I’ve been using Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, promote my writing projects, muse openly about current events, concoct viral memes about Ted Cruz being the lead singer of Stryper, and help small “mom-and-pop” businesses market themselves since about 2007. As of today, I will never use the service again.
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH ZUCKERBERG’S BILLION DOLLAR BABY:
Since the untimely demise of MySpace, Facebook has long been by favorite social media platform. My twelve-year-old personal page is littered with pictures of my pets, sordid tales about my trips to the little grocery store where I live here in extremely rural New Hampshire, and silly jabs I take at the occasional news headline. Many of my friends have deleted their profiles because of the many scandals plaguing Facebook, but I’ve stubbornly clung to mine like a captain refusing to disembark his sinking vessel; not wanting to abandon the 2,100+ followers who have been reading my blogs, buying my books, and supporting me as a writer since The Departed won best picture at The Oscars. That’s what I always told myself, anyway. In all reality, I was pretty obsessed with posting on Facebook, more specifically the instant gratification of posting something witty and getting immediate praise for it. Something as-of-yet-to-be-identified inside of me really, really enjoys that.
So imagine my surprise when I fired up my laptop and discovered Facebook issued me a 30 day ban over a seemingly benign two-year-old post about living without power after a windstorm.
Only I wasn’t surprised at all, because this is the third time I’ve been randomly banned from Facebook in three months.
BAN #1: MINIONS MEME = HATE SPEECH?
The first unexplained Facebook ban came in November of 2018. My notifications told me I’d violated Facebook’s terms of service in one of my posts, and when I clicked on the notification to learn more, the post in question turned out to be a family-friendly (albeit white trash) Minions meme I shared on my page to make fun of, because obviously. Even more confusing was the fact that the post in question was almost three years old.
“Who the heck cares about something I posted two years ago?” I thought. Deciding it must have been some kind of mistake, I clicked further, and chose to have the decision re-reviewed by someone on Facebook’s team. Moments later, another notification told me the decision had been reviewed, and that I was still guilty of violating Facebook’s conduct policy about hate speech.
Hate speech? A goofy Minions meme is now considered hate speech?
I was given an option to have my case reviewed by Facebook a second time, and was finally offered a chance to plead my case in a little text box they provided to me. Sadly, that was answered with a similar auto-response that my light-hearted Minions meme was still in violation of Facebook’s TOS, and the 30 day ban would still be upheld.
BAN #2: WHITE TRASH BOOGALOO
My first ban ended, and I made it less than two weeks as a law abiding Facebook user before I was once again issued a 30 day ban from the service. My crime? Posting about how much I loved the movie Krampus, and how I always rooted for supernatural European child snatcher over the white trash in-laws (my favorite of which being David Koechner’s hilarious character).
Again, I appealed the decision. Again, the appeal was almost instantly denied. Again, I was offered a chance to plead my case in the little text box. The only difference between this ban and the last ban was that the second appeal was never reviewed. In fact, it remains in an “in review” state even now, almost two months later.
This time I sat back and thought about what might be the cause of these bans. Was I being targeted by a particular individual who knows they can report me and I’ll have no recourse? Is it a concentrated effort by Facebook’s police bots to remove problematic users after all of the scandals they’ve just weathered (and continue to weather)? Are humans involved in this effort at all, or is this push to purge bad things from Facebook entirely managed by AI? If humans are, in fact, in charge of this project, is there any oversight regarding who they’re targeting for infractions and why? What exactly is going on over at Facebook?
In November of 2018 when my banning issues began, Facebook lauded themselves for being newly proactive about what they considered to be hate speech. According to their report, the amount of hate speech Facebook’s artificial intelligence detected went up from 24% to 52%. That is a MASSIVE increase in AI reporting. They also went on to say “Context is important. Our team of trained experts review hate speech to better understand it before it’s removed.” This is the part I don’t buy, because there is no way a sentient human being would look at the context of a Minions meme and call it hate speech. Also, if their “team of experts” was really commensurate with the new uptick in AI reporting, there would be someone available to speak with me about this. Alas, there isn’t, and I’m forced to speculate here about the hows and whys.
The only similarity I could find between my first two bans was that I used the term “white trash” in both flagged posts. As someone who lives off a dirt road in the boonies of New England, white trash is something we encounter on a daily basis. It’s an inextricable part of living in rural America. Some laugh at the term, and others wear it like a badge of honor. In fact, I ran a popular weekly “which of these things is the most white trash” poll on Facebook for years without ever hearing word from the Facebook attack bots. Could that be the problem now, though? Is white trash now verboten over in Menlo Park?
I finally decided to take a look at Facebook’s updated stance on hate speech. It reads as follows:
We do not allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence. We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability. We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation. We separate attacks into three tiers of severity, as described below.
Sometimes people share content containing someone else’s hate speech for the purpose of raising awareness or educating others. Similarly, in some cases, words or terms that might otherwise violate our standards are used self-referentially or in an empowering way. When this is the case, we allow the content, but we expect people to clearly indicate their intent, which helps us better understand why they shared it. Where the intention is unclear, we may remove the content.
We allow humor and social commentary related to these topics. In addition, we believe that people are more responsible when they share this kind of commentary using their authentic identity.
