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ESSAY: Grief and the Faceless Nature of Facebook

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The message arrived September 23, at 10:30 a.m.: “Hi Pamela. We received a request to reset your Facebook password. Didn’t request this change? If you didn’t request a new password, let us know.”

More followed thick and fast.

10:36 a.m.: “Hi Pamela. We noticed an unusual login from a device or location you don’t usually use. Was this you?”

10:39 a.m.: “Hi Pamela. Your Facebook password was changed. If you didn’t do this, please secure your account. 

This last bore a cheerful and soon-to-be-sadly-familiar signoff: “Thanks, The Facebook Security Team.”

I clicked. I entered. I accessed the account and expelled the intruders. They pushed back in.

12:35 p.m.: “Hi Pamela. It looks like someone may have accessed your Facebook account. To secure your account, you’ll need to answer a few questions and change your password. 

“Thanks, The Facebook Security Team.”

I clicked. I entered. I uploaded. In the days that followed, I clicked, entered, uploaded some more. I remain locked out of my account. I try not to think about what the hackers might be doing with the artifacts of my past life. 

In the grand scheme of things, this is of course no big deal. My bad for trusting my photos, friends and memories to a faceless, heartless corporation.

But much of life, of course, takes place at smaller scale. 

On September 30, at 10:46 a.m.: a message flashed across my screen. URGENT, URGENT. 

My sister-in-law was writing to tell me that my 54-year-old brother Stephan had collapsed at their home in Ireland. A heart attack. Paramedics had arrived. 

Nine minutes later, at 10:55 a.m., she sent an update. “It’s official. He’s gone.”

Facebook
Stephan Grundy, 1967-2021.

I don’t have words for this part. For this or for the part in which I had to fly home to Texas to tell my parents. I crossed into the realm of grief inhabited by so many around the globe, in these hard times and always.

But then, as all survivors know, you have to carry on. Family and friends need to know. For all its flaws, Facebook can help with this. Spend a few minutes compiling images and phrases and you can reach hundreds of people.

Except I can’t. 

So I’m doing it the old-fashioned way, one by one. I struggle to gather the words. Every single time. Plenty of my friends still don’t know – especially those I rarely see in person, even as I delight in their posts of triumphs and challenges, of trips taken and children growing year by year.

For much of my life, I’ve heard about “faceless bureaucrats.” In college, I learned to toss around the tonier “Kafkaesque.” This feels different. 

Bureaucracy depends on human beings. The mystifying rules with which Kafka’s hapless protagonists contend are meted out by people. They may be bullying, violent, opaque. But they are people. 

Not here. My efforts to sort out this minor personal dilemma have summoned a whirlwind of fragments propelled by links and by the faceless forces we all now know as algorithms. Messages arrive at random intervals, usually bearing useless or contradictory information. Uploads vanish. Links bounce from page to unhelpful page. All melts into ether – our modern term for air.

I do not write in search of sympathy. As I said, my bad for trusting my photos, friends and memories to this particular corporation. But I do have an agenda, and I ask for you to indulge me in it for a moment longer.

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Facebook does employ people, concealed somewhere beyond the swirl of pages, links and auto-sent e-mails. They could fix this in minutes if they chose to. Kafka’s protagonists had no recourse to social media, and their tormentors cared little about reputation. Perhaps these more modern incarnations might.

More important, I hope this piece will reach some of the friends I haven’t yet found time to contact. Please feel free to share it.

Lastly, assembling a handful of words that invoke the illusion of order distracts me for a time from harder thoughts. 

I suppose I could say “Thanks” to the faceless “Facebook Security Team” for that. 

Or not.

Rage, rage.


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One Comment

  1. The exact same thing happened to me several weeks ago – my account was “under review.” Then I started getting invoices for ads the hacker had placed. At least they were being billed to a credit card number I didn’t recognize. After a couple weeks of no word from FB, I sent several emails to various unnamed addresses at FB. A day or two after the “deadline” at which they threatened to permanently close my account, I got a bland email saying it had been restored. I logged back in – with the new password I had immediately created – and found all to be the same as before. On the new “ad account” I found several names of others “authorized” to use it; I figured out how to delete them but not yet how to close that ad account.

    So odds are the hackers aren’t doing anything with your personal info, other than getting some info about your Friends. I bet you’ll mysteriously get access to your account before long, but it sure would be nice to have an alternative to this Evil Empire.

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