October 29th started as any other day. We sat down in the office, Zoe logged in to e-learning, Jason placed his laptop next to me and we all spent the morning in our little workstations together. At about 2pm, while watching a video on Facebook from a mom talking about the curriculum her daughter was working on, my browser suddenly refreshed on its own and a little box popped up saying, “Your account has been disabled for Violating Community Standards”. What!? Thinking maybe I just got hacked thanks to the video I was watching, I closed my browser, and signed back into Facebook. Nope. “Your account has been disabled for violating Community Standards. If you think this is a mistake, you can request a review through our Help Center”. Well, hell yes this is a mistake! I hadn’t even posted anything that morning! What the hell could I have done to “violate Community Standards” and what violation was it? So I go through the motions to request a review. They want me to upload a photo of my ID. Which gives me even more pause because – why? My account was 13 years old. I had never been put on warning, I had never been in Facebook jail. There was no reason to have to prove anything because I use Facebook the way you’re supposed to – catch up with friends from high school, share pictures of the kids so the in laws in Florida can see them, and sell an occasional bag of kids’ clothing. I also use it as a primary source for my business.
I begrudgingly upload a picture of my ID, because I have nothing to hide, right? I haven’t done anything and this is all a big mistake. Bewildered by what could have possibly caused this to happen, I hit the submit button, sure that this will all get cleared up here in a moment.
Nope. “Your account has been disabled for violating Community Standards. This decision cannot be reversed.” What in fresh hell?!?
After going through what I would now consider the Five Stages of Digital Death Grief – immoderate sobbing, vows of vengeance and boycott, depression and lost data recollection, pissed-off letter writing to outlets that don’t even care you exist, and finally, acceptance by way of other means of communication – I now have come to a transcendental phase where I have accepted the circumstances, but I rarely go down without a fight. But first, I had to ask myself what actually happened, and now I know I, like thousands others in the last few months, didn’t do anything at all – and Facebook’s AI algorithms starts acting bigger than their britches. The only problem is, even though Facebook has admitted in front of Senate Judiciary hearings that the AI makes mistakes and accidentally removes content and users without merit, they haven’t taken the algorithms down a peg like they need to. They just keep letting them censor and remove countless people and posts. But here’s the problem – well, the first of many – they’re breaking their own rules. Stay with me on this one.
I make it a point not to post politically. Most people who know me personally know that I will trumpet all day long about being more active in local government than in bipartisan elections; that one’s voice is much louder the closer the government is to your home. I’m talking mayoral elections, school boards, state reps – these are the offices that directly interfere and deal with your daily life, and yet they’re the least paid attention to…but people will diatribe all day long on social media about candidate A or B in a nationwide election. The entire notion boggles my mind – but that’s a whole ‘nother post for another time. That all being said, I know I wasn’t removed for poo-pooing or championing Biden or Trump, because I frankly don’t spend my time on social media for that – remember? I’m selling couches and sharing posts about Trunk or Treating. Most conservatives will tell you that they’re being censored for simply being conservative, but while listening to these hearings (oh yeah, imagine this timing, amirite? This all happened in between not one but TWO Senate hearings where Facebook and Twitter had to answer to panels for…ready? CENSORING! But ya know…..I digress….) many Democrats accused Facebook of actually allowing more conservative content to go unbanned. It was an interesting argument, until I realized that both sides were pretty loud on social media. I started seeing a common denominator. My Libertarian friends were all getting struck down. Why? Is it because we refuse to take a stance? Is it because we won’t get into the lunchroom fight over which team we’re on? Is it because we spend more time calling out the ridiculousness of the squabbles of a two party system? We may never know. That’s one of my theories. I just know I didn’t get removed for politics.
I started doing research on people who have been banned or disabled. The range was huge. It spanned from kids who bought a $500 Oculus Quest 2 VR headset, which cannot be used unless you make a Facebook profile, then said Facebook profile gets banned for “suspicious identity” because IT’S A KID MAKING A PROFILE, rendering the $500 VR headset into a very expensive paperweight, to trans people who were changing their name after gender affirmation, and trans LGBTQ activists who are advocates against hate speech. In fighting back, and shedding light on the bullying, they were being banned! In the days after I was disabled, friends were reporting back that their accounts were being put in Facebook jail for liking a meme. Direct sales consultants were being banned and restricted because they used the words “Dirty French” – the name of a new fragrance their company had just launched. It was getting completely out of hand.
