Tales from the Net

a work in progress

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How to respond when Facebook censors your political speech: Part 2, what to do

Continued from part 1, which gave a bunch of examples and described Facebook’s automated filters. This post has two main sections: What to do when you start getting warnings and What to do if your account gets deactivated.

Cross-posted on the Wired How-To Wiki.

Facebook warning: your account may be disabled

What to do when you start getting warnings


First things first

Pour yourself a drink or your favorite beverage — caffeinated, alcoholic, or otherwise — and toast joining the club!

And then …

  1. take a snapshot of the screen using PrintScreen (on Windows) or Grab (on the Mac)
  2. change your status to let people know that you’re getting warnings
  3. save a copy of your feed (using File/Save Page As in your browser) and any recent posts to your local disk as HTML files
  4. make a backup copy of any information on your Facebook that you absolutely need to be able to get to, just in case
  5. copy your friends’ contact info if you’re likely to need them in the short term
  6. update your notifications to forward all messages as email — and make sure your email contact info for this is right.

Contact Facebook support

Facebook does have a system to submit help requests . Explain what you were doing and why, and ask them to remove the warning.

It probably won’t help in the short term — Eric’s experience of being told “too bad ” is typical — but at least it puts them on notice.


Document it

We’re still working on the best way to do this — a page on this wiki, or somewhere else? Work with Chilling Effects (http://chillingeffects.org)? Does it make sense to start a group on Facebook? Stay tuned!

For now, if things like this have happened to you, please add a link or a quick description as a comment here.


Wait, and experience chilling effects first-hand

Warnings appear to get lifted after four hours to two days. You can still do things during this time; changing status, posting items, sending messages that don’t have links or duplicate text (although it’s nervewracking, seeing that warning each time), using applications.

One of the things you’ll probably notice, though, is that you’re thinking a lot more about what you say before you say it, and there are some things you won’t say. That’s what they mean by chilling effects .


Hang out somewhere else for a while

Facebook isn’t the only social network site out there. Rather than getting slapped in the face with a warning message every time you do anything, now might be a good time to explore places that are more friendly to free speech.

What to do if your account gets deactivated

Update: in July 2011 Facebook introduced a new appeals process.  Jillian C. York’s Facebook Appeals: We Haz Them has more.  Give it a try, and let us know how it works!

Different things have worked for different people:

While the specifics vary, there are a few general principles.

Report it to Facebook support

Facebook has a special email alias for situations like this: disabled@facebook.com … so take advantage of it! Explain what you were doing and why. Be polite, but let them know how upset you are — and how much their actions are damaging you.


Try to find a real person to talk to at Facebook

Most activists have found that Facebook employees are very helpful in situations like this — and no surprise: from their site’s perspective, they don’t want to be chasing users away! So do your best to find somebody there: ask your friends if they know anybody, post about it in discussion groups and ask for connections, and so on.

Find another online home

Even once you get your account restored, you may discover that Facebook no longer feels like such a pleasant place. It’s no fun feeling like you’re living on sufferance, with your account — and all your contacts — subject to vaporization at any time. So now’s a good time to start preparing other homes for yourself around the web: ideally in addition to Facebook, and in the worst case as a backup.

  • find out what other social networks your Facebook friends are on. Join them and give it a try. Even if you decide you don’t like it, you’ve now got backup connections with your friends in case your Facebook privileges are once again revoked.
  • try out one or two of the zillions of cool new social networking technologies that you usually don’t have time for.
  • start up a blog or journal. No, it’s not at all the same as Facebook; but as long as you choose the right host, you’re less likely to be censored.

Make some noise

As well as the examples above, others (for example, Jon Swift and Robert Scoble) whose Facebook accounts have been suspended for different reasons have also been successful at enlisting the blogosphere and getting reinstated. Facebook also changed their position as a result of the MoveOn-endorsed Facebook, stop invading my privacy! petition, and is currently introducing some good behavior requirements on applications in response to the 600,000+ member Official Facebook Petition: To ban the inviting of friends on Applications. Okay, maybe you don’t have a quite that many friends yourself … but collective action of any kind starts with just a few people.

