- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009


A Facebook poll asking whether President Obama should be assassinated has sparked an Internet uproar - with new polls calling for the offending poll creator’s arrest and other social-networking sites questioning their policies amid an unprecedented level of online vitriol.

“It’s like free speech on steroids,” said Jesse Farmer, the Palo Alto, Calif., Web developer whose technology was used to inquire whether Mr. Obama should be killed in a Facebook poll, which is being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service.

Mr. Farmer told The Washington Times in an interview that the incident has sparked a debate about how the Internet’s gatekeepers can handle a flood of Internet activity without infringing on constitutional rights.

On Monday, the Political Carnival blog broke the news using a screen grab of the “Should Obama be killed” poll, created by someone using Mr. Farmer’s third-party Facebook application.

The poll listed four options: Yes. Maybe. No. If he cuts my health care.

Mr. Farmer said the answer was overwhelmingly “No,” with 98 percent of the 731 people choosing that option before the poll was disabled.

The news caused a firestorm, as it came after a summer of angry protests that included signs featuring Mr. Obama as Adolf Hitler and after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she feared the political discourse had become so degraded it could lead to violence.

Even those who denounced the poll were worried that its reach was overblown.

Ken, who blogs at PopeHat, said such Internet posts are “worthy of contempt” but are “not true threats.” He said it’s troublesome some are attempting to censor free speech.

Mr. Farmer’s daily routine includes checking for offensive material among the sometimes 10,000 polls created daily using his application.

After looking at what’s been flagged as offensive by some of the 300 million people on Facebook, Mr. Farmer uses his own judgment call to yank polls. He said many polls have either rude or crude language, and he disables those that target nonpublic figures.

The Secret Service did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Facebook users took it into their own hands to create polls denouncing the original post and asking how Facebook should be punished - with a fine, by issuing an apology or instituting better safeguards.

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