Help D.M. Murdock Get Her Facebook Account Reinstated

Jesus mythicist D.M. Murdock (aka Acharya S) has had her Facebook account terminated (permanently, FB claims) merely for posting a picture calling attention to religious child abuse. She documents the story on her own website here. My email box received a request to sign a petition over the weekend, and I signed. I recommend everyone do so. Our own Ophelia Benson has also written about this fiasco. She concurs.

There is no sound reason for Facebook’s action. The most they should have done is requested modification of the image to blur offensive sections of it (which Murdock would have been happy to do). Although even that is childish on their part (unless they are genuinely concerned about privacy issues, which would be a first), it would not be as absurd as killing her entire Facebook account. One might ignorantly argue any picture of naked children being sexually abused in a religious ritual is “child porn” and thus intolerable, but even that (which ignores the distinctions between porn and legitimate journalism and activism and the documenting of crimes against humanity…indeed, the image came from a news magazine) would have been solved by simple modification of the image to satisfy the prudes (as Murdock demonstrates) or victim’s advocates (whom Murdock would likewise be happy to oblige).

Everyone should voice their opposition to Facebook’s action in this case and demand a reversal.


  1. says

    I’ve signed. It is entirely uncalled for and amounts to not only standing in the way of legitimate anthropological research, but censoring important news from the public and preventing the truth about religious abuse from being more widely known so that more can be done about it.

  2. Pirate says


    The people who raped a 16-year old girl in Steubenville recorded the act and shared their recordings. If some journalist had got hold of those recordings and posted them on a news site without any redaction, would you have supported this act as legitimate journalism? If not, what do you think the difference is?

    • says

      A gang rape is not the same thing as what the image in this case depicts (which is basically just a gynocological exam, albeit done for religious reasons rather than legitimate medical ones). So the analogy fails.

      But even if we were to set aside the fact that it’s a false analogy and ask your question independently on its own, the only relevant question here is whether it would be acceptable to show it redacted (e.g. certain elements blurred). I don’t know the answer to that question, as I can see valid arguments on both sides. A key factor would be measuring the purpose of it (the validity of what doing that would accomplish), against the costs (obvious case where costs are outweighed: it should be shown to a jury…which warrants the question, what if the public is the only jury?). But since that isn’t what’s at issue in this case, we don’t have to resolve that debate here. Murdock did not post a video of the Steubenville rape. Or any video. Or any rape.

  3. says

    Facebook: Always ready to destroy accounts other than the truly offensive or potentially dangerous.

    Still, I wonder when Facebook users will finally kill the thing and leave it to rot. How often does FB have to demonstrate how badly it consistently sucks?

    • says

      It’s QWERTY. Economic lock-in. It has so much market share it costs people more in learning curve to switch en masse to another social networking site, so it doesn’t actually have to be responsive to the market at all. They can do any stupid and callous thing imaginable and have a completely shitty design and functionality and still no one can afford not to be on it. It’s an example of how capitalism does not always work. We learned that when VHS killed Betamax.

    • Félix Desrochers-Guérin says

      VHS is definitely not the first example of economic lock-in that comes to my mind, especially when talking about anything computer-related. There’s a certain software company whose products are often way past the point in market share where not playing well with others stops being a flaw and becomes a viable buisness strategy. This leads to oddities like certain publishers demanding manuscripts in .doc(x) format even though there’s nothing Office can do that won’t be immediately tossed out when the document gets in the hands of a real typographer.

    • Numenaster says

      That lockin is called a network effect and is described by Metcalfe’s Law. Bob Metcalfe coined it to describe the value of a computer network, specifically Ethernet, but it applies to social networks as well. The value of the network increases proportional to the SQUARE of the number of the connections, so it’s a powerful effect.

      And since the primary value of Facebook is the sheer number of other people connected to it, lousy user interface or awful security practices do little to affect its value.'s_law

    • Jet says

      Do you have any recommended reading on the inefficiency of QWERTY? I’ve heard apocryphal explanations of this (secretaries were so fast they would break old mechanical typewriters, and thus, we created intentionally inefficient keyboard setups), but anything evidence based suggests there are no significant advantages (after factoring in training time) in switching to another system. The real advances seem to come from stenography.

