Imagine you are in a club surrounded by your family and friends just enjoying life. Without notice, a bouncer grabs you, tosses you out of the club into the cold and slams the door in your face. You bang on the door but no one answers, no one even attempts to tell you why you have been kicked out — this is what it feels like to be disabled by Facebook.
I was going through my day as I normally do — posting updates, commenting on friends pages — nothing rude or excessive. I work as a paralegal, so I don’t have much time to spend on Facebook — I just pop my head in from time to time. However, after trying to update my status, I was told that I needed to log in. I didn’t find this abnormal, but when I tried to, I was greeted with this message:
We just launched Plugged
It's our cool new gadget site.
“Your account has been disabled. If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit our FAQ page.”
Of course I searched Google afterward to find the fastest way to get this issue fixed, and I came to find out that this happens a lot on the social network. In fact, it often takes them weeks to let users know why their account was disabled in the first place — in some cases they don’t ever allow “the accused” to get their accounts back.
Ridiculous examples of disabled accounts from all walks (and crawls) of life:
- A Catholic Social Commentator
- Robert Scoble – Tech blogger
- Joel Comm – NY Times Best Selling Author
- Dark Angel – A guy who legally changed his name to Dark Angel, and still got banned (YouTube Video)
- Laszlo Stein – A 3 month-old baby
But why me?
After researching these cases, I realized that it may have been Adium, an IM client I use on my Mac, behind the reason for my removal. Adium can also log into Facebook chat, and for the past few days I had been noticing it log on and off of Facebook very rapidly. I didn’t pay it any attention — maybe Facebook saw this action as a type of attack on their system using my account. However, how difficult would it have been for Facebook to send me an email that said something along the lines of, “We notice that you have been logging on and off of your account excessively. Please fix this error within X hours or contact us so that we can assist you in correcting it.”
With as democratic as Facebook tries to appear, most people would never imagine that they are capable of things like this. Looking at the situation from my side of things, it seems like a scene from one of those future “quasi utopia” movies where the society appears to be happy, but those that are felt to be a threat to the established order are quickly silenced.
Personally, I think this policy of guilty until proven innocent is extremely irresponsible on Facebook’s part. When you run a site that is the equivalent of a digital society, you should at least give a warning or probationary period. At least let users know what they did wrong so that they can fix the problem.
You see, Facebook encourages users to share their digital life through the service, however, they give us no easy way to get our information out — like backing up our data.
I’m a soldier, and I mainly use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family while I’m abroad. If this had happened while deployed it would be a far more serious problem, because it’s my direct line of communication back to my loved ones. Yes, I could use email, but it is much easier to simply post on my wall to everyone instead of personally emailing all 400+ friends and family.
What about our data?
Even if you get fired from a job, you get the chance to go and pack up your personal items in your desk before you leave. Users have pictures, videos, poetry, and scores of other personal creations — not to mention the value of the conversations and the personal network you have taken time to build. Now, to the user most of the value of these things is sentimental of course, but you’d be a fool to think that Facebook doesn’t put a price on a user’s account.
I used to manage my mother’s Facebook ad campaign. What would have happened if I still did? How would I have stopped the ad campaign or adjust it once my account was disabled? Come on, Facebook, not only am I a valuable user, but I was a paying customer — as are many others. Couldn’t I at least get a little explanation for what is going on and be given a chance to fix whatever the problem is?
I understand Facebook’s need to protect itself from spam, but why do innocent users have to be sacrificed in the process?
Today it was me, tomorrow it could be you. Is there anything we can do to insist that Facebook be more open with how they handle these situations, or will all users forever stay at risk of becoming victims to this secret police-style banishing?
What if it happens to you?
If you are the victim of a senseless Facebook suspension, contact them from the email account associated with the account at email@example.com. I also hear some users have had success with firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure that you include your full name, date of birth, your login email address, and any additional information or questions that you may have.
Then be prepared to wait for a very long time. Its only been 52 hours for me and counting…
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