I’ve used Facebook on and off since 2003, during my freshman year at university (back when it was a platform for college students). Over the years, I’ve taken a few hiatuses from the website, and I’ve never been terribly active there in any case.
However, a few years ago when the “Facebook groups” feature started taking off, I found it a rather useful tool to organize assignments for a few university-level courses I was teaching, and I ended up joining several other groups later on in a variety of categories.
Fast forward to around 2018, and I noticed that the occasional photo or post that I shared was suddenly only getting a few “likes” or comments, despite previously getting dozens (or hundreds). Furthermore, I noticed that the few people still seeing and responding to my posts were almost entirely “conservative”. In other words, I began to suspect I had been partially shadowbanned and assigned to an internal Facebook ghetto along with several friends, most (but not all) of whom seemed to have right-of-center beliefs. In fact, even when I posted to Facebook pages for the brands that I owned (pages on which I had spent thousands of dollars in Facebook Ads and thousands of hours publishing and updating content over the years), those posts seemed to be drastically limited to a tiny audience, too. (Even when I attempted several times to do the GPS location verification, Facebook said every single time that it had “failed”.)
I asked a few friends about it, and they said similar things had been happening to them, too. One friend even said that he felt Facebook was purposefully targeting him, at one point removing unremarkable photos of food he had posted; soon afterwards, some of his private messages with family and friends were also deleted by Facebook because they claimed he was “inciting violence”. (Facebook failed to specify which part of his private messages were “violent”, however, even after he repeatedly asked them about it.)
But assuming that Facebook really is segregating users they disagree with politically, surely it would require manual review by Facebook employees. I mean, just because you “follow” the Facebook page for Donald Trump doesn’t mean you support him, so I assumed I was being (or had been) actively monitored by Zuckerberg.
Why? I have no idea. I had a few back-and-forth political arguments and so forth in a few private groups, but I rarely posted outright political commentary on my actual profile. So I assume what probably set this in motion was being “reported” at some point by random Facebook users who disagreed with me. (I also noticed that in a popular group I had started in 2016, my own posts as the actual group Administrator were only being seen by a few dozen members, even though I had thousands of reactions previously. To make matters worse, this group wasn’t even political.)
Fast forward again to January 2021, in the days after the violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and I noticed some off-handed comment in a Facebook group that President Trump had “incited rioters” in his speech that day, and I responded fallaciously:
“I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard!” — @realDonaldTrump January 6, 2021
Literally, that is the only thing I posted. Almost immediately, I got a big red notice from Facebook that my account had been restricted, and that I had “multiple restrictions” including not being able to “go live”, and not being able to run any advertising campaigns for 30 days. But then a few hours later, a new notice arrived from Facebook, stating, “We understand that mistakes happen, so we didn’t restrict your account”… as if moderators had manually reviewed it and realized I hadn’t posted anything nefarious. Despite this update, to this day a yellow warning message remains on my account that says:
Your account may be restricted if you violate again.
So is my account restricted or not? Again, I don’t know if I’m officially restricted or not, or if this is just a 3-month-long “bug” in their software system. But I do know that, regardless, most of my friends can’t see my posts anymore, most of my group members can’t see my posts anymore even for my own groups or pages, and if I try to comment or leave a review on any Facebook page, it is completely hidden from view from other users (shadowbanned).
This is now hurting my company’s reputation. A few days ago, some spammers from the Firstwire Apps company got angry at me for reporting their illegal email spam to Amazon AWS, so they retaliated by leaving fake reviews on my Facebook pages… when I reported their fake Facebook profile, an email was immediately sent back to me from Facebook saying, “We reviewed the profile you reported and found that it doesn’t go against any of our Community Standards” … but it arrived so quickly, it seemed like an auto-responder for accounts like mine that are “restricted” or something.
I then tried to leave a review on Firstwire Apps page, and it shows up for me when I’m logged in, but Facebook is secretly hiding my review from everyone else (yet again).
So, anonymous trolls are allowed to slander my company, but I’m not allowed to respond in kind, let alone report them.
My question is how many millions of other Americans (and beyond) is this now happening to? This isn’t some conspiracy about a future society, it is happening right now, in mass, and it is effecting ordinary people’s relationships with family and friends, not to mention the very existence of businesses and brands they have spent years (and thousands of dollars) growing up until now.
In my case, I invested more or less 17 years into mastering Facebook, just to be restricted for a mundane comment that wasn’t even offensive or threatening on any possible scale.