    • says

      Well, you can’t just say “after factoring in training time.” It’s training time that is a factor. An alpha layout is probably easier to learn, and certainly more intuitive–as evidenced by how quickly people learn to text using what are now essentially alpha keyboards (which are a happenstance adaptation from Bell telephone’s rotary alphabet, now aided by T9 software).

      But it’s true, after looking into it, I see that once trained there is likely no difference in speed of typing. The QWERTY was apparently designed to keep certain common combinations of letters further apart in the mechanical armatures in early typewriters so they wouldn’t be swung often in immediate sequence, rather to slow the entire process of typing down. I had that wrong. It looks like Wikipedia covers the subject well.

  4. says

    Tech note for Richard: WordPress has borked your link to Ophelia’s blog. Nothing new here, and I’d post the link stripped of the offending blog-admin link segment, but you will see my note at the same time as it could be moderated for posting.

  5. ApostateltsopA says

    How is the image not child exploitation? Was consent to show it obtained anywhere? Keep in mind the children can not consent. The arguments that this has a vvalue which make the harm it does regretaboe but necessary are the exact same ones that are used when violence is perpetrated in the name of order, we just had to break those eggs to get our omlett.

    There is no health benifit to the abuse depicted, that is child abuse pure and simple to compare it to medicine is as ridiculous as Ophelia comparing the images of live humans to those of corpses.

    Showing this images dehumanizes all involved. In this instance Facebook got it right.

    • says

      Lots of journalism, photographic and otherwise, is morally conducted without consent. Think of almost all war photography, all photographs of almost any crimes whatever, holocaust photos, you name it. So if you think lack of consent should outlaw any publication, you are arguing for vast amounts of censorship.

      That’s your prerogative. But I would suggest you rethink such a simplistic moral philosophy first.

      The way crimes are fought, the way awareness is raised, the way populations’ outrage is generated, is through publishing visceral truths of what is happening.

      Whether that holds in this case, or whether Facebook should be more strict than, say, Time magazine or public holocaust archives, is debatable. But that debate is not relevant to whether an entire account should have been permanently terminated, when simply removing or redacting the image would do (with an explanation why so any warning against future infractions can be followed).

  6. Pirate says

    I disagree with your characterization of this as a gynecological exam rather than rape. It has no legitimate medical purpose. It may not be a paradigmatic instance of rape, but it is closer to the “rape” cluster than to the “gynecological exam” cluster, at least along morally relevant dimensions. These girls are being abused, having their bodily integrity unjustifiably violated, and while I cannot attest to whether the procedure is traumatic for them in the moment, I would not be surprised if it was (at least for some of them). I suspect the person who posted the picture in the first place agrees with me on this.

    Still, let me grant that it is a gynecological exam and repurpose my analogy accordingly: Suppose I obtain pictures of a young American girl undergoing a gynecological exam. Let’s grant that she is aware that I have taken this picture, but has not consented to me sharing it with anyone, and neither have her parents. But American gynecological practices are of legitimate anthropological interest to me, so I put up the picture on my blog without any censoring (I realize Acharya did censor the picture, but I was exposed to it on Ophelia Benson’s blog, and she has posted it uncensored). This still seems to me an immoral thing to do.

    If you agree with this judgment, I suspect the main difference you see between the cases is that in my example, the posting of the picture is not contributing a sufficiently powerful countervailing good. I guess I think the same is true with the posting of the virginity testing picture. While I am aware that pictures can sometimes shock people into action in a way that words cannot, I’m pretty unconvinced that the expected utility boost from the posting of this picture is sufficient to outweigh the harm (most of the harm comes, I think, from contributing to a culture in which consent is undervalued, especially the consent of people in the third world, who are often objectified by people who purport to be their “saviors”).

    • says

      Rape requires penetration, by definition.

      Checking for intact hymens does not involve penetration, by definition.