A few ideas:

  • ask your Facebook friends to contact Facebook on your behalf.
  • ask people to mention the situation in any political groups you’re in on Facebook; see who else it’s happened to.
  • add comments to threads in the blogosphere which discuss this subject — here, and elsewhere.
  • mention it on other social network sites; people may well have similar experiences and good suggestions — and connections.
  • ask people to blog about it — and link the blog entries to this page.
  • ask Facebookers to bring it up in the Free the Blackadder One group and/or the Protect Internet Rights cause, where people care about issues like this.
  • try to get some press.
posted by Jon at 11:32 am  


  1. Thanks for compiling this information. It’s extremely useful, and quite calming after getting instantly blocked, without warning, for pasting an ASCII text graphic into 16 friends’ comment boxes with the app “Lil Green Patch.”

    It seems quite irrational to me that Facebook refuses to publish guidelines containing the information you’ve compiled. What’s the point of keeping a secret that has been widely disclosed on the internet? Why doesn’t Facebook avoid alienating rank-and-file users by: (1) publishing the same guidelines that can be gotten with 5 minutes of “Googling;” and (2) offering warnings before blocking users from posting on walls?

    And why have such trigger-happy algorithms?

    Does 16 posts in 29 minutes (of ASCII rabbits and flowers surrounding the word “Thank You!”) seem excessive? Would a normal person intuit that they would be misconstrued as spammers, given these “low” and “slow” actions?

    For all their “tough security” measures, the outcomes aren’t better than similar websites. Their algorithms don’t seem to create above-average “security” and “privacy.”

    I’m utterly bollixed by Facebook’s policies and behaviors. They seem authoritarian and punitive. Why “criminalize” and “threaten” innocent users? Why not educate them by providing some preventive “community guidelines?”

    I have to laugh when Facebook warns me not to violate their Terms of Service. How can I avoid breaking rules that are kept secret?

    Spammers might be able to guess that 15 wall posts in 30 minutes would result in a block. But innocent users?

    Most normal people would never suspect that such a dinky bit of activity would cause them to be “cast out” of their community for excessive and speedy behavior!

    Comment by Aviva Gabriel — October 1, 2008 @ 4:17 pm

  2. I am an artist and recently started pumping up the fans to my art page by placing ads on facebook. It worked extremely well, and as I was messaging each new fan via FB messaging, I received the warning that I might be abusing the ‘features’. This was 3 days ago. Right now, whenever I try to either read or respond to a message I get an even more ominous warning. The crazy thing is this – if they block me I am unable to get into my account and I have advertisements running with them. This has got to be illegal. How can I pause my ads when I can’t access my account? This has not happened to me yet, but I can see how it could happen. Anyway, you don’t have to be a political activist to piss off Facebook, just doing too many messages too quickly will get you a warning. I am going to lay off the account for 3 days and hopefully they will lift my warning. I can’t afford, socially and monetarily, to be blocked for any amount of time.

    Comment by Anne — May 16, 2009 @ 11:13 am

  3. Got disabled on May 23rd. Been e-mailing 3-4 times daily with no response. I got pink listed the night before. Tried again after an hour. Still pink listed. Again 2 hours later. Still pink listed. So I quit for the night. The next morning I approved 7 friend requests, sent a friend request to Facebook’s recommendation then tried to send one to a friends wife per his request. I was kicked out and my account disabled.

    So I’m in limbo with no response from Facebook. Seems odd they would kick you out for doing what they are constantly asking you to do, which is add friends.

    Comment by Dave DuBose — June 3, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

  4. I had my account blocked for over a week. When I first got a warning message it was for posting “Happy Birthday” on a friend’s wall. I ignored the warnings, thinking they were just errors because I wasn’t doing anything inappropriate or that would be “annoying” to fellow FB users. Today I got a warning for some unknown reason as I don’t think that I posted too many posts nor in a very short period of time. So now I’m afraid of posting for fear of getting more warnings, leading to the blocking or deleting of my account. The dumbest part of this is that the ONLY way that you can find out if you’re able to post is to try posting, which then leads to more warnings which in the end can get your account blocked or deleted. It’s a vicious cycle. And ridiculous to get punished for socially networking too much on a social networking site. If I had another option I’d switch to it in a heartbeat but I hate MySpace and I’ve gotten back into contact with so many old friends on FB that it would be hard to give it up! So I sit waiting, afraid to comment or like anything for fear of getting another warning! Oh and sometimes when you try it says “try again later” and lol if you try again later eventually you will be blocked.

