Lessons Learned From My Time in Facebook Jail
Online Identity, Online Oblivion
Last month, I got divorced.
Any divorce, of course, is a story in and of itself. My own divorce might seem fairly incidental to my tale of Facebook Jail — yet that tale, as so many others, began with the realization that I no longer wanted to carry my ex-husband’s last name.
Bear with me. I’ll get there.
My main concern around the thought of changing my name was not actually having a different name than my kids, or dealing with the hassle of changing it, well, everywhere. Oddly enough, one of my main concerns was the thought of losing my online identity.
Naming conventions and online identity
Petitioner’s motion for entry of name change order is granted…
That seems somewhat shallow on the face of it, right? Let me explain.
I’ve been blogging under the name “Rachel Singer Gordon” since 2009. I’ve written nine books as Singer Gordon, run large Facebook groups and maintain a business page as Singer Gordon, have spent considerable time building up an online presence as Singer Gordon, and have developed a distinct, searchable identity as Singer Gordon.
Rachel Singer, though? Who is she?
The Google tells me that Rachel Singer is an actress known best for her roles in Fight Club and The Green Mile. (Nope, not me, alas.) Rachel is a French singer. Rachel Singer is a fictional character from the movie The Debt. Rachel Singer has a PhD in psychology, or is a cyclist in New York. She is a pediatric MD, or a criminal justice professor.
None of those people is me, and that search for “Rachel Singer” doesn’t turn up my blog, my books, my LinkedIn or my Facebook or any other relevant results until six pages in… a virtual graveyard, in Internet terms.
How I ended up in Facebook Jail
Google aside, I felt the fear of online oblivion and did it anyway — figuring that my new name would also signify a fresh start and a new beginning. So as I set about changing my name on every.single.social media site, I duly logged onto Facebook, went into account settings, and updated them to reflect my new name.
Simple enough, right?
Within 12 hours of my name change, Facebook began to flag my account for “suspicious activity.” Over the next few hours, Facebook logged me out repeatedly, making me re-prove my identity and change my password each time.
After we played this game for about 12 rounds, Facebook abruptly locked my account for 48 hours for “unusual activity,” leaving me unable to post, comment, or react anywhere on the platform.
Did I mention that I run two large interactive groups and a business page?
After 48 hours, I got my account back, was able to post two comments and a reaction, and… Facebook locked me out for another 48 hours for “unusual activity.” This went on for two straight weeks — which, as I searched around and talked to others about the issue, means that I’m relatively lucky: Other users have had this lockout issue recur for months at a time.
Let’s all ponder two weeks in Internet time for a moment…
Didn’t I appeal to Facebook?
My first thought was of course to appeal to Facebook, assuming that I’d been caught up in some kind of automated sweep. Any human being looking at my account would of course understand immediately that I’m an actual person, not a bot, not a foreign agent, and not a spammer.
The Facebook groups I admin are just the sort of active communities Facebook purports to encourage; decently sized (35,000 members in one, 7500 in the other), conversational, and “sticky.” My Facebook business page has nearly 27,000 followers, I run the occasional paid ad for my site, and I post, interact, and participate on Facebook on a daily basis.
So, I duly reported the issue. Repeatedly. With increasing levels of urgency. Each time, I received the same automated response: “Your feedback will be used to improve Facebook. Thanks for taking the time to make a report.”
Have you ever tried getting through to an actual person on Facebook?
Let me give you a piece of advice now: Don’t bother. I spent two solid weeks trying every avenue and contact I could think of, with ridiculously limited success.
- Facebook has no chat option.
- Facebook has no customer service phone number.
- Facebook has no non-automated support for regular members whatsoever.
I even tried running an ad on Facebook to see if I could get through to an actual person after handing over some money, but the only contact I could find there was… billing.
Money talks, Facebook balks
Of course, I could still run ads!
To add insult to injury, my being blocked from posting or interacting on Facebook had no bearing whatsoever on Facebook’s continuous attempts to persuade me to spend money on ads and boost existing posts.
