Death by Algorithm: The Real Big Brother

"We worry about the government interfering in our lives, but we have handed them all the information to do so. The government can tell you what you watch and what you eat by your cable and credit card bill."
Social Media, Algorithm, Facebook

I can remember the first time I saw the film “1984”. I had not read the book and honestly, the only thing I knew about the project was that the Eurythmics did the soundtrack. I had bought it before seeing the film. I immediately fell in love with Annie Lennox’s haunting vocals. I was a young impressionable gay teen full of gothic ideas of doom and gloom. I was discovering Depeche Mode, The Cure, and The Smiths. So, I went in without any expectations of what “1984” was about.

Imagine how terrified I was after learning the plot of the story. A world where you are told what to do and when to do it. Poor Winston Smith….his every move and action watched by Big Brother. Winston couldn’t even express his love for the character Julia. It was every teenager’s nightmare. And after hearing about Nostradamus’ predictions that had come true, this nightmare seemed very possible.

Funny…you say “Big Brother”, these days and most of the young ones think of the TV show where people live in a controlled environment and are filmed every waking moment as a competition to win money. They have no idea about George Orwell’s masterpiece “1984” where basically the government is controlling every aspect of its citizen’s lives….even down to their language. “Double-Plus-Good”.

I bring up “1984” and “Big Brother” because back in the 80s most thought this could never happen. The government could never control our lives. The government could never keep records of everything we do and say. I mean…we control the government by our elections. But I look around and it is remarkable that Mr. Orwell’s fantastic tale is now a reality. And even funnier is the fact that we volunteer our information, photos, and thoughts every day.

It’s called Facebook. And Mark Zuckerberg ushered in a “Big Brother” that has consumed the world and probably has more power over more lives than even he could have imagined. It is as if we are powerless without it. You get your news from it. You look for friends and even sexual partners on it. You vent your anger on it. And it’s all there for the world to see.

I must admit that I was late for the party. Facebook began in 2004 and I didn’t join until 2008. Hell, I didn’t get my first computer until December of 1999. I was not gonna go into the millennium without my space-age 60s television looking Mac! So, I started my online journey with AOL and slowly worked my way up to Facebook. I was amazed at how many people I knew who were already on it and living such open lives. I could find out what they liked…what they ate. I could find out who they knew by their friends’ list. I even could see if they were single or married. This was great! All this information and I didn’t have to even leave my room. Remarkable!

Nowadays….you do everything with facebook. Promotions for people like myself are essential online. And with every great invention comes the copycats who are going to improve it. So, there’s Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Vine and let’s not forget YouTube. All these things can keep you online for hours. All your entertainment is at your fingers. Tired of watching manufactured music videos and ads….no problem. You can travel around the world or explore sea life. You climb mountains or jump from planes. You can learn from gurus or discover tribes or religions. But most of all you can watch others do some of the most mundane tasks to the most outrageous right in the comfort of your own home. And with the right video, you could even become a star. You are rewarded with “likes” and “loves”. This gives you validation and self-worth….from the chair where you are sitting. And although the comment sections can sometimes be treacherous you still hope and pray that someone is listening or watching.

Don’t worry, someone is….always.

We now have a generation of youth that only knows social media. This is how they communicate. Hell,they could be standing right next to their friend and instead of speaking they text each other. The invention that was supposed to help us get closer and communicate has replaced human interaction. Folks would rather type out a response than to push a button to call whoever they are chatting with. Why? Because it’s safer to hide behind a keyboard than it is to put a face on what you are trying to say.

I think back in 2011, I was employed at a local club here in Toronto and I was complaining on Facebook about the owners suddenly canceling my night. A drag performer that I used to work with back in Tampa, Florida wrote me privately and said be careful of what you put out there. Other bar owners and club promoters will think you are a troublemaker and you won’t get any work. I didn’t take what she was saying to be of any value. But she was actually right. Toronto’s LGBT scene is so small that the slightest rumor or online confrontation travels like wildfire and brands you.

Over the years I have had several war of words with different people about events from “Blackface in 2013” to my opinions about “Black Lives Matter and Toronto Pride”. These online battles have left marks on my permanent record. I now have a reputation for being confrontational. Some would say that I’m a little too “uppity”. While others would say that I am a person for “social justice” because I share my U.S. opinions on Canadian land. If your opinion is big enough online, you can be Googled. Which brings me back to “Big Brother”.

We worry about the government interfering in our lives, but we have handed them all the information to do so. The government can tell you what you watch and what you eat by your cable and credit card bill.

2016 was a contentious year (to say the least). Here in Toronto Black Lives Matter shut down the Pride parade and gave a list of demands. Funny that they didn’t do that to any other parades like Caribana. It seems that the movement here is more gay-friendly than the movement in the U.S. So, you would think they would have shut down the Caribbean based celebration on principle because of the homophobia that comes with it. I mean we are on Canadian soil. We follow Canadian laws and the law of the land is that it is okay to be LGBT. So, Black Lives Matter should have been in that parade. But they weren’t. Instead, their protest at the Pride parade started a war online with the white LGBT. Lots of name calling and racist rhetoric flowed daily. This became a huge problem. And many of the people arguing online got flagged and tagged by Facebook. It seemed the stronger your opinion, your entire online history started being looked at. So, between conflicts in Toronto’s LGBT community and the U.S. election, I’m sure Facebook and all social media exploded with a lot of hate speech.