To add a cherry to the top of this shit sundae, we here in Illinois have this law that makes it illegal for any company to obtain biometric data from us without our knowledge and/or express permission. we learned this when Six Flags tried to make us all register our season passes with a thumbprint – that lasted a whole week before the entire program was scrapped. The same rules apply to facial recognition technology – you know, when Facebook started getting creepy and asking you if the person in this picture is your friend whatsherface? Yeah that’s not allowed in Illinois. While it was “super convenient” that you didn’t have to tag every. single. photo. of yourself from here on out, it was actually for a more nefarious reason. In fact, there’s a $650 million settlement from Facebook coming our way due to a class action lawsuit for just that. Turns out, the “post your first selfie and a current selfie” challenge was actually to update your aging face in their database. (What?! You mean that challenge Katelyn sent me wasn’t just for fun?!) It’s filed right up there with “let’s play a game! What your mother’s maiden name?”. Well, it doesn’t seem to hold much water anyway, because although the lawsuit went to settlement, and Facebook was supposed to turn off facial recognition unless we specifically turn it back on, it didn’t seem to be turned off when, like most people who get disabled, an attempt to make a new profile immediately gets shut down the moment you post a picture of yourself. Weird, huh? Not as weird as just days later – when I posted a photo pf my face on TheBueCrew’s Instagram, the account was immediately shut down and banned for “violating terms of service”. My face goes against terms of service? Or did facial recognition see it and, even though IT’S ILLEGAL, shut it down for guilt by association? For those playing the home game, Facebook bought Instagram because it was a competitor. (I’ll take unethical attempts at monopoly for $200, Alex…)
Okay, so now what? It’s been 25 days. If I attempt to sign in now, I get “Your account was disabled October 29, 2020 for violating Community Standards. Your data will be deleted within 30 days. If you think this is a mistake, you can request a review at our Help Center” But like, you can’t. So there’s that. Why am I fighting so hard about this? Well, after all the illegal practices, after all the unethical removals, after all the shady monopolistic moves Facebook has pulled, there is one last insult to injury. In Facebook’s Terms of Service it explicitly says, “you own all the content you post of Facebook”. That’s all well and good, but what happens when Facebook holds it hostage behind a stone wall of “you’ve been disabled”? Isn’t that digital content and intellectual property theft? Sure, shut me down for whatever bullshit reason you’re giving, but can I have the 13 years of photos I’ve posted? The videos of my babies the day they were born? How about the pictures of my dead friends and family? To be honest, that’s the real worst part of it all, I did enjoy the annual reminders of their posts. It gave me and others comfort. And it’s all gone now, not only with no chance to get it back, but threats that it’ll all be obliterated in just a few days. I get that social media is not obligated to give any of us accounts. But I do believe a company has an obligation to transparently follow their own rules and the laws in the states they operate.
I’ve written letters to every single member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I knew I was never going to hear back. I’ve filed a complaint with the FTC because it’s a bad business practice to have no way to contact a company – seriously, give it a try – their phone number is automated and every option ends in “refer to our Help Center”. There is no customer service. No email to contact. You can tag them all day long on their own social media, they will ignore you. The “Help Center” is a forum with open ended questions, no real answers and a mocking “was this information helpful?” option below – which, if you click the little thumbs down, you essentially get a “aww that’s too bad” reply. I know very likely nothing will come of it. But like I said, I don’t go down without a fight. I’ve just put all the fight in that I could. Now, I get to spend the next five days in a morbid countdown of the loss of more than a decade of business networking and foundation, memories, long lost friends that were reconnected, and photos I will never see again.
What have I learned? Well first, screw high and mighty social media. One social media outlet is not the end-all, be-all of networking. Times change, fans are fickle and technology changes. Remember when we were ALL about our MySpace pages? The one good thing coming from this is I have had more meaningful phone conversations with people I would have otherwise had a quick back and forth on a messenger chat. I did get one “oh I see, you unfriended me over the ONE political post I put up?” which I wish I had that luxury – but my friends knew I was a huge proponent of keeping company with friends from all kinds of viewpoints – otherwise you don’t learn anything new. Second, don’t trust technology with priceless memories. While gone are the days of printing out your film and putting photos in an album, I will be going right back to albums that go on a shelf, to be flipped through at leisure. Thirdly, and the hardest one, I have to eventually outgrow the need to share everything with the world on any one platform. It’s hard when I get texts and messages saying how much people miss seeing our family, and the goofiness, and our Zach- and Zoeisms. But it gives me comfort knowing that we made people smile while we did. Lastly – we’re going to do what we do when any obstacle gets in our way – adapt and overcome. We’ll find other outlets to share our adventures and (backed up) memories. We’ve already set up shop on MeWe, Patreon, and (ugh) TikTok (damn you TikTok, I lose more hours on that than anything these days). Now it’s just a matter to getting back to work.