Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Strange and Infuriating Case of vs. Facebook

UPDATE: Facebook is at it again, blocking my URL entirely as something that violates their Community Standards, even though it's already been found NOT to.  This social network is fucking broken.

It's no secret these days that Facebook is a hot, steaming mess.  Public opinion of the social media juggernaut is not exactly glowing, amid the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Mark Zuckerberg's subsequent appearance in front of Congress.  Their so-called Community Standards were a mystery wrapped in an enigma until today when they finally decided to release them after fourteen-or-so years.

But even with this new transparency, Facebook is still wreaking havoc: inexplicably blocked URLs, arbitrarily restricted user accounts, annoying ad placements cluttering up everyone's feeds, etc.  It's safe to say The Social Network's priorities seem to be way out of whack.

The following is my own personal experience with Facebook, as relates to this website.

I started in early 2014 as simply a way to organize and share the goofy wrestling and movie-related thoughts swirling in my brain most of the time.  I'd write and publish an article and share in my own FB feed, just for shits and giggles, figuring my friends and family might get a kick out of it.  Through Blogger I was able to keep track of how much traffic each post got, and as I went along I noticed my hits were slowly but surely increasing.  I began to look for ways to expedite the site's growth and discovered Facebook groups and pages (along with Twitter and Google+), sharing relevant posts in certain groups; wrestling posts in wrestling groups, movie posts in movie groups, etc.  Pretty harmless, right?

Fast-forward three-and-a-half years, and was getting exponentially more traffic than it had originally.  We'd gone from a paltry 5700 hits in 2014 to over 250,000 in 2017, aided by some of my colleagues and their additional content (for example Dan Moore's highly successful Dive Bars of America series) that brought a more diverse audience to the table.  Things were going along swimmingly and we were frequently getting over a thousand hits a day (small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but the ball was rolling along nicely).

Then suddenly Facebook decided to block me from sharing to any groups, including my own.  I'd like to repeat that - Facebook blocked me from sharing posts TO MY OWN GROUPS.  Based on the flimsy premise that I was apparently overusing the group sharing feature, they restricted me from using it at all for a full week.  So my website traffic more or less froze up for seven days.  Then the ban was lifted and I was free to share content again (I'd like to stress that I was always very careful to limit my content sharing to the relevant subject matter groups and always doing so by hand, yet somehow Facebook has often deemed my sharing activity "going too fast" - I must be the Flash...).  Aaaand a couple days later they blocked me again.

I realized I'd have to slow way down in my sharing activity and began to do so, roughly halving my number of shares and relying more on Twitter and Google+.  But that wasn't good enough - I've been subjected to week-long blocks probably 8-10 times in the past six months.  I'd gotten pretty used to this pattern, again using Facebook groups pretty sparingly and using Google+ much more extensively to drive traffic to the site.  It was encouraging that I could still generate roughly the same amount of traffic without relying on Facebook so much.

Then this month, Facebook decided not only was I not welcome to share my links in groups, the links themselves were flagged as "spam" and "potentially malicious," and somehow in violation of Community Standards.  Yeah that's right, my trifle of a pop culture website focusing on dive bars and pretend fighting was now deemed by Facebook as potentially unsafe.  So they began retroactively removing my posts from their site and actually blocked the URL across the board, pending an investigation.

If this seems like anything other than paranoid overcompensation on Facebook's part, please let me know.  I can't wrap my head around a social network that allows users to threaten violence against each other (I've seen PLENTY of instances of this and even reported a few, only to be told said users were NOT in violation) but considers my posts malicious.  After six days of being totally shut out, my URL was once again allowed on Facebook.....for ten minutes.  And then it was blocked again.  Six days later they unblocked me again, restoring all the posts they had removed.  All seemed well.  It's fine, Facebook had to be really thorough in making sure I was above-board, right?  Well no, because three days later they shut me out a third time.

So clearly something is broken in Facebook's algorithm that automatically flags (and other sites; I've confirmed I'm not alone in this) as potentially harmful (Also, and this is important, I've had scanned by multiple site analyzers and deemed Safe).  You'd think in any decently run network, once it's determined that something is safe to use, it would get added to a whitelist, no?  Yet is STILL getting flagged as malicious, even after they restore posts they'd removed.  So now I have a bunch of posts all over Facebook that contain links you can't click on.  When you try, you get an error that Facebook has prevented you from accessing it, for your own safety.  Seriously, assholes?  So now people are seeing my posts on Facebook but are being misled to think they are harmful and shouldn't click on them.  Does this seem like an act of sabotage to anyone else?  Did I not spend enough on paid ads this month?

So let's summarize: Facebook inadvertently allowed a hostile foreign power to influence a US election, but somehow deems MY stuff as too big a risk to display on their site.

Now that they've released their official Community Standards I've looked through them. I can't find a single term or condition my website has ever violated.  Maybe you can help me if I'm missing something. is in no way violating Facebook's standards as far as I can tell. 

It's come to the point that I have to seriously consider dropping off Facebook altogether; they are significantly impeding the growth of my website and worse, making it look like a toxic brand.  And let's be clear - it was not ever my intention to spam or post anything even remotely harmful; I just wanted people to be entertained by my writing.  That's it.  In what universe is that an unreasonable thing to hope for?

Facebook better get their shit together pretty damn fast.

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