    Comment by Carmen — July 4, 2009 @ 11:20 am

  5. I got disabled without warning this past Friday for posting political dissent on both the White House page and The Rachal Maddow Page. The way I see it if it’s political censorship: It’s their site. I’m sure if the White House or someone like Rachel Maddow contacts Facebook and says: “86 that A-hole” facebook jumps to and does it without question. So I email them instead. Really, Democrateunderground is worst about touting the line. Finally: You will live without Facebook. Now! Who has the resourses to start another social networking site that won’t censor like facebook and draw their membership away? It can be done.

    Comment by William — December 15, 2009 @ 8:35 am

  6. I’ve had all these problems. I’m over 2,300 friends and they disabled me once. While I was off, I started a new facebook and added 500 friends before the first one was re-enabled. I now have just over 2,300 friends on the initial one and have figured out a rough way to game the facebook friend adding system. I am able to, by waiting select periods of time, to add 100 new friends every two days. I usually only add up to 3 friends after they warn me I’m ‘bothering people!’ I can start wtih a clean slate a day later and add 35 friends before they start to warn me. I could go much further but I don’t know THE NUMBER to stop at, to keep them at bay. Instead of waiting a day, I usually start adding again 4 hours after I’m warned. That will bring the FB police up at between 15 and 20 friends. I’m looking for someone with information on how to game FB’s system to add friends faster. Write me at 00001m@charter.net if you have the ultimate take on the FB algorithm governing friend adding.

    Comment by mikex — January 2, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

  7. I had an interesting experience with FB recently after posting on several politically charged groups and also posting several politically charged statements on my status.
    I noticed that people could not choose “like” on my status, but they could choose “like” on other user’s status’. They could still comment on it but couldn’t choose the “like” button. After I commented on my status the following: “this is what you get for speaking out against the establishment” I didn’t have the chance to check my FB account for several days. When I returned, the “like” option had been restored on that one status update, but interestingly enough, the current status that was reflected on my account and broadcast to all of my friends was strangely enough the previous status that I had posted just a day before the status-update in question that wouldn’t allow users to choose “like”.
    My current status reads thus: ”
    Facebook is doing weird things to my status. First you couldn’t click “like” on the one with the quote from the chinese philospher, then it mysteriously changed my status to one that I had posted previously about immagration…I wonder what they will do to this one?”

    I guess I’ll have to wait and find out. It’s amazing how big-bro will find any means of controlling the masses. Through anything that is a need (i.e. food, water, utilites, shelter) and now with anything that becomes a convenience to the extent that it is a need (i.e. technology, internet, social-networking). It isn’t surprising that freedom of speech is limited on facebook, it’s just appauling.

    Comment by Gray — April 30, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

  8. pathetic Big Brother style…it’s CRIME INC. I tell ya. I have recently been adding friends that FB suggest that I add. It is they who are telling me who to add, and I am simply adding people with whom I have a similar interest in- that I may know them some day through talking on facebook because of our shared interests and therefore might meet. Now I have always been rather shy. I am try to shake that and meet new people, on the internet, or in person, doesn’t matter to me. I love surfing the internet so, what the heck am I doing wrong. Anyway, GEEZE facebook get a grip. Why be so secretive about your methods.

    Comment by Eric — August 15, 2010 @ 8:38 pm

  9. I believe all these warnings and varying levels of blocks to be quite entirely random and used (rather clumsily) to ease demand on the server.

    Comment by William Purry — August 25, 2010 @ 11:57 am

  10. Recently I had a painting deleted from facebook “nudity” lots of other paintings was deleted some of them several times. Not much compared to what I hear others are experiencing. But a question came to my mind: Has anyone ever talked to one of those “no win no pay” lawyers?

    Comment by Erling Steen — February 15, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

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