Wednesday, January 20, 2010

893. Antisocial Media

So I've apparently been banned from Facebook. I've been a member for a few years, visit once or twice a week to see what friends are up to or track down someone from elementary school, maybe post a line about my state of mind. That's it. I neither play online games nor promote my business. I'm the most benign Facebook user ever.

Last week I got what looked like a suspicious email about the status of my account. I decided to change my password in response. Next time I logged in, I was informed that I'd been "disabled," the fate of those who violate Facebook's terms of service and post offensive material, spam other users, etc. All traces of me have now disappeared from Facebook—old messages, photos, you name it. It's as if I never existed. Repeated emails to Facebook elicited no response until I tried to contact them from an address other than my usual one. Then I got an automated reply: we'll get back to you.

Call me a pessimist, but I don't think they will.

Seems I'm not the only one enmeshed in this Kafka-esque scenario. I've found hundreds of similar complaints online, many posted just this month. Some suggested that friends write to Facebook on the banned person's behalf; I tried this, and my friends got emails back asking me write directly. (Gee, I never thought of that!) A few complaints were from columnists, people with known names; their accounts were restored within a few days, along with apologies from real human beings. I guess the rest of us don't count.

Facebook is fun, and has enhanced that quality of my life; I'll miss it, but can certainly live without it. Hey, it's free—what should I expect? Sure, my presence puts ad revenue in Facebook's pocket, but they don't owe me anything personally, right?

But they do. Facebook attracts users by creating community, something we all crave; by alienating and ignoring a member of that community, they are failing miserably on both a business and ethical level. An organization (or a state, social group, synagogue, church) must be judged by the way they treat their weakest members. Hire more customer service people to deal with complaints (Mr. Zuckerberg, you can certainly afford it), or issue a public statement about why accounts are disabled in error, and how to rectify the problem. (Hint: sending out an automated reply and never following up is not the answer.) They demand responsible users; they must be a responsible service provider in return. This isn't a new concept, and Rabbi Hillel said it best: "Do not unto others that which is hateful unto you." Facebook seems to be forgetting that the Internet is small enough that such lack of respect is noticed, and big enough to make room for the next big thing to take their place.

UPDATE (hours after posting the above): Kvetching to the universe seems to have created some good karma. As mysteriously as they turned me into a non-person, Facebook just informed me (via a form letter, of course) that my account was restored. I'm happy to see it back, but will remain forever wary of investing too much of myself there or on any other social media platform that grows too big, too fast. It's community with a big asterisk.

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