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Friday, August 19, 2011

Updated: Facebook issues 15 day bans on users, halt reasoning on why the social media platform was created

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A Reach Out Job Search News Op/Ed

As a user of Facebook for over a number of years, it has been one of the primary media resources to share information and meet other users with similar viewpoints. Lately, either Facebook itself or individuals operating on a precarious behalves, believe that free speech in cyberspace space should be limited and shut down.

By free speech, we aren’t speaking of talks of threats, hate or inappropriate discussions. Instead, we are writing about liberal, progressive, independent voices and even animal rights groups that are being accused of promoting spam content on Facebook.

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Wasn’t the core purpose of Facebook was to promote discussion and connection? Back before Facebook was a multi-billion dollar corporate entity with billions of page of data on its’ users for sell to other entities, it was a format of college connections. In the beginning, to join Facebook, the user needed an email address that ended with .edu instead of .com.

From there, Facebook learned along its journey that if they opened the internet social network platform to all users, they could collect profitable information on those individuals. Thus, by using applications like Farmville or Mafia Wars, more people would see Facebook as a social connection and gaming platform.

After information was collected on users friends, family, political positions, daily events, vacation spots and more on Facebook, are those same individuals not needed anymore? That’s the outstanding question with a number of people and fan pages in the last week receiving up to 15 day bans for sharing information on Facebook; instead of continuing adding details of their lives, creating more data for Facebook to sell.

“I was blocked trying to post links to two (2) pages of Academic Interest to the Bisexual portion of the LGBT Community -- really pretty boring links for researchers and students, etc. being posted to interested local Bisexual Groups,” user Brenda Howard stated.

“I recently received a notice that I was blocked from requesting friends for 30 days, I feel this is unfair, Facebook suggested these friends and I requested them - I do know them, or their family members and do not understand why this keeps happening,” user Gweko Phlocker replied.

Both Brenda and Gweko are regular everyday users of Facebook but, what about administrators and moderators of fan pages? Have they been impacted by either banning or threats of a ban off of the social networking platform? The answer would be yes.

Fifth-teen Day Bans are impacting Moderators of Facebook Fan pages

The moderator of a page with over 11,000 members called Republican Bigotry Hate Fear Lies and Distortion on August 18th was banned from posting links on their own Facebook page.

“Since (we are) censored by Facebook from sharing our page.... What will all of us do now?” the page moderator wrote.

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Facebook censoring ban goes deeper than groups with Democratic leanings. A story appeared  on Hamden, CT online news platform August 18th, regarding the social media network banning a number of users supporting animal rights causes from posting on the cyberspace resource.

Over the past few days, many Facebook users who work in animal rescue have logged into their accounts only to get an unwelcome message: their accounts have been suspended for 15 days for violating its terms of use for spamming.

The "spamming" they are guilty of is posting homeless animals on other rescue pages -- a common practice of sharing pets in need that has led to the re-homing of thousands of animals that may have otherwise been euthanized.

"I had not been on Facebook since Friday afternoon, and when I came back on late Sunday night, I did about ten posts on other pages," said Marie Marsh, the administrator of the Rescue Cocoa page that is advocating for a home for a dog in the North Haven Animal Shelter.

"I was then asked to log back in, but thought it weird so I turned the machine off, logged back in," she said, "and got a message saying I had violated the terms and conditions and was banned for 15 days, like so many."

Is the spam reporting to Facebook a highly coordinated operation to limit free speech?

Many are indeed being impacted by someone attempting to limit speech on the World Wide Web. But what or who is the cause for such behavior? Is it Facebook itself or some other coordinated group? 

On August 18th, Think Progress wrote a groundbreaking story that might shed light on what is the meat behind users being censored off of Facebook.

In presentations obtained by Think Progress  from the e-mail dump detailing the tactics potentially used against progressives, HB Gary Federal floated the idea of using “fake insider personas” to infiltrate left-leaning groups critical of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s policies.

As HB Gary Federal executive Aaron Barr described in several emails, his firm could work with partner companies Palantir and Berico Technologies to manipulate fake online identities, using networks like Facebook, to gain access to private information from his targets. 

Other presentations are more specific and describe efforts to use social media to hack computers and find vulnerabilities among even the families of people who work at organizations critical of the Chamber.

If this is the case, it would seem as Facebook has a huge problem on its’ hand and, would immediately take moves to correct this issue. The only problem with this talking point of view is that the back story on the Think Progress article consists of issues uncovered in late 2010, that have yet to be properly addressed.

On behalf of Facebook responses on its billion dollar's social media platform, they haven't updated their blog offering insight behind the "Spam Prevention Systems", since June 29, 2010.

As a global service connecting 400 million people, Facebook has helped build and extend communities around the world. As with any community, the benefits of bringing people together are occasionally accompanied by inappropriate or unacceptable conduct by a small number of people. This behavior ranges from thoughtless to criminal and can degrade the experience for others or undermine the community itself.

