Watch what you say on Facebook…

After posting what was an admittedly insensitive and inflammatory comment on his Facebook wall, legendary film critic Roger Ebert found his profile completely deleted, albeit temporarily.

You’ll have to bare with me through the background info but I can assure you there are some intriguing questions to be found here:

Ryan Dunn, one of the stars of MTV’s ‘Jackass’, died early Monday morning in a car crash in Pennsylvania, an apparent victim of his own drunk driving. (police have yet to confirm that alcohol was involved in his death)

News of Dunn’s death elevated him to a trending topic on twitter throughout the day, with friends and family alike sharing remembrances and farewells. And then, around midday came the following Facebook post from Roger Ebert: “Friends don’t let jackasses drink and drive”.

What should have stopped there as a tactless but forgettable comment was elevated to the extreme when, in an apparent response to the complaints of several users, Facebook determined that Ebert was in violation of its terms of use and deleted his account.

His Facebook profile deleted, Ebert responded via twitter:

Now, putting all social media soap opera antics aside, the most intriguing and yes, widely applicable concern to draw from this sad event is Facebook’s apparent willingness to take immediate punitive action against what it deems as objectionable material. I’ll be the first to admit that there are plenty of people out there whose online presence we could do without, but in an age where social media has expanded to relative ubiquity, do Ebert’s comments really represent the most inflammatory remarks out there?

Facebook’s terms of use have grown since its inception from simplistic to the opaque behemoth of current day. There were cries of foul play a couple of years ago when the company modified the document to claim apparent ownership of all its users’ personal information, but a newfound willingness to police its users, and in such an obviously bias fashion (go ahead and post the exact same comment to your wall as Ebert and I guarantee you won’t find your account deleted) is perhaps equally as startling.

In David Fincher’s movie ‘The Social Network’, Justin Timberlake’s character famously claims, “Facebook is cool.” How much longer can that hip image prevail amongst a spectre of censorship? Should communication over social media qualify as free speech?