Being Behinderhund or, blogging while disabled – guest post by DeusExMacintosh

By skepticlawyer

DeusExMacintosh is one of our regular commenters, and earlier this year she had a slightly unusual run-in with facebook, which seems to be an organisation somewhat given to perverse control-freakery. While not on a par with the casual denigration on display here, it’s still pretty ordinary. I asked her if she’d be interested in telling the story to our readers, and so here it is.

I hate Facebook because the bastards banned my dog.

So when the BBC discovered how easy it was to load up a ‘third party’ application that would secretly capture the personal details of not only those subscribed to it, but also anyone who happened to be their friend – I wasn’t that concerned. For starters, I wasn’t fool enough to put my personal details on the account in the first place, but by then we’d already been disabled.

That’s not a use of the royal ‘we’, by the way. I happen to own the world’s most handsome black Labrador so it made a lot more sense to load up his photo rather than mine. As he is also a Registered Assistance Dog I was advised by Dogs for the Disabled not to use his real name in public due to the risk of theft, so we became Behinder Hund (a ‘disability assistance dog’ in German – for once, the German expression is clearer and shorter than the English one).

I’d start the day trolling through news stories about Police, Assistance/Service and the many other types of working dog around the world (hunting dogs that ‘accidentally’ shot their US masters were always a favourite) before posting the funniest on the newsfeed. I’d ‘interpret’ Behinder’s sarcastic sighs and type up the comments for him. We finally topped out at 480 Friends, many of whom were just like me – disabled women who couldn’t always get out a lot, who depend on service dogs for their daily lives and computers for much of their social life. That’s the point of social networking, right?

Wrong. The point of social networking is to enable network providers to collect personal data they can then sell on to marketers you’ve never heard of and if asked outright, wouldn’t be that interested in hearing from. If you don’t give them accurate personal information, they can’t sell it. There is even “…a US decision that breaking the terms and conditions of a social network site can count as unauthorised access, turning what would seem to be at most a civil offence into a criminal act under computer misuse laws.”

Facebook upped and disabled our account.

I tried pointing out that the account information was accurate. Behinderhund’s educational background with Guide Dogs for the Blind and Dogs for the Disabled was complete, my real name was clearly listed as his employer (which I am) and was used openly in comments and messages. Because of the way we work together my personal identity is in effect a dual one, and the other partnerships who were our correspondents understood this as it was true for them also – but you try explaining that to Facebook. I felt like the lone voice in Life of Brian. “Yes! We’re all individuals!” I’m not.

At the time, just having a dog as your profile pic was enough to get your account suspended, regardless of any good reasons that existed for making this choice. It didn’t matter that our details were accurate and there was no impersonation (so we hadn’t violated the terms of use) or even that the account was providing a useful service. It didn’t seem to matter that US case law has already established that Disability Access legislation applies to websites (which by extension means that Service Dogs who have the right of physical access are also legally entitled to ‘virtual’ access). The final Facebook verdict before they stopped responding to my emails was that:

Facebook profiles are meant to represent a single individual. Groups, clubs, businesses and other types of organizations are not permitted to maintain an account. Dogs cannot maintain accounts. We apologize for the inconvenience, but you will no longer be able to use this account.

OUCH! Blogger ‘Disability Bitch’ has a Facebook page, though I doubt that’s her real name. Most BBC regional news programs have a Facebook page, yet they’re not individuals or even a group.

In the end I decided that it wasn’t appropriate to contest their decision legally on the grounds of access when disabled people are still fighting to get their Service Dogs accepted into US schools in many districts. Besides, there don’t seem to be legal grounds to sue Facebook for failing to have a sense of humour.

De minimis non curat lex as skepticlawyer said at the time. ‘The law does not concern itself with trifles’. Which might be part of the problem when I think about it.

UPDATE [by SL]: There’s an excellent dissection of the Facebook legals (what a bunch of evils) available here.

23 Comments

  1. Posted May 27, 2008 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    I’ve just had to remove one of the people linked in your story, DEM – once again through fear of deletion by Facebook. Lovely bunch of control freaks, natch.

  2. P
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Well, I wouldn’t out anyone without asking them first. Only manners. What I do agree with is that people are less considerate when you are anon.

    People who would normally consider you ‘human’ seem to have no issues with kicking you righteously in the head when you’re a ‘dog’ who dares ask ‘why should I pimp X on an internet voting site that clearly says “US Only”, just because they’re “skeptic”? Since when does “he /she’s a skeptic” mean they’re going to get unquestioned support – isn’t that kind of opposite of what skeptics do?’