Yes. I could pay Facebook money to create an ad on their site… at the very same time that I couldn’t freely create an organic post on their site. “Suspicious activity” on a Facebook account apparently doesn’t prevent them from accepting your money.
Piling on the insult, after plying everyone I knew for suggestions and contacts I finally got through to an ad account rep via email. That rep suggested I try an online business chat support option… which turned out only to be available to accounts at a “certain level.”
Read “certain level” here as “having spent a considerable amount of money advertising on Facebook.” My paltry one-person-business ad spending did not come anywhere close to making the cut — and the ad rep then had no further suggestions.
I know, I shouldn’t be surprised, but…
A correlation is not a cause
Do I know for sure that my name change triggered my repeated Facebook suspensions last month? No, of course not: See above; you can’t actually get through to a person on Facebook, and Facebook chooses not to share any particulars around these bans.
Trying to find information on why your account got put in Facebook Jail takes you down a never-ending Internet rabbit hole: Maybe it’s that you post too much, that you’re too active in groups, that you post too fast, that you’ve posted affiliate links, that you’ve posted too many links, that you’ve used a scheduler, that you’ve “liked” too many posts in a row, that you’ve…
No one knows. Because on Facebook? You can’t get through to a person.
All I can tell you is this: In my case, that “suspicious activity” had some pretty suspicious timing.
Wait, no. I can actually tell you something else: In case you’re wondering, the week after you get divorced isn’t the best time to be worrying about what impact the loss of Facebook will have on the bottom line of your web-based business. We all should have learned long ago not to depend on Facebook’s good graces for business, but that tends to get lost in the imperative to be where your readers are — and in the way they make it just so darned easy to stick around.
“Like” Facebook — but don’t “Friend” them
While Facebook and similar sites serve to amplify different voices, Facebook Jail makes you realize how quickly Facebook can stifle any voice — and how unimportant any one of us is in the grand scheme of things.
With all the hullabaloo around privacy and disinformation on Facebook, sometimes we lose sight of the fact that the platform’s success is built on the myriad interactions of everyday users. A single individual’s interactions, though, aren’t even a blip on the radar.
I’m a few weeks free of the Facebook slammer now, but the experience has left me a little warier about my interactions with the site. Before I react to a friends’ post or leave a message in one of my groups, I always think: “Have I liked too many things in a row? Am I posting too quickly? Is my activity… suspicious?”
This experience has left me interacting less authentically with the platform, as my responses now are all measured in terms of what the Facebook algorithm might see as “unusual.” Paradoxically, my activity is now both less usual and less natural — but, I do think that a heightened awareness of the fact that Facebook is no one’s friend is a good thing.
The more complacent we are about the ubiquity of Facebook and its fellow online juggernauts in our lives, the less likely we are to question their motives and authenticity. Facebook Jail was my wake up call, really driving home the fact that anything you build on someone else’s platform isn’t actually yours.
Yes, I knew that, but…
It’s so easy to forget, right? Facebook amplifies our voice, getting it out there and showing in real time how people react to what we say. Facebook teaches us to tailor our posts and interactions over time, either consciously or unconsciously shaping them to elicit likes, clicks, comments, and reactions. Facebook urges us to thrive on the instant gratification we receive.
All of this happens at the same time Facebook makes us feel as if our words have value on the platform, which takes care to shape everything around us and our likes, clicks, comments, and reactions in a very deliberate way. Facebook is very good at making you feel like an individual and valued part of their site… right up until the point that you are not.
Time heals all
Let’s be realistic here, though: As time goes on and the memory of my time in Facebook Jail fades, I’ll likely fall right back into my old patterns of interaction. Facebook is where my friends are, Facebook is where my family is, Facebook is where my site’s readers hang out.
Facebook is the site that we all occasionally love to hate — but that we’ll continue loving to hate forever. Really, is there another viable alternative?