02.16.09

Facebook Kicked Me Out

As controversy about Facebook's new terms of service heats up, Howard Bragman questions why his account was disabled—Exactly which part of having a lot of friends violates the rules of social networking?

Irony rarely shocks me anymore, but imagine my surprise last week when I was kicked off the social networking site Facebook for being social and for networking.

Let me give you the backstory. I have been on Facebook for many months but started using it actively the past three months in advance of the launch of my book. I thought it would be a good way to let friends and fans know about my media appearances, book signings, and maybe even sell a book or two. So I began making friends.

I am not a shy man. I have been on this earth more than 50 years and in public relations for 30 years. Needless to say, I know a lot of people. Add to this regular media appearances, an aggressive speaking schedule, and the fact that mine is the first name on the door of the largest entertainment PR firm in the world and it’s safe to say a lot of people know me, too.

I received a response telling me that they had received my appeal and the message was basically, ‘Don’t call us—we’ll call you.’

So I made friends. And when you make friends on Facebook, you get to see your friends’ friends. If I were home watching television or had a spare moment at my desk, I would ask people I knew, and interesting friends of friends, to add me as their friend. At the same time, literally hundreds of people were inviting me to be their friend—some I knew and many who I didn’t but I saw no reason to say no. After all, who doesn’t want a friend?

As I was adding friends, I would occasionally get a warning from the Facebook gods that I was engaging in abusive behavior and potentially violating their terms of service. But none of these warnings mentioned how I was being abusive. I looked at their terms of service and saw nothing about adding friends and decided to ignore these warnings. Last week, as I was inviting new friends at a vigorous rate, my Facebook page suddenly crashed.

I tried logging in to no avail. Then I got an email telling me my account was disabled because I had violated their terms of service on multiple occasions and if I wanted I could email an appeal.

Just when I had come to understand the site and use it productively both professionally and personally I was denied. This was frustrating—really frustrating. I had inadvertently become a social-media pariah.

So appeal I did. I wrote back to the email provided and assured them that I wasn’t malicious—just friendly. And told them that they should Google me if they wanted to verify who I was and how many people I really knew. I received a response telling me that they had received my appeal and the message was basically, ‘Don’t call us—we’ll call you.’

I’m here to confess that I am not the most patient man in America. I needed my Facebook and I wanted a response. I went to Google and tracked down Facebook’s head of communications, figuring I could speak to him “communicator to communicator” and he would empathize with my plight. Since I didn’t have his email address I tried every email protocol I could think of to reach him—first name—underscore—last name; first initial last name; first name—period—last name; and multiple others. I hit the send button and was hopeful when one didn’t bounce back.

He didn’t get back to me.

When Monday rolled around I tried calling Facebook corporate headquarters: Press one for customer service, press zero to speak to an operator. When I pressed zero, I was told to leave a message. I knew this was futile so I called in again and pressed zero again. This time it hung up on me; so much for their social skills. I wondered how a journalist on deadline or a long-lost family member might actually get hold of a Facebook employee?

That afternoon I had a speaking engagement at the corporate communications department of a Fortune 500 company. I laughingly referred to my Facebook plight. After my speech, their head of social networking introduced himself and offered to reach out to his contact at Facebook and see if he could intervene. I provided the email trail and thanked him profusely.

The next evening I got an email from Facebook telling me that they had reviewed the situation and my account was reactivated. They told me I was disabled because they had warned me to “slow down.” They told me they had limits on certain features, but went on to say, “we cannot provide you with the specific rates that have been deemed abusive.” They thanked me for my cooperation going forward.

I immediately logged back in and to my great relief it worked. But, for two days, there was a warning on my home page telling me that I needed to behave—I had my own Facebook scarlet letter.

At this point I don’t know which of the three avenues was the one that got me back in. It all felt a little creepy and Big Brother-esque to me. Facebook facilitates human interaction and communication, yet they seem to seem to limit those qualities in regard to their own company.

But I will say I’m glad to be back and hope they don’t take this little piece of venting so personally that they deactivate me again. But if they do, look for me and my 1,839 friends on Twitter.

(A Daily Beast request to Facebook confirmed that the site does “have systems in place that flag anomalous behavior and either warn, block, or disable the user responsible. Examples of this include sending lots of messages to non-friends, or lots of friend requests that are then ignored. These systems are meant to prevent spam and encourage real connections. Users are warned to slow down before their accounts are disabled, and they can contact us if they feel they deserve a second chance.”)

Howard Bragman has been a communicator, educator, entrepreneur, writer and lecturer for over 30 years. Bragman is the founder of FifteenMinutes.com, a strategic media and public relations agency with offices in LA and NY, and respected for his work as a crisis counselor. He is a regular pundit on CNN, Fox, E!. Bragman is an Adjunct Professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communications. He is also the author of the recently released, Where’s My Fifteen Minutes? .