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Helen Popkin
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msnbc.com
updated 10/14/2009 9:01:07 AM ET 2009-10-14T13:01:07

Well, it’s happened. They’ve finally arrested someone for egregious poking on Facebook.

Granted, Shannon D. Jackson wasn’t arrested last week strictly on charges of abusing Facebook’s most annoying application. In doing so however, the 36-year-old poking perp from Hendersonville, Tenn., violated an order of protection — one that stipulated “no telephoning, contacting or otherwise communicating with the petitioner.” Jackson faces up to 11 months, 29 days in jail and a possible fine of up to $2,500.

No doubt Jackson’s offending Facebook poke was just the latest in a long string of harassment, part of which likely occurred in meat space. Alone, the Facebook “Poke” is simply not criminal — though there are plenty of Facebookers who’d gladly join a FB petition group to see such a law enacted. (Start one now!)

Like any vestigial organ, the purposeless poke is degenerate, atrophied and in rudimentary condition, and can only lead to a nasty infection — say, a $2,500 fine — should it remain in the otherwise functioning organism that is Facebook.

Think about it. How and when is poking ever OK? Poking in a real world scenario is either a metaphor for “doing It,” or it means jabbing someone with your finger. Who does that? I mean, who does that other than a 4-year-old going, “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom ... Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom ... Mom. Mom. Mom ...” That’s the most positive spin you can put on poking and even that’s annoying.

“Personally I think the term ‘poke’ is inappropriate unless you either a) know the person well, or b) are a promiscuous college student,” writes Jack W. Brown, this guy I know from Facebook.

Indeed, this guy has a point. The poke remains on the world’s most popular social networking site as little more than a remnant of its University-exclusive roots.

As a simple tool used to increase one’s ability to mate (thanks to the convergence of language), the poke left little room for misunderstandings. Say you meet an attractive someone back on the campus quad during a Hacky Sack, Extreme Frisbee or Binge Drinking tournament, or whatever the kids did back then. You go back to your dorm room, look her or him up on Facebook and send a friendly, metaphorical “poke,” as in, “Here, this is just a prelude to what I’d like to do in real life.”

Now that Facebook includes moms and dads and grandparents and co-workers, the meaning of the poke is no longer clear. Again, this was a function created for college students. (If you want to poke your Grans, maybe you should be arrested.)

Facebook provides little guidance for post-grad users of today. The Help section opaquely describes the poke as if it”s the “Aloha” of cyberspace, that it can be used to say “Hello,” or whatever, and that poking someone with whom you are not friends will allow that person to temporarily view your basic, work and education info.

Technotica’s attempt to contact Facebook failed to return further clarification.

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Nonetheless, the complicated human animal has managed to imbue this simple cyber action with enough meaning and consequence to launch a thousand morning-show segments on Facebook etiquette. Kathy Lee can gasp until all the oxygen has left her body, and we are still no closer to a universal understanding of what it is to poke in this day and age.

I suggest we all go with Urban Dictionary’s definition of the “Poke,” “Facebook's outreach to passively aggressive suitors, stalkers and lushes,” and call it a day.

Consider the Jackson case. What if she’d been arrested for hitting up the petitioner for some needed piece of “Mafia Wars” contraband, forwarding a “Brady Bunch” quiz challenge or tagging the petitioner in her “People I Stalk” photo album? 

This would never occur of course, because unlike those Facebook activities, the poke app is blatant encouragement to break the social contract. It’s an invitation to haunt those of us attempting the “friend ‘em and forget ‘em” tactic most high school graduates on Facebook honorably observe with people they’d rather not know anymore … or ever.

(’Cause dude, if I’ve cut off all other lines of communication, chances are I wasn’t opening the door for Internet touching. I considered that understood.)

Of course, there are always exceptions. Even now, I’m engaged in an epic poke war — one that pales even the most fearsome mmporg— with someone I know only through Facebook. My adversary initiated it through what he describes as a “Shock and Awe” campaign, but I will end it. (Oh yes, Ingmar Goldson. I. Will. End. You.)

Alas, for those who are not worthy opponents, the only weapon against the poke is “remove.”

“Now if only Facebook had a ‘Flip the bird’ function or a dislike,” suggests Wendy Garcia, this lady I know from Facebook. “I'd really love a dislike.”

Break the social contract by friending Helen A.S. Popkin on Facebook, or discover new and exciting ways to be annoying when you follow her on Twitter.

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