      As for the rest, you are welcome to argue that no one should ever publish uncensored photos of some particular kind (one can even argue that all paparazzi photos are immoral to publish, for instance), and Facebook can set any reasonable policy accordingly. But that has nothing to do with whether someone’s entire Facebook account should be terminated when merely removing the photo and explaining why (and thus warning against further infractions) would redress the problem.

      And that’s the only relevant issue in the present thread.

      If you want to debate the morality of posting photos like this, that’s a different matter, and you should venture over to Murdock’s website and start a debate in her comment threads.

  7. ApostateltsopA says

    Richard, you are avoiding my points and equivicating. Stop a moment and look back. You would not need to dodge so if you were right and I was wrong. As I already stated the holocost victims are dead. No further harm can be done to them. These children are probably still alive. All of you advocating this picture either need to state that a similar image involving westerns should also be fair game. By your logic the stubenville victim should not have enjoyed anynomity or image censoring.

    Secondly, what the hell is going on in the comment above this one, you are arguing semantics about a rape needing penetration, would this being “merely” a sexual assult make the picture ok, should sexual assult victims have any expectation of privacy? Remember this picture was posted deliberately to shock. it is acknowledged that a wrong is taking place and these girls are being harmed. minimizing that to make the picture okish is beyond disengenious, it ignores the context and the content for semantics. However, if you have the stomach for it, I don’t, take a closer look at that girl closest to the camera, those fingers are penetrating her in front of all of us thanks to a non redacted, not censored image.

    Also no, I am not advocating massive scale censorship or even criminization I have filed charges against no one. However I say the explotation of children for any purpose is wrong. The purpose can be better served without victimizing the victims again. If you agree to that idea for rape victims here in the west why would you not feel the same for victims in another region?

    Finally, this action is a direct consequence of the success womens groups had with facebook. You seriously can’t see the legal hell they would have to live in if some pictures of assult on minors are ok and others aren’t? Are you actually going to claim there is some legal definition that would allow this and deny the other images of children out there?

    Where are the people with intent and not magic on this issue? FTB is usually pretty good about that.

    • says

      Richard, you are avoiding my points and equivicating.

      I’m not equivocating, I’m preventing you from derailing the thread with an irrelevant debate.

      If you want to debate when it’s appropriate to use certain images, that’s a debate you should engage somewhere else. If you want to debate specifically this image, the appropriate venue is Murdock’s own forum.

      The present article (and thus thread) is about the inappropriateness of the response (terminating an account, rather than removing or redacting the objectionable image).

  8. Great American Satan says

    Naw. Just completely Naw. I’ve tended to agree with almost everything you’ve said in the past, to the extent I’ve been able to understand it without a master’s degree. But this? Fuck that shit. You, Ophelia, and Murdock are all simply wrong. I see in your slimy sounding reply to comment 6 that you’re referring debate about the morality of this to Murdock’s site, so I won’t waste your time with my reasoning, but the fact you three see no problem with this shows a shocking lack of empathy. Basically, you’re so into the activist message (a fine thing to be) that you’ve let yourself be completely blind to the harm this kind of thing can cause.

    So Murdock can’t use facebook now. Boo fucking hoo. It ain’t the only social media in the world, and sometimes fuckups deserve consequences. Many people who would otherwise be in agreement about almost everything you guys stand for will not go to bat for this one. Consider it, if you’re willing.

  9. ApostateltsopA says

    ” I’m not equivocating, I’m preventing you from derailing the thread with an irrelevant debate.”

    Seriously?! Talking about the apropriatness of the image is a derail when discussing the action facebook took reguarding the image? In what way does that make any kind of sense, or are you just no longer willing to defend the thing that was done?

    • says

      The issue here is not whether the image should be removed or redacted in some way…because everyone agrees (even Murdock) that that would be an acceptable request from Facebook, and that there are legitimate debates to be had on such points.

      The issue here is whether her entire account should be permanently terminated over this.

      Facebook agreed with us, as they have restored her account.

  10. ischemgeek says

    For me, the issue is this: I am a survivor of childhood abuse. My abuser took photos. If those photos got out, onto the internet for malicious use, I would be humiliated.

    If those photos got out onto the internet for altruistic intent,I would still be humiliated.

