Before I was allowed, to set foot in the Bodleian library in Oxford, I had to participate in an ancient ceremony and take an oath: “I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.”
The Bodleian library was opened in the beginning of the 17th century, and is still one of the most revered halls of western civilization.
The oath cannot guarantee that readers will not damage the building or the collections of the library. Yet the founding fathers of the institution regarded this symbolic act as a contract. They trusted that it would create a connection between the reader and the library and promote appreciation and responsibility.
Until recently libraries like the Bodleian used to be the world greatest source of information. Their collections and the information in their catalogues could be compared, in the internet-driven information age, to a leading search engine like Google or an online social networking website like Facebook.
However, while the code of conduct in libraries is clear and well established, there is a complete chaos when it comes to laws of web etiquette.
A fairly innocuous comment, which I posted on the page of Breaking The Silence, an organization of veteran combatants which aims to shed light on Israel’s operational methods in the territories and to encourage debate about the nature of the occupation, resulted in more than hundred talkbacks. Most of the responses were negative, expressed hatred toward me, and wished me violent punishments and a speedy demise.
When I reported to Facebook the most vicious comments, none of the offensive talkbacks was removed. Apparently Facebook reviewed those comments and found that none of them had violated its community standards.
Checking the meaning of the words “community standards” I learnt that Facebook “encourages respectful behavior.” However, judging from my experience, there is nothing further from the truth..
The word “community” conjures up positive images of houses and quiet streets and civilized people who share some common goals and treat one another with respect. We often associate adjectives like “quiet” and “safe” with community.
Similarly, a virtual community is made up of the same positive elements like civility, respect and safety, if Facebook is ready to adopt them. I don’t suggest that Facebook uses the Bodleian oath, but perhaps it is time to introduce some kind of a contract between Facebook and its users.
Facebook should not be a haven for intolerance and violence, and it cannot hide behind the apron of freedom of speech, as its users are becoming more and more aggressive. If it doesn’t step up and put an end to the abuse on its pages, and if it doesn’t side with innocent users who are viciously attacked in the “community,” then the conclusion is that Facebook endorses violence.