Cross-posted on the Wired How-To Wiki.
Several now-deleted threads on public Facebook discussion groups, including Is anybody else getting spam warnings? and Everytime I post something here I get a “WARNING” from facebook.com discuss how Facebook’s automated filters mistake political speech for spam. When you trigger these automated filters, the system starts issuing repeated warning messages when you send messages, post on discussion boards, or write on walls:
It’s really intimidating when this happens — as I found out first hand, especially once I started warnings continuously, even for checking my messages. And labor activists Derek and MiniMSFT, Hillary Clinton supporter Joanna, and Barack Obama supporters AJ and “deleted” (the now-anonymous deleted poster from one of the above threads), along with many others (1, 2, 3) have discovered that it’s not an idle threat. Accounts are sometimes disabled, often with very little notice.
- establishes the power vectors: “Facebook has determined that you were using a feature at a rate that is likely to be abusive”
- lets you know you are in a Kafkaesque universe: “Unfortunately, Facebook cannot provide any specifics on the rate limits that we enforce. “
- asserts omniscience: “Please know, however, that the speed at which you are acting and the sheer number of actions you have made are both taken into account”
- reminds you that have no rights: “The duration of the block varies depending on the nature of the offense, ranging from a few hours to a few days…. Facebook will not lift this block for you until the entire penalty time has elapsed”)
- and takes the opportunity to advertise:: “As a recommended alternative, we suggest you check out the Facebook Application Directory”.
Hopefully these threads-in-progress will be somewhat more useful.
In practice, things aren’t anywhere near as grim as Facebook paints them. When you trigger a warning, there are some simple steps to that usually keep things from getting worse, and protect you in case they do. And even in the worst case, most of the people who have had their accounts disabled have had them reinstated. Read on for more about Facebook’s automated filters; and see part 2 for What to do when you start getting warnings and What to do if your account gets deactivated.
Facebook’s automated filters
The goal of the automated filters is to cut down the amount of spam Facebook users have to deal with — something we all appreciate the value of. Unfortunately, sometimes legitimate political speech looks like spam; and the filters don’t understand the difference.
Facebook has not disclosed much information about its filtering policies. This section collects what we know so far, based on Facebook’s policy statements, responses by Facebook support, and experiences of various activists.
Making too many friends
Facebook has a limit on how many friends you can make. Union activist Derek Blackadder added too many friends too quickly, and when he continued after Facebook’s warnings his account was disabled. bwitai posted on Get Satisfaction:
haha, my account is deactivated just now. i googled about account disabled and found this forum. here’s my story: i have hit the warning twice already in 3 months and both hit what they called a “block” from adding friends. this history was few months back and i have stopped such activities. recently, i continued such action because i got bored at work. i recieved a pink warning message again and i stopped adding friends to prevent hitting a “block” or account disabled. a day later, i come back and i noticed the warning is gone. it was another boring working day, and i kept on adding people. all in a sudden, my facebook account asked me to sign in to view the page… and i realized my account was disabled this time without a warning this time.
Posting the same text in multiple places
Mail from Facebook has confirmed that this can trigger filters; the specifics and exact thresholds are unknown.
On having their account restored, some activists have received warnings “Please refrain from sending the same message or repeating the same post, as further violations of our Terms will result in your account being permanently disabled.”
Exact duplicates with links?
Jon documented a case where posting a “get out the vote” message with links to information for polling locations twice within an hour on a politician’s Wall immediately triggered a spam warning.
Facebook’s discussion functionality is very limited and does not allow for “pinning” a thread to the top of a board, but usefully does sort by time. In a situation where trolls are trying to disrupt communication with irrelevant or abusive threads, users often coordinate to put short comments at the bottom of useful threads to keep them at or near the top. Following a tradition in online music boards, this is referred to as “bumping”. A frequent convention is just to put in the word “bump”.
During the February 2008 primary season, several activists started receiving warnings about duplicate text that as best as could be determined were triggered by this. A useful workaround is to include some useful information as part of the bump — or at the very least, a short amusing message.
There’s some evidence that cut-and-pasting text makes it more likely to trigger warnings. Facebook’s comments that “the speed at which you are acting and the sheer number of actions you have made are both taken into account” are consistent with this.
On discussion boards, Facebook allows users to “report” posts for violating the code of conduct: hate speech, abuse, advocating illegal activity, etc.
Joanna and AJ both had their accounts terminated by Facebook with virtually no notice in situations where ‘malicious reporting’ (by trolls, griefers, and/or political operatives engaging in dirty tricks) appears to have been the cause.
Posting too many links?
Continued in part 2.