Diary of a Facebook Victim


I suffered something approaching an existential crisis this week when my Facebook account was suspended. I’m not kidding you, Gentle Reader. Suspended, I might add, without reason. So in addition to feeling as though my digital self had died (horrible!), I was also made to feel like a criminal, care of Facebook’s Orwellian error message.

When I attempted to log into Facebook that morning, entering my password into its familiar white space, I was confronted with the following alert message: "Your account has been disabled by an administrator. If you have any questions or concerns you can visit our FAQ page, here." What? Okay. I have several questions and concerns, yes. Clicking the link took me to a series of further options I could click, to hopefully find the reason why my account was suspended, and further, to find someone at Facebook I could email to ask them to sort out the misunderstanding. Surely it would be a simple matter of asking for the account to be unblocked?

No. Following the links provided resulted in an unintentionally hilarious pinballing between useless options. Reading the dense, deliberately confusing terms of use (as the FAQ had invited me to), I did at least discover that you could not use Facebook to harass people. You could not defame another user. You could not spam your contacts with junk mail. You could not post obscene, pornographic, demeaning, racist or otherwise unsavoury content in your newsfeed. You could not misrepresent yourself as someone other than yourself on Facebook.

I knew that I had in no way violated any of the terms listed above. Except that last one. The name I go by here is not, unsurprisingly, my given name. But it is a variation of my given name, and the name by which I have been known professionally for over 10 years.

All my work as a journalist is published under this name. But my birth name was not the one I entered into my Facebook details when I signed up for the account, as no one would have known who I was if I did. This would have somewhat defeated the purpose of a social networking tool through which your associates and friends contact you by searching for your name.

Following the link, "Can I see the content that got me disabled?" returned the result: "Unfortunately, for technical and security reasons, Facebook cannot provide you with a description or copy of the removed content," which is when I went from feeling bemused to feeling angry.

There was no way that Facebook as an entity could have known that I was not born Elmo, which seemed like the only way I could have violated the terms. This could only have happened if someone who knew me had lodged a complaint. To not know who this was, and to have had Facebook take their assertion as to the validity of my identity over my own, was infuriating.

More maddening yet, was that as my account was suspended, I had no way of searching the site to find an address to which to send the tersely worded email I was rapidly typing.

Back in the real world, a friend trawled the site until they found a working disabled@facebook email address to which I then sent my complaint. This was the first of three times I asked someone at Facebook to tell me why my account had been suspended, to which they three times replied with the same line: "A Facebook administrator looks into each report thoroughly in order to decide the appropriate course of action. If no violation of our Terms of Use has occurred, then no warning will be sent. If a violation has occurred, then a warning or more severe actions are taken. Unfortunately, for technical and security reasons, we are unable to provide details regarding the report. We apologize for any inconvenience."

Actually, I was inconvenienced. Further to this, I had received no correspondence of any kind from Facebook until the morning when I couldn’t access the account.

Seeing as my Twitter account was so far unassailed by overzealous administrators, I tweeted sarcastically, "Not being able to constantly update myself and everyone I know on what I’m doing every minute poses the question: do I exist?"

But as the days passed during which I could largely not contact anyone, I did start to feel increasingly isolated. You are far more likely to find someone on Facebook if you need a quick reply, than you are by emailing their work address, for example. As I work from home freelancing when I’m not teaching on campus, I rely heavily on Facebook (which just happens to be of all the possible places, where the most vast network of my friends and workmates have chosen to be) to at least feel like I’m in touch with people, when in reality I’m alone in the house with the cat all day, trying to get work done.

Which on account of the cat’s distinct lack of deductive reason/the ability to speak, can make for a sometimes lonely experience.

While locked out of my account I realised that I’d never thought to back up the contact details of people I’d lost touch with over the years, but with whom I had reconnected on Facebook. These included everyone from high school buddies to ex-lovers, new and old workmates and friends.

In addition, there were some relationships which had grown almost purely over the site. I’d never thought to archive it in any way because I assumed, erroneously, that I would always have access to the information.

There were all the notes I’d written, story ideas in draft form, hundreds and hundreds of messages between people, hundreds of photos which existed nowhere else, my posted items feed into the hundreds (which was my preferred way of keeping track of interesting reading online), love notes, songs dedicated to me, birthday messages, movies I would like posted on my wall, stupid hand drawn graffiti — and all of it was gone.

Then there were the literally thousands of pieces of ephemera which formed their own beautiful, distended narratives and playful running jokes that were also lost to me. In short, without intending to inflate its importance too drastically, Facebook made for a huge and ongoing art project where a community of equally smart, creative people played around for each other’s amusement in their down time.

Additionally, work was casually advertised among our networks, connections made and opportunities forwarded on, daily. Recommendations were given, advice both sought and doled out.

Also, I was really bummed to no longer be able to receive possibly life-saving salvos from the administrators of the group, The Hardest Part Of The Zombie Apocalypse Will Be Pretending That I’m Not Excited.

Facebook sent me another email, one which contained this directive: "Thanks for providing this information. At this time, we cannot verify the ownership of the account. Please send a scanned image of a government issued ID (e.g. driver’s license) to idrequests@facebook in order to confirm your ownership of the account. Please black out any personal information that is not needed to verify your identity (e.g. social security number). Rest assured that we will permanently delete your ID from our servers once we have used it to verify the authenticity of your account."

This was a bridge too far.

Facebook could have verified the account by getting in touch with me via any number of ways and asking. Perhaps they were enjoying a little too much Soylent Green at the Facebook headquarters along with their usual dose of the Facebook Kool Aid. A government issued ID? Facebook wanted me to send them a scan of my passport in order for me to be able to access my own personal data? Still they had not told me how I had violated the terms of use, nor who the person who had complained about my profile was, or why they complained.

On the upside, the time I spent exiled away from constant potential distraction meant that I had used breaks in the day to do actually necessary things, like clean the bathroom, file my tax return and finally finish the outline for my masters thesis. But this was hardly the point. I was not content to send a scan of my passport to Facebook who were asking for it without any good reason that I could see.

So instead I scanned my union membership card with "Elmo Keep" clearly printed on it, and lo and behold, my access was granted. Though so far, no one at Facebook has been able to tell me why my account was frozen in the first place. They just stopped responding to my requests.

But no matter (personal violations aside), as all was once again right with the world. I was made administrator of 95,000,000 Strong, and I sent a thankyou note to its members ("I have come back to you, just like Jesus"), and returned to me were my rights to post YouTubes (mainly consisting of old interviews with KISS, and amazing animal tricks) for my friends’ amusement.

I was happy again, because being able to freely do the little, sometimes stupid things that amuse or otherwise connect us — no matter how small our corner of the web — is one way that, in the midst of it all, we can feel like we exist.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.