    But that wouldn’t happen to me, because as a white woman from an affluent country, North American society recognizes that I deserve to be protected from re-victimization in that way.

    I ask you: do these girls not deserve to be protected from re-victimization? There are ways of letting the world know about this – of conducting journalism into it – without exposing those girls, uncensored and without consent, to the entire world. They could find women who do consent for their photos to be shown. They could report on it without images, using an interview with a pseudonym to protect privacy. They could have blurred their faces. There are ways of reporting on this that do not ignore the victims’ right not to be re-victimized.

    I appreciate the intent. But as far as those girls are concerned, whether they intended good or not is immaterial to the fact that they’ve been re-victimized by Ophelia and everyone else who’s shared that photo in its uncensored form.

    I do not think Facebook should issue a permaban over this, but this and all other forms of shock reporting into these issues that ignore the victim’s best interest, that ignore the fact that those girls may well have that photo follow and haunt them throughout their lives, that ignore the social consequences to the victims of being exposed to the entire world in such a way, I can’t support. I can’t support the argument that says, “For the greater good, it’s okay to re-victimize these girls.” Especially not when there are ways of doing that good without re-victimization.

  11. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    It was only a couple of weeks ago that Facebook was refusing to take down a Web site asking if an atheist should be murdered. Despite the fact that it was a pretty clear criminal violation. No, asking if someone should be murdered in a way that suggests you want them to be murdered is not legal, if a reasonable person would interpret it as incitement to murder then it is incitement to murder regardless of attempts to dance round it.

    Being banned from Facebook is like being banned from Walmart. Its not a sign you are doing something wrong, rather the reverse.

  12. Skeptical Atheist says

    I see the A+ crowd is turning on you now. Don’t feel bad Dick, it was inevitable. They can’t be reasoned with!

    • says

      It’s weird seeing people complain that A+ advocates all think alike, then when we prove they actually often openly and actively disagree with each other, act like this is a defect.

      It’s weirder when you do this, and we aren’t even disagreeing (I haven’t said every case for certain kinds of redacting of the image is wrong).

      So you somehow delusionally see an “A+ crowd” (a couple random people is a crowd?) “turning on me” when in reality they are just calmly and politely disagreeing with me, and barely even at that (since I haven’t even said I wholly disagree with them).

      I would rather be part of a community that disagrees on things calmly and politely and debates issues like this, than one that thinks doing that is “not being reasonable.”

      You, evidently, would rather be part of a hive mind, since you are evidently so disgusted by the idea of being in a community of people politely disagreeing and debating things.

      I’ll stick with my community of lively and fair debate. No hive mind for me. You can have that for yourself.

  13. says

    LOL First off Richard, I wholeheartedly agree about liking to be in a group of lively, fair and healthy debate than a ‘hive’ as said above. I could see sides of this whether posting the pic was right by her or not, but as you said over and over it wasn’t about that, it was about deleting her account on the infraction instead of removing the picture. I’m with you that facebook should make some better judgements on why they are removing accounts. They removed an atheist group yesterday and heard no reason why they did it. I can’t defend them since I didn’t hear for sure if there wasn’t more to it but I hope they are not censoring atheists from speaking out or stopping us from gathering in rooms without good reason. It wasn’t a group I was part of but I have one that I am the moderator of for religious discussion and another atheist group I’m signed up in.

    Off topic a little, I’ve been on S. Murdock’s facebook page for awhile in the past. However, with her things didn’t go over well with a convo we had and she deleted me for a simple disagreement with no cussing or insults at all on my part. I decided she at least that night was not as mature as I thought to delete me for such an infraction as disagreeing with her. Perhaps it was a bad night or whatever the case doesn’t matter. I just hope to find more people like you apparently that appreciate healthy debate and discussion. And I am glad she got her account back, I have no ill-will of her and wish her well. I would have signed the petition even had I read this sooner. Anyway I’m happy to find this blog and meet you if you read this. Also hope to read your books soon. I’ve watched your debates and other things on youtube, but haven’t had the money to buy your books yet. For my first book what do you suggest of your writings?