Say what you will about film critic Roger Ebert. You might as well say it, because people are posting all kinds of profane and nasty things on his Facebook wall today in the wake of a couple of comments he posted about the death of the star of Jackass, which he implies was because of drunk driving.
Personally, I think Ebert is a hero. Since he lost his voice, he has found his voice in the new media world, becoming one of the bravest and sharpest (and one of the few intelligent) commentators on Twitter and Facebook and blogs.
But Facebook, which never seems to stop shooting itself in the foot (and must therefore have the most bullet-riddled shoes in the world), censored Ebert this morning by taking down his Facebook page as a result of some complaints about Ebert's comments. Now, Ebert didn't post anything that was outrageous. His comments weren't racist. They weren't inciting violence.
He commented, "Friends don't let jackasses drink and drive." He was referring to a photo that showed the Jackass star drinking shortly before the accident, which killed two people.
Facebook reportedly apologized for removing the page, but it is chilling that the company would remove the page anyway. Is there really no free speech on Facebook? Does Facebook think it is the arbiter of good taste? (This is, after all, a company caught red-handed on numerous questionable business practices, most recently when it was exposed as the company behind a public relations campaign to spread negative stories about Google.)
And then there are the unbelievably foul mouthed and uneducated brats who have "liked" Ebert's Facebook page this morning so they could post messages on his wall. Here's one message (dashes added by yours truly): "I pray every single one of you idiots mothers get raped and murdered maybe then you will think twice talking about someone who is gone. f---ing idiots." Or this charmer: "you sir, are a scumbag. and so are all of you're disrespectful little "followers". you know what you said was wrong and WAY to soon to be said. you don't even have the respect for everyone hurting, and crying, to apologize. why don't you grow up a little bit and APOLOGIZE. show some respect to Ryan's family, and to the members of Jackass."
To help counter the onslaught of crying tweeners on the wall, I posted my own comment: "Roger, I think this wall shows that you have the support of people who don't ride their skateboards to work. Keep up the good work." I was pleased to see it quickly earned a number of "likes," but sure enough, responses started coming in about what was possibly wrong with skateboarding to work. Sigh.
I guess what surprised me second most (following Facebook's creepy level of censorship, of course) is the vehemence of fans of the dead man. The comments on Ebert's wall refer to themselves crying, hurting, in pain. Those are feelings you should have when a family member or friend dies, not a star of a oddball TV show and movie series. It reminds me of a time in high school when I made some negative comments about Ted Turner (most definitely not nasty comments, just negative; I was probably commenting on his opportunism as a conservative at the time; Turner would later change sides and become a vocal and at times brave liberal); a classmate confronted me about criticizing his hero; the classmate worked himself up to tears as he described how he and his mother both idolized Ted Turner for his success in business. It was an unnerving experience.
Roger Ebert has a way of not being unnerving, nor of being unnerved. You can read his sensible follow-up to the controversy on his blog (which I urge you to bookmark and read regularly).