    As it is – I’m now seriously considering whittling out all contacts and renaming myself as me. I’ve become redundant now that Facebook Pages for fanclubs have finally arrived. And that was my goal in the first place – to support a podcast by news items on it. Technology moves on, leaving me behind-hund.

  3. Posted May 27, 2008 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    P, is it possible to change your name to your own name without destroying your profile? You’ve done an enormous amount of work (like DEM did with Behinderhund). It would be dreadful to lose all of that in one go.

  4. P
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    I have no idea. I guess it’s a price one might have to pay.

    I do miss ‘Behinderhund”s news items and did warn several ‘pets’ about the ‘oncoming storm’… it was rather demoralising to see the cute ‘vote for the best pet!’ groups disappear one by one, when they were doing no harm.

  5. Posted May 27, 2008 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Apart from the pointlessness of it all, it does raise a justice issue when it involves disabled people. Really, really petty.

  6. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Doh! Sorry about that she-who-will-have-to-remain-nameless. As a former journo the “who the hell reads blogs, anyway?” school is a difficult one to graduate from.

    My personal beef is the fact that so many systems just aren’t flexible enough to take into account the different experience of people with disabilities (in this case my effectively dual identity vs. Facebook definition of ‘individual’). But I think it highlights a wider issue about your rights to privacy online.

    Despite all the marketing, these sites exist primarily not to provide the networking service but to ‘capture’ as much personal information as possible and use it to generate profits as we’re still very resistant (and I think rightly so) to paying for content. So you can understand why they would want to maximise accurate information. Though perhaps keeping the personal information of those want it deleted is going a bit far.

    At the same time, web activity is still extremely insecure even in those supposedly ‘protected’ environs with privacy controls so we don’t want to have our whole story on there. Facebook is one of the few cheeky enough to enquire as to our sexual orientation. What I wonder is, legally can they insist?

    Is Facebook in effect a private area where its administrators can make any rules they want in defiance of anything but criminal law? In the UK (CCTV capital of the world) it’s not clear whether we have any legal right to privacy even in the real world, but what about elsewhere?

  7. Posted May 27, 2008 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Courts don’t really like people telling them that they can’t mediate a dispute

    Indeedy. It’s called an ‘ouster’ clause and doesn’t usually last long.

  8. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted May 28, 2008 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    So for example, could an employer put a clause in a female employee’s contract to say she will accept being fired if she gets pregnant?

  9. Posted May 28, 2008 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    No. That’s covered by anti-discrimination law. It is, however, possible under private contract. The latter depends, however, on the absence of an overarching statute (like the relevant anti-discrimination law).

  10. Jodie
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Why is it that PostSecret can have a facebook page, but Behinderhund can’t? Doesn’t make sense to me.

  11. Celia B. Jones
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    I’m so happy I found Behinder Hund again. My profile and my cat’s profile (okay, I know now, NO CATS on Facebook) were ‘disabled’ the same day Behinder Hund was ‘killed off’. My account was eventually reinstated, but my cat, Sparky Cat Jones got the same message Behinder Hund received and he isn’t allowed back.

    I loved Behinder Hund’s updates and thru his Facebook page, I found other like minded people and formed friendships with them. I miss you, Behinder Hund!!!!!!!!! If the people in charge of these messages would please give you my personal email address, I’m be thrilled to hear from you. Celia

  12. Posted May 29, 2008 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    We can do that, Celia – and stick around, DeusExMacintosh has agreed to write occasional copy for us.

  13. Posted May 31, 2008 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    So, what about my pretty drummer lady avatar who is obviously from the ’40s, not me? Will the Facetapo knock on her door, too? I haven’t noticed anything but haven’t been into FB for a few days.

    Behinderhund is a very lovely boy. Bless! and scratches!

  14. cathy o
    Posted July 13, 2008 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Behinder! DeusExMacintosh! Darn, I miss you. Is there any way we can get in touch somehow?

  15. Posted July 13, 2008 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    Cathy, I can log in as admin and give you each others’ email addresses – as long as you’ve posted with a real address.

  16. cathy o
    Posted July 15, 2008 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    That would be nice/good if you could do that and if Behinder/Deus wouldn’t mind either! Thanks.
    Cathy.

  17. Posted July 16, 2008 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    That’s a very nice puppy you’ve got there DEM. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy just lookin’ at him.

  18. JekSteevaNita
    Posted June 15, 2011 at 2:43 am | Permalink

    Just now read the topic. Amazing work.

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