A Primer on Facebook Bans

I’ve been looking into Facebook bans recently because I was issued a 7-day ban for sharing an Instagram video of myself playing Flight of the Bumblebee with a dildo on my lips. [link]

This is what the ban looks like:

Even if you aren’t the kind of person to get banned for dildo music performances, there are some things you should know about how Facebook bans users. Hopefully by the end of this I will have convinced you to have made Facebook pages of yourself, at the very least. So, here’s one thing you should immediately know:

You can get banned for posts you don’t even send.

You can get banned for an accidental copy+paste.

Here is a timeline of when I have been issued temporary bans.

2007 – 2015: I was issued no bans.

April 2016: Previewing a porn link in messenger. (As in, I copy/pasted on accident and the link previewed; I was automatically blocked for this by Facebook’s AI.) Time: 1 day.

Some time in 2016: Calling myself “faggot” in a status about how I’ve sucked dick. Time: 1 day.

September 2016: Posting a picture of my ass that I intended to use as advertisement for a squat guide. Time: 3 days, for “nudity.”

March 2017: Calling myself “faggot” in a comment on Milo Yiannopoulos’s wall. Time: 1 day.

July 2017: Sharing (not posting) a video of me on Instagram of me playing Flight of the Bumblebee on my lips with a dildo. (This is unique because normally you don’t get blocked for sharing content on Facebook, so the same should apply to Instagram.) Time: 7 days

One question I’ve yet to get a direct answer on is whether Facebook’s bans stack punishments to make future punishments harsher. In other words: if someone is given a 7-day ban, will the next ban be harsher than this (10 days) or will it depend on the offence? This is concerning because if you are banned for slips of your finger (such as the April 2016 porn incident), this could potentially lead to 30-day bans in the future. Your likelihood of being banned would depend on your degree of activity, and Facebook would be penalizing users for being very active on their platform.

Ban length doesn’t seem to depend on offence, for several reasons: first, many accounts exist of users being given 30-day bans immediately for behaving like spam accounts. Moreover, if you look at my ban timeline the September 2016 and March 2017 bans go backward in punishment.

What’s concerning about the 7-day ban for the Flight of the Bumblebee dildo performance is that the application of the rule is inconsistent and vague in a way that previous bans have not been. It’s inconsistent because sharing sex toy links is not forbidden; you’ve been able to share Amazon links of sex toys on Facebook for quite some time, and the offending Flight of the Bumblebee video was allowed on Instagram — which is owned by Facebook. Many other sex toy videos exist on Instagram as well. In other words, I was disciplined on Facebook for sharing an Instagram link, which, again, is owned and controlled by Facebook. So this ban implies it’s okay on Instagram — but I can’t share links part of their own network on their own network. And instead of blocking my post on Instagram, they blocked access to my entire account on Facebook. Even though the post started on Instagram. Which they have control of.

Also note that there are different types of Facebook blocks. Some just block your access to a feature, like “like”ing posts or messaging people. Others block your access to the platform, but leave your account up. Others remove your account entirely.

Unlike previous bans, the ban for the Flight of the Bumblebee dildo video seem to have disabled the account’s visibility. This is my personal account: https://www.facebook.com/a.macdonald.iv

Hopefully, you can see it when you read this article. But at the time I’m writing this, this is what you see:

In the past, I could reply and look through my account at the very least. Here, it’s as if I blocked everyone from viewing the account. The messages show up in messenger as “Facebook User”, which only happens once a person has blocked you or disabled their account. Further, this is concerning because Facebook encourages use of messenger as a quasi-phone service. I can’t browse old messenger logs, or anything else.

Let me elaborate on “Facebook encourages use of messenger as a quasi-phone service.” In some ways Facebook wants Messenger to be independent of Facebook; you can make accounts that are -just- for Messenger, and you can check SMS messages through messenger. The messenger app encourages the use of this feature. However, in other ways Facebook doesn’t want this, because they will ban your access to Messenger *in addition* to your access to your main Facebook account if your post happens to fall into a gray-area that the moderation team interprets as rule-violating.

This is alarming. What if was someone who did what Facebook wanted, and used their service as an SMS alternative, and needed to contact someone in an emergency? If I was less technologically literate, and less aware of the rules, something like this could potentially put me in serious danger. I can easily picture a gay teen given a ban like this for calling themselves “faggot”, not knowing Facebook has this policy, and then being unable to message their parents when they’re stranded because they took Facebook at face value and used the platform as an SMS service. Bundling punishments from Facebook’s main service to messenger is not only extremely irresponsible decision by the Facebook moderation team, it’s backward given their goals.


Contingency methods

Below are several methods to avoid having your life ruined if, for some reason, you find yourself in a gray area of Facebook’s rules — such as by copy/pasting a link in Messeger on accident, or thinking that a dildo music video is okay because sex toy link from Amazon are okay.

Back up your facebook account.

This is something you should be doing already. Facebook tells you how to back up all your data here.  The gist is you go to Settings –> General –> Download a copy of your Facebook data.

Get Messenger-only accounts.

You can get accounts that exist solely on the Messenger platform and nowhere else. To do this, sign up with a mobile number. Facebook has a help page for this here. I encourage everyone to have an account they use just for messenger, if for some reason your access to your main account is given a bundled restriction and you don’t have access to messenger account.

Make Groupchats with dummy accounts or facebook pages.

It’s possible to use several accounts or Facebook pages for archiving purposes. For Facebook pages, you can start a Facebook page and then initiate a chat with that page. For dummy accounts, you can invite a dummy account to whatever group chats you’re part of. You can even invite the dummy accounts to groupchats with people you wanted to message and rename the group chat to your name. This creates several archived copies of your messenger log in case you need to search it.

You can also use groupchats for types of reminders, since you can make infinite amounts of groupchats with the same composition of people. So, you could make a group chat with two dummy accounts and rename it to “reminder.media”, then make another one with the same composition and name it to “reminder.ideas”, and so on. You can also clearly do this with Facebook pages. But groupchats have an advantage because if you lose access to one account you have the information backed up on another.

Post as a Facebook page instead of your personal account.

For example: https://www.facebook.com/alfredmacdonaldpage/

If you are reported for a content violation on a page, Facebook just suspends the page. If it happens on your main account, your main account is suspended and you can’t use messenger. You also are unable to search your Activity Log, which is extremely useful for searching archived content. I also suspect Facebook prioritizes pages over people in the feed algorithm.


Closing

Most discussion platforms seem to die from petty censorship; this is what the Facebook moderation teams do. Inevitably, someone thinks that augmenting the power of censors is the right thing to do and convinces people in charge that inaction, and by that I mean not censoring, is unacceptable. Once this happens they can’t be convinced otherwise, despite endless historical examples of censorship doing this. And once censors start to get power over platforms that allows them to make the kind of arbitrary decisions you see in this article, they rarely rescind their power. So it seems like the ban feature on Facebook and arbitrariness of moderation teams aren’t going to go away; instead, it’s going to expand in function and scope until the userbase is so sick of it that alternatives are developed. What those are, I don’t know. In the mean time, hopefully this will give users methods to protect their information from removal should they find themselves at the unfavorable intersections of the Facebook’s vague policies.

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