Any usage of the term “white trash” on my behalf clearly fits into the “humor and social commentary” portion of the TOS, yet there I was – locked away in Facebook jail with not a guard or warden to review the insanity of my situation for another 30 days. That’s another 30 days in which I couldn’t post, use Facebook Messenger, or even publish content for my social media clients. I was even barred from boosting posts for the businesses I manage while under one of these seemingly frivolous punishments. At a time when people are leaving the platform in droves, major stakeholders are selling off shares as they decrease in value, and multi-billion dollar fines against the company are in the works, Facebook refused to let me give them money. How often is this happening to users? How much ad revenue is Facebook losing because of this?
Furthermore, what are Facebook users supposed to do about older posts that might violate a recently updated TOS? The last two bans I received were for posts I wrote YEARS ago. I probably couldn’t even tell you what I ate yesterday, let alone what I posted in 2017. Are we all supposed to scroll backwards through our respective feeds and scrub them of twelve years’ worth of minor infractions in order to keep from being banned in the future? Nothing about this makes any sense.
Out of curiosity, I went ahead and typed “white trash” into Facebook’s search bar, expecting to see zero results. Not only is the social media platform positively dripping with the term, there’s even a page with over a million followers named – shockingly – “White Trash”. Am I being punished for an infraction that apparently doesn’t apply to anyone else? Is this real life?
“OK”, I said when I realized I was going to have to sit in the digital time-out chair for another 30 days. “No more white trash talk. Let’s see if that works.” Pathetically, I found myself willing to censor myself if it meant no more hiccups with the content police. After all, it was my go-to social media platform. I was easily spending 90% of my online time on Facebook. It was cozy and it made me happy, like the threadbare pair of fleece Nautica sweatpants I bought in 1999 that, much to my wife’s dismay, I’m still not ready to throw out.
BAN #3: 90 DAYS IN FACEBOOK’S PENALTY BOX, AND A REVELATION
I made it almost an entire month before being banned from Facebook again. This is the post the community standards team deemed as “hate speech”:
This post from October 30th, 2017 is apparently in violation of Facebook’s most recently updated terms of service. No warning. No simple deletion of the old content in question. Just another senseless month-long ban as a reward for a naïve Facebook user who chose to stay while so many others have left, albeit for reasons more honorable and sensible than my selfish “they won’t let me fucking post” rationale.
Do I have any hope of this issue finally being resolved by Facebook? Absolutely not. I’m not famous enough for them to make a correction, I’m not blue check verified, and apparently there aren’t enough commas in my post boosting budget for them to investigate why my particular stream of ad revenue has suddenly stopped. As the mass exodus from the platform illustrates, I’m confident the user experience of Facebook is permanently broken. There will be no special exception for me, and honestly, I no longer want one. Congratulations, Facebook! My stalwart, entirely irrational loyalty to you has finally been worn to the bone.
After some introspection, I can’t help but correlate walking away from Facebook with quitting smoking. Before I stopped, I had access to a mountain of information detailing exactly why smoking cigarettes was terrible for me. I just chose to ignore it because smoking felt good, and I rationalized that decision by telling myself I could quit whenever I wanted to. It wasn’t until I came down with a nasty flu this winter and finally gave up the American Spirits that I realized how good it feels to be smoke free. I’ve obviously known Facebook was a dumpster fire for years (2018’s Cambridge Analytica scandal being the cherry on top of the shit sundae for many), but that didn’t stop me from using it because I felt like I genuinely needed the platform to stay connected and be productive. It was familiar, I’d spent a lot of time cultivating my presence there, it allowed me write at length, and it offered direct interaction with my followers, but a funny thing started happening with each bizarre, unfounded, seemingly arbitrary ban.
I realized how little I actually needed Facebook.
As it turns out, you can keep in touch with friends and family just fine without it. Who knew? I have Twitter and Instagram to lean on (although I’m hesitant to even use the Facebook-owned latter after being treated as I have), and while neither provide me with the long form outlet my wordy fingers crave, I have a woefully neglected blog for that. When it comes to professional communications, there are really great newsletter and email optimization outlets I’m not taking advantage of nearly enough. As painfully obvious as this will sound to most of you, there’s no shortage of ways to communicate personally or professionally outside of the social media network I was once so hopelessly attached to. I’ll still help manage my clients’ accounts until they’re ready to abandon Facebook for warmer climes, but as for me personally? I’m out.
While it feels good to no longer be endlessly scrolling through a newsfeed filled with racist uncle rants and 60-second video recipes for “Jeez Louise Cheezy Pizza Tacos”, another bonus is that it feels really good to know I’m not personally contributing to the data mining, micro-targeting, democracy crushing, soul-masticating platform that legitimately devoured years of my invaluable free time. I don’t buy products from companies who advertise on InfoWars, and I do my best to make sure I’m not giving money to any company owned by Nestlé, because I don’t appreciate how those businesses operate. I know I’m too young to be this laughably late to the anti-Facebook party, but it blows my mind that I can make the same informed choices regarding which social media outlets I use.
In summation, I guess I’d like to thank Facebook’s team of community standards experts for helping me realize just how much more productive and healthy life can be without Facebook. I’d ask where I can send an Edible Arrangement, but I can’t contact you for another 29 days.