On Facebook, the most common unacceptable behavior involves some abuse of our communication tools. This can be as innocent as annoying others with too many messages or friend requests or as serious as deliberately trying to spam others for commercial gain.

We take these deliberate spam attacks seriously and devote a tremendous amount of our engineering time and talent to build systems that detect suspicious activity and automatically warn people about inappropriate behavior or links. Because of our efforts, only a very small percentage of people who use Facebook have ever experienced spam or a security issue.

Every once in a while, though, people misunderstand one of these systems. They incorrectly believe that Facebook is restricting speech because we've blocked them from posting a specific link or from sending a message to someone who is not a friend.

To try to be more transparent, we've been working to improve our warnings and make them more clear.

But are they clear? When users post links on pages they moderate or on pages were the page administrator approves of their post, why would Facebook turn around and accuse individuals or groups of spam, with shift block for up to 15 days? We’re sure that searching Facebook “Terms of Usage” will make this policy “more clear”.

What does Facebook Terms of Usage Policy and such says about this?

Facebook last updated their “Terms of Usage” policy on April 26, 2011, in a page called the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities”. Under section eight, “Special Provisions Applicable to Share Links” it states the following information.

If you include our Share Link button on your website, the following additional terms apply to you:
1.       We give you permission to use Facebook's Share Link button so that users can post links or content from your website on Facebook.
2.       You give us permission to use and allow others to use such links and content on Facebook.
3.       You will not place a Share Link button on any page containing content that would violate this Statement if posted on Facebook.

Well, a lament user would believe that if they post links from their website on Facebook, and that content is not mixed with hate, threats or inappropriate discussions, it should be allowed, right?

On user administrated pages where social media platforms are moderated by individual user(s), Facebook’s Page Terms stated the following on February 10, 2011.

1. Any user may create a Page; however, only an authorized representative of the subject matter may administer the Page. Pages with names consisting solely of generic or descriptive terms will have their administrative rights removed. 
2. Content posted to Pages is public information and is available to everyone.
3. If you collect information from users, you will obtain their consent, make it clear you (and not Facebook) are the one collecting their information, and post a privacy policy explaining what information you collect and how you will use it.
4. You must not build or incorporate any functionality that identifies which users visit your Page.
5. Applications on your Page must comply with the Facebook Platform Policies.
6. You take full responsibility for any sweepstakes, contest, competition or similar offering on your Page and must comply with our Promotions Guidelines.
7. Third party advertisements on Pages are prohibited. Ads or commercial content on Pages must comply with our Advertising Guidelines.
8. You will restrict access to your Page as necessary to comply with all applicable laws and Facebook terms and policies.
9. You may not establish terms beyond those set forth in these terms to govern the posting of content by users on a Page.
10. Page names must:
a. not consists solely of a generic or descriptive term (e.g. “beer” or “pizza”);
b. use proper, grammatically correct capitalization and may not include excessive capitalization or use all capitals;
c. not include character symbols, including but not limited to excessive punctuation and trademark designations; and
d. not includes taglines, superfluous descriptions, or unnecessary qualifiers. Campaign names and/or regional or demographic qualifiers are acceptable.

Posting links about the Environment of the World we live in should be allowed

Facebook user Burr Hubbell was banned from posting Saturday, August 13th , after linking a series of articles on Chesapeake Energy fracking processes. The highly controversial drilling technique called fracking, involves pumping water and chemicals into subterranean shale to break it apart and release gas, has been widely criticized as a pollution hazard for groundwater.

Supporting environmental causes shouldn't be a reason to ban users from Facebook but, similar to saving abused animals, posting links on environmental subjects is now enough to have users face at least a 15 day ban.

Hubbell letter to Reach Out Job Search News was the following:

I am active in several political campaigns, anti-fracking campaigns, helped to promote marriage equality in NY, am fighting to close Indian Point, and generally support a number of progressive causes.

On Saturday I was posting a series of articles on Chesapeake Energy on various anti-fracking pages.

My posts are generally well received in such forums.  They get many positive comments and are often picked up and shared in other people's new feeds, even those who are not my FB friends, but share a common interest in the same issue.

The posting behavior I was engaged in was the precise behavior I have engaged in 4 to 5 times per week for at least the last year.  In other words nothing out of the norm.  What was out of the norm was that I was suddenly banned without receiving any warning or caution.  In other words, I did not know, and had no way to know that what I was doing was suddenly unacceptable to Facebook.

Even more aggravating is my discovery that the owners and employees of Facebook are, ironically, faceless.  They have completely insulated themselves from any kind of communication, so that it is impossible to effectively communicate with them in any meaningful way, let alone file a complaint and expect to have it acted upon.

Among other things, this has caused me to reach out and get a Google+ invite from a friend.  I now have a Google+ account and am beginning to learn how to use that social network.  This may well be the beginning of the end of my relationship with Facebook.

I fully recognize that Facebook is a private enterprise and they are free to do as they will with their property.  However, I and the other users on Facebook provide them with their value.  They sell our "presence" on Facebook to advertisers and mine our profiles for data.  If they do not respect us as users, which are apparently the case, then we need to withdraw the value we provide to them, by taking our networking elsewhere.