And because “Big Brother” is a caring one…..he has decided to rectify the conflicts by taking away certain keywords that he has deemed as violations of social media.

Do you remember when all of a sudden it was politically incorrect to say the word “tranny” on Facebook and RuPaul’s Drag Race got a lot of heat for using it? It made me question if that fight brought the word more attention than it had previously. And although personally being called a “faggot” while dodging a beer bottle that was hurled at me from a moving car back in Florida during the 80s was probably the only real situation that I heard the term directed at me, I actually say the word a lot when I’m angry. Probably learned behavior from my family. They didn’t call me “faggot” but they called anyone that they deemed weak or annoying that word. I wouldn’t use it publicly but what we do in the privacy of our homes is something completely different than our public persona.

Which brings me to inventions like your cell phone, Suri and Alexa. These are all things that are in your home or you carry with you. And with GPS everyone knows where you are. Sites like Grindr are really dangerous if you think about it. Couldn’t you be setting yourself up for one of the worst gay bashings ever? And what about that video of Alexa avoiding the question of being connected to the CIA. That’s a little unnerving.

But one interesting note about hate speech on Facebook is the word “nigger”. Many are finding that suddenly their accounts are being monitored and sifted through for violations of Facebook rules. Their accounts are being suspended with threats of deletion if they continue to violate regulations. But somehow words like “faggot”, “dyke”and “tranny” are far worse than one of the oldest racial slurs in North America. And you wanna know why Facebook doesn’t go hard after such offenders? I believe it’s because black people themselves use the word. And how do you police that? If they consider it to be a “term of endearment” and its part of their vernacular…how do you tell them they can’t use it. Zuckerberg and all the rest don’t even want to get into that conversation. I personally find the word offensive and think it should be shut down online in every aspect. I wrote a spoken word piece that later got turned into a track called “Scared Of Evolution” which addresses the subject.

I am currently in what they call “Facebook Jail”. Not because I called anyone a “faggot” or “tranny”. But because I actually used the words in a sentence. You see, Big Brother’s solution is to have its computers search for any of these offensive words and punish whoever uses them. First with a 24-hour suspension, then a 3-day suspension. Next offense is a week. Then the next is 30 days. And I even heard there is a 60-day suspension as well. I am currently serving a 30-day sentence which actually might have 60 days added since they found another violation during this one.

Being a writer, disc jockey, drag performer and recording artist….I need to be online to promote. In fact, that’s the main way everyone is heard or seen these days. Promotions and tutorials are all based online. And Big Brother knows your every move.

In my past violations, I have appealed to Facebook. Pleading with them to reconsider and look at the context of what was being said in my posts or blogs. I mean, after all…my use of the word “tranny” was in a blog defending Caitlyn Jenner back when her reality show was just starting. I wouldn’t defend her now. The more the show went on I discovered her conservative views were not my cup of tea. Between her politics and her appearance on Ellen I think she sealed her own fate. And the current suspension is about me asking any DJs if they had an MP3 of the club mix for Me’shell NdegeOcello’s “Leviticus Faggot”. My husband got suspended for talking about the movie “Ticked Off Trannies With Knives”. But these appeals fall on deaf ears. In fact, when you send your appeal it tells you before you send it that “you might not get a reply, but thank you for sending it”.

And now I have facebook friends who are posting things like “perhaps you should not use such language and then you won’t get suspended”. Really? I guess we are all supposed to walk on egg shells and not disturb any of the other drones. In all my appeals I brought up the fact that in order to tell our stories and history we have to be able to be truthful and honest about what was said.

Last year’s fights online about Black Lives Matters and Toronto Pride were basically about perception and deleted words from the conversation. Black Lives Matter asked that there not be any uniformed cops on floats during the parade. They did not say “no cops in the parade”. But the media and especially social media deleted that information and made it look like they were demanding that there be no cops at all at the parade. So, the white LGBT were up in arms. Then BLM started saying that the white LGBT were racists. And for some, being called racists was worst than being racist. For others, this was their opportunity to stand on a soap box and preach about equality and inclusiveness. Yet no one was talking about the deleted information. It got blown way out of proportion and now there is still a riff in the community and Pride is very uncertain this year.

Many have the opinion that my violations were reported by someone who is trolling me online. I’m sure there are plenty of folks (and I can think of three off the top of my head) who do have the time and energy to read through all of my facebook posts and blogs to take me down, but the violations are actually from 3 to 5 years ago. Only a computer could go back that far because not even I can access my posts from more than 2 years ago. This is a computer program designed to look for “bad words”.

So, I decided to take my case to “Big Brother” himself….


Social Media, Algorithm, Facebook, Zuckerburg


Culture & People

Sr. Music Contributing Writer - A disc jockey since 1980, DJ Relentless has a career that has spanned from local dive bars to major club venues all over the United States, Amsterdam, the Dominican Republic and Toronto.

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