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Facebook locked my account and won’t tell me why. What are they hiding?

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Facebook hasn’t had a very good time lately. The social media site has come under attack for accepting at least $100,000 from “Russian trolls” for fake ads that led to links that disparaged Hillary Clinton, and probably contributed to her defeat by Trump.

The way the New York Times put it, Facebook (and Twitter) were “being turned into engines of deception and propaganda” by “Russian operators” to “spread anti-Clinton messages” and “aid Donald J. Trump.”

It’s not clear if Facebook broke any laws, but the revelations are embarrassing, particularly coming at a time when many Facebook users report being locked out of their accounts, without warning or explanation, a situation that goes back at least to 2014.

That’s what happened to me last week. Out of the blue, when I tried to log into my Facebook page, I was told my account had been suspended. There was no reason offered as to why, no “here’s how to resolve this problem,” nothing. I panicked, and started digging through Facebook’s myriad of links, trying desperately to find a way to talk to someone at the company.

Good luck with that!

Eventually, I did find a deeply-buried link to appeal. Facebook asked me for a photo ID, so I sent them a copy of my driver’s license. They replied saying my driver’s license was inadequate, since they needed something with a photo ID, name and date of birth—all of which my driver’s license obviously had!! So I sent them a copy of my birth certificate, and that was good enough: They unlocked my account. I’m back!

I have now asked Facebook half-a-dozen times to explain specifically why they locked me out, but they’ve refused to do so. All they did was send me generic rules about not using fake names, and about their policy concerning complaints about accounts. I explained to Facebook that (a) I have never used a fake name, and (b) would they please tell me the nature of the complaints they received about me. Facebook emailed to say, Sorry, we can’t tell you the names of the complainers, or what they complained about. I asked Facebook, if I complained about Donald Trump’s Facebook account, would they lock him out; but there was no reply. Nor did they reply to my question if they had any evidence I had ever used a fake name.

What was especially bothersome was that I’ve come under repeated attack, on Facebook, on my blog and through my personal email from extreme right wing white nationalists for my anti-Trump, anti-fascist postings. The Breitbart crowd has insulted and threatened me. Within moments of getting locked out of Facebook, I got a comment on my blog (from a phony name) saying, Haha got ur facebook account deleted you troll ass liberal faggot.” I wondered how the person knew so quickly that I’d been locked out, unless he/she was the original complainer, and had been told by Facebook they had taken my account down. This raises profound questions: What complaints does Facebook act upon, and which ones does it ignore? Is Facebook subject to outside political pressure from third parties, such as Breitbart, that possess considerable power? How are we to understand this stuff?

Facebook won’t like hearing this, but it’s time for them to be regulated as a utility, the same way the government regulates power companies and communication companies like AT&T so they can’t abuse users. Facebook denies that it’s a media/communications company, but it has about 2 billion users in the world, and may be the primary communications outlet for millions of them. That sounds like a media company to me! How can Facebook cut off someone’s account with no warning, no explanation why, and refuse to answer questions? This is the heavy, troubling hand of censorship; there’s no other word for it. It violates the transparency we expect from social media companies. If this can happen to me, it can happen to you–and anyone–and everyone who crosses some undefined, arbitrary line that faceless bureaucrats determine. Facebook gagged me, and since they won’t tell me why, it’s only natural for me to assume the worst: someone at Breitbart brought pressure on Facebook to kill my account. If that’s not what happened, it’s up to Facebook to prove otherwise. Congress, the ball is in your court.

  1. Here’s an idea: opt out of Facebook.

    Yes, they will hound you to return to the fold . . . but it can done.

    Excerpt from Time Magazine Online
    (May 14, 2010):

    “Why Is It So Hard to Delete Your Facebook Account?”

    http://newsfeed.time.com/2010/05/14/why-is-it-so-hard-to-delete-your-facebook-account/

    By Kristi Oloffson
    Reporter

    “Deactivating and deleting your Facebook account are two very different things. What Facebook makes difficult to find out is deactivation is temporary, deletion is permanent. And unlike deactivation, you need Facebook’s help to permanently delete the information.”

    — and —

    From The Wall Street Journal Online
    (August 13, 2014):

    “How to Quit Facebook, and Other Questions About Fighting Tracking”

    By Geoffrey Fowler
    “Personal Technology” Column

    https://blogs.wsj.com/personal-technology/2014/08/13/how-to-quit-facebook-and-other-questions-about-fighting-tracking/

    — and —

    From CNET Online
    (January 17, 2017):

    “For Goodness’ Sake, Quit Facebook Already. Here’s How.”

    https://www.cnet.com/how-to/how-to-delete-your-facebook-once-and-for-all/

    By Sharon Porfis
    “Mobile” Column

    OR:

    Don’t opt in to begin with.

    Preserve your privacy. Don’t adopt the Faustian bargain of exchanging data on yourself for “free” services.

    “Free” is subsidized by companies monetizing your data.

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Business & Finance” Section
    (June 1, 2017, Page B1ff):

    “How Not to Expose Yourself on the Web”

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/dont-expose-yourself-a-guide-to-online-privacy-1496249766?mg=prod/accounts-wsj

    By Geoffrey A. Fowler
    “Personal Technology” column

    “It starts with a golden rule: When the product is free, that means you are the product. Your privacy is the cost of a free social network, free tax prep or free photo storage.”

  2. If Facebook locked my account, (a) it would probably be weeks before I realized it; and (b) I wouldn’t care. But I guess your case is different.

  3. Nancy Weil Brown says:

    I can think of two reasons you might have been locked out. You called people who scoffed at screw top wines snobs. You said it was OK not to pay top dollar for rose wine. 😉 I think it’s probably a right wing nut who can’t tell the difference between a conversation where people agree but respect the other person and vile name calling. Free speech is in peril in the country from all sides of the political spectrum. Keep writing your blog – it is yours, after all – and people who are angry can state their opinions respectfully. That applies to your wine writing and your political writing. I enjoy your blog even when we don’t agree 100% (rarely) or when your knowledge of wine goes well beyond mine and the price of the wines are way out of my budget. I appreciate your deep thoughts. One can complain if they don’t like your political views, but no one can say you are superficial in your thoughts or your writing.

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