In 2015 I wrote an article called "The Artists Virtual Life Destroyed". It outlines problems I'd had with Facebook claiming I was not me and asking for license verification that I was a real person. As a result they had locked my account out and effectively locked out 7 years of my online life. I wrote at this at the time:
For those that will come after this poor artist and see a gap of seven years in his life, know this. Those seven years counted for much of who I am today and who I will be tomorrow. The information contained in each of those posts include:
- my failing health to HIV and how I crawled back from near death to vitality again- my mothers last words to me before she became sick and passed- the first days when I fell in love with and discovered my partner in life and love Billy Martin- the first pieces of art I created after I retired from photography- the photos of thousands of you taken over the years
We do not realize how much of ourselves we place out there on social media and what we can potentially lose. I stayed off Facebook for about six months in stubborn reaction to being forced to prove I was me. But finally weighing the fact that I had to have access to local people in New Orleans, I bowed to the authorities and proved myself and got my account back, restoring the lost information contained on Facebook.
But at the time, I also began slowly putting ideas together for my own blog. This would be a place where my art could be stored, shared and added to, as well as personal memories, without the risk of losing everything to the push of a button.
But I still felt like a prisoner who the warden had finally open the cell door so I could at least mingle with the other crooks. I grudgingly started using Facebook once again.
During this same time I began to disperse my art onto other online social venues. I at least felt that I could minimize future damage by ranging out to other sites as well as my blog. I wrote often in the blog about the need for artists to strategically use social media to promote their art and their name. I've always warned artist of the risks of putting all your eggs in one basket. But I think I neglected to put enough emphasis on having a base of operations online that was strictly your own. A place where you control the content completely.
Now 7 years later, the face of social media has changed dramatically and not for the good. With the advent of a president who seems to be able to get away with anything he wishes to post online, we now find that social media is becoming more and more restrictive. Not only restrictive but secretive and sneaky about it.
With the advent of this nasty little thing called shadowbanning, users are not even aware when they are effectively muted for what they post online. It just happens. Instagram was the first to use this technology and Twitter (despite what they claim) was the second. Now according to the news Facebook is jumping into the game and has patented shadowbanning software of their own.
Despite what the right wing says about how they are always the ones that get shut down and shut up for their views, this is not actually true. These steps affect everyone and they do so in an insidious way that keeps most users in the dark.
Most who know me on social media know that I spend a major amount of my time promoting and encouraging other artists. I use my blog as the center of my virtual universe and I engage on the various social media sites. Yet despite my intentions to help other artists, now Twitter has decided completely at random that I am not a real person. Without warning or reason the same thing that happened on Facebook so many years ago has now happened on Twitter. I found after promoting 4 pieces of art on Twitter that I was not shadowbanned, but completely locked out of my account. To the Twitter universe I am now just spam and an account to be blocked by others and shunned.
Despite appeals to faceless arbiters, no one has returned a reason for these actions or helped me to clarify what it is that would make them take such drastic measures.
But unlike the incident 7 years ago, much of who I am online, including my thoughts and ideas, is held here on this site. Whether the Twitter Gods in the end open my account back up, or it remains forever gone. I've at least not lost all of my virtual life. My digital footprint is still strong.
But I am writing this to warn all of you, that you really have no control over your social media. This is something that will not get better. Rather it will get worse, a lot worse. Do not deceive yourselves into thinking your fine. If you are a professional and you rely on social media too much, it can and probably will come back to bite you in the ass.
The solution? Take steps to do the same as I've done. Have a location online that is just your own. A few years back, a colleague told me that they were absolutely sure that Facebook pages would be change the face of the internet and make having your own site just a waste of time. Why do it yourself when you can fill out Facebook's handy little forms and create a page of your own?
At the time she told me this, I literally got sick to my stomach. If we rely on social media outlets to control all of our content, then eventually we stand a good chance of being screwed.
Consider YouTube for a moment. Since its origination, YouTube has encouraged users who have built their lives around creating content and sharing it with others. For awhile it was a good deal. You could make quite a bit of money from adding your videos to the site. Then this thing called "demonetization" started happening. Your content was yours, but if they didn't like what you were adding they could effectively destroy your revenue stream. This was done in order to squelch extremists who used the site to encourage extremist views. But at the same time, it has destroyed a lot of other people who just wanted to post great and interesting content.
Again, the right may yell about how unfair it is to JUST THEM. But this is not true. In reality, the more rules they pile on social media sites to quiet the extremists, the more it will also impact everyone else that uses their site.
I am not sure in the end that there is a solution to these problems. But we forget that there is a very large thing out there called "the internet". Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc are all just parts of a much larger virtual universe. Take the steps you need to take now to protect your content.
I may never get my Twitter account back. I may have wasted a lot of time and energy in creating a following over there. But at least I know my virtual life is now more protected than it once was. I suggest you also do the same, before its too late.
And please, share this article with others. Before you lose your own virtual life.