For those impacted by Facebook indeterminate reasons with a 15 day ban, they're confused and baffled on how a private entity that has gained their fortune off of social networking techniques of their over 400 million users, can now fall silent on what is causing the social network to censor speech and discussion.

Let’s try and get a statement from Facebook on the record about this!

Trying to contact Facebook about a customer service issue is harder than connecting with a supervisor at the Central Intelligence Agency. 

The website Contact Help provides customer service numbers for various corporations, private entities and other resources, including "Facebook's Help Assistance" department. The only problem is the number provided sends the caller though a series of recorded messages, without ever connecting to a live individual.

“Facebook does not currently offer telephone support. You can press 0 to leave a message, but not sure what that does,” cited on Contact Help website.

For the purposes of writing this article, Reach Out Job Search News made an attempt to contact 650-543-4800 and pressed “0” twice, to receive help on our 15 day fan page ban. Upon the call, we received a repeat of the following message:

“Thank you for contacting Facebook, if you know your parties extension, you can dial it at any time. For customer support, press '1', for law enforcement press '2'…”

After we pressed '1', the message was:

“Thank you for calling Facebook user operations. We do not offer telephone user support at this time…”

The message cited that we must log on to Facebook and click on the “help” session to overview answers which might solve our issue.

After connecting with a series of pages review our problem, we found a “warnings” page. Unfortunately, Facebook’s written explanation still didn't provide clarity about our situation on receiving a 15 day ban and, we are sure their posting didn’t make it clear for other users either.

I was warned for misusing a Facebook feature

§  Violations of the Facebook Terms: Including posting content that contains nudity, threats, hate speech, graphic violence, or using the site to bully, impersonate, or harass anyone. Learn more about our policies by reading the Facebook Community Standards. 
§    Feature overuse: There are limits to restrict the rate at which you can use features on the site. Overusing features is not allowed because it may make other people feel annoyed or unsafe.

It is a violation of the Facebook Terms to repeatedly send the same message or to make the same post as it may be construed as spam or harassment. Additionally, we ask that you respect our members by not contacting them for commercial purposes without their consent. 

If you would like to use Facebook for your business, please create a Facebook Page. Pages give brands and businesses an opportunity to create a presence on Facebook.

Learn more about our policies by reviewing the Facebook Community Standards.

Facebook has security systems to stop abusive actions. The systems automatically identify the following types of behavior:
§ Feature overuse: There are limits to restrict the rate at which you can use features on the site. Overusing features is not allowed because it may make other people feel annoyed or unsafe.
§ Unwanted contact: Our systems detect when friend requests you send to others are being ignored at a high rate and volume. Using Facebook to contact many people you don't know is not allowed because it may make them feel threatened, harassed, or unsafe.

Further misuse of site features may result in a temporary block, or your account being permanently disabled from Facebook. 

Ok, but none of our posts, we believe, was spamming, at all.

Instead, what we did was post news and Op/Ed articles on our blog that receives 20-25K page views per month. Good for us and other users, other social media platforms like Stumbleupon, Digg and Google + at least at this point, aren’t placing the brakes on the proposes of the World Wide Web, which was created in part to share information.

If people can’t use a social media platform to find work, it should go the way My Space

Rhonda Taylor, an advocate for unemployed Americans, uses Facebook to connect with companies and other users who understand their individual situations. She was shocked after receiving a 15 day ban for posting sites that could help the jobless.

Taylor, who have appeared on various news organization shows such as MSNBC ‘The Ed Show’, Fox News and internationally based RT News on behalf jobless 99ers, was truly puzzled on why she would be hit with such a ban.

“I am wondering why my account is suspended during a time where I am advocating for unemployed and actively working on helping 99ers connect with other to avoid homelessness I have in no way had any spam on my account and would like a legal explanation as to why this harassment of flagging is allowed here in Facebook without being able to address false complaints...I have appeared on MSNBC and FOX Business and CNN and am an active target for the political trolls on Facebook.” Taylor wrote.

“There has to be a better remedy than what your program has allowed to continue to happen. I would like an explanation from the legal department as to how this account was suspended for 15 days with no spamming that occurred. My last post was in regarding a looking for a home for a 99er in TN and now, I am suspended.  I hope that my account will be corrected immediately,” Taylor requested.

We hope so too Rhonda, we really do.
Update-8/19/2011 @ 4:30 PM-It appears that by the e-mail response user Rhonda Taylor received, Facebook at least acknowledge there was a problem within the social network recording the sharing of information as spam content.
Your account was mistakenly blocked from posting on Pages. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. We've lifted the block from your account, and you should now be able to post again.  We're constantly building and refining Facebook to protect members from spam. You can read more about these systems in our blog post here:
These systems aren't directed at any particular cause or point of view. However, no system is perfect, and ours occasionally make mistakes. We're investigating the system that caused the block and making changes to help prevent future errors.   Thanks for your understanding. The Facebook Team
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