ass kicked in Scrabulous, the Facebook approximation of Scrabble. Now I am not a sore loser. I know when the chips are down. But come on. Honestly. Under what circumstances is PACY a fucking word? It can’t even be found in And why the fuck can’t I play QUA? If my opponent can get PACY, why can’t I play a Latin proposition? Was this Facebook application designed by former Valley Girls? Allow me some quiet dignity. LIKE, totally. Seven points!

This Just In

Jonathan Franzen has disappeared from Facebook, presumably heading to that isolated edifice where Greta Garbo once resided. Oh well. It’s too bad J-Franz is no fun. But on the bright side, L’Affaire Franzen has resulted in a great outpouring of amicable and swell people contacting me via Facebook — some of them united by Mr. Franzen spurning them (including some old friends from Missouri) and others just looking for a friendly hello. So I really can’t complain. Perhaps this is a topic that the Two Franzens need to take up.

Hell Hath Frozen Over!

Jonathan Franzen has accepted my Facebook friend request!

My work here is done.

I shall now direct my attentions to Dwight Garner, who has yet to accept my Facebook friend request.

[UPDATE: Correction. Franzen is not my Facebook friend. It appears that he added me and then, moments later, he removed me. I had thought that there was some kernel of bonhomie within Franzen’s disposition. But apparently, this is not the case.]

Reason #426 Why Jonathan Franzen is No Fun

Jonathan Franzen does not want to be my Facebook friend. He is, however, Howard Junker’s Facebook friend. This is understandable, because Howard Junker is Howard Junker. Nevertheless.

Many of my former and current nemeses are my Facebook friends. For crying out loud, even Rick Moody is my Facebook friend. If Jonathan Franzen wishes to keep up this virtual Bartleby business, well then that is certainly his right as a human being. But I think Facebook may very well be a good judge of character. After all, if someone won’t be your Facebook friend, what does this say about the person’s ability to connect with the world at large?

I’ve taken to simply saying yes to anybody. I figure that most people in the world are pretty decent. I figure that anybody who seeks me out on Facebook probably has a good reason. And life’s really too short to deny someone their pleasure. It takes a fussy bastard indeed to say no to someone on this thing.