Columnists » David Toussaint


by David Toussaint
Saturday Jul 17, 2010

Dear Kimmie,
Thank you for the email regarding the de-activation of my Facebook account. First of all, let me apologize for the informal address, but you did not provide a last name in your email, or a contact number. I don't even know where your office is located. All I know is your first name and that you work in "User Operations," whatever that means.

After my Facebook account was de-activated on Sunday, June 20, with no advance notice, I went to the FAQ page to figure out why. In three years' time, I've never "continued prohibited behavior after receiving a warning or multiple warnings from Facebook," the first reason listed for possible de-activation. I've never received a notification from Facebook concerning anything.

Other listed reasons were "fake name" (no), "obscene, pornographic, or sexually explicit photos" (no), or photos depicting "graphic violence" (no, unless you count pictures of oil-swathed pelicans), "impersonation of a person or entity" (no), and "unsolicited contact with others for the purpose of harassment, advertising, promoting, dating, or other inappropriate conduct" -- okay, that one's a little ambiguous, but "no."

There was a blurb that says Facebook sometimes disables accounts for security reasons; I figured that was the case and wrote to Facebook asking to have my account re-activated. The next day you sent me an email saying that my account was disabled because my behavior on the site "was identified as harassing or threatening to other people on Facebook." The possible prohibited behavior under that definition included, "but is not limited to"

• Sending friend requests to people you don't know.
• Regularly contacting strangers through unsolicited inbox messages.
• Soliciting others for dating or business purposes.

This was followed by a note saying that I would no longer be able to use Facebook, and that "the decision is final and cannot be appealed." For "technical and security reasons," you continued, "we will not provide you with any further details about this decision."

Kimmie, my brother works for a defense weapons company and his daily memos are less secretive.

I wrote back saying I'd violated none of the rules, and to please re-activate my account. I'm sure that you and the rest of the "User Operators" chuckled over that request, in between vodka shots and waterboarding stories.

Facebook has over 400 million users, according to Wikipedia, and is a staple of modern communication. Anyone who's read a paper in the past year knows it's also come under fire for creepy privacy practices and excessive secrecy. I didn't much think about this until my de-activation, but do you honestly blame people for being suspicious of tactics that would make Dick Cheney salivate?

When you join Facebook, it lets you check boxes that say if you're interested in using the site for dating and/or networking. You're also allowed to list your political beliefs and your religion. Now, color me Catch-22, but if I wrote someone on Facebook and asked for a date, did I violate your rules? If I "friended" someone and said "maybe we could work together on a business project," am I on the hit list? As for friend-requesting someone you don't know, I am guilty of that. However, I'm going to take a wild guess that all the people on Facebook who've "friended" Anderson Cooper don't actually know the man.

I'm being persnickety, but what, exactly, is an obscene photograph? I have, I'll admit, posted pictures of scantily clad men. I know guys who've had those photos removed, or have themselves been de-activated, but here's the rub: Facebook itself offers "Sexy Men" applications, which you can post on your page or send to others. These pictures show guys naked from behind or wearing G-strings. How is that different? Anyway, nobody ever removed those photos or told me to stop posting them.

Facebook used to have an application called "Friends I'd Like to F***," which you could post on your profile page, complete with photos of the desirables! (I say "used to" because, you see, I'm not allowed to check if it's still there). There was a "Lick Ur Co*k" "gift" that you could whimsically send to, well, anyone. I'm assuming that, since these applications are provided by Facebook and, once opened, allows the company to ascertain information about you for advertising purposes, they couldn't possibly be inappropriate. Now that I think about it, maybe that Poking thing is considered harassment -- I know it irritates me; or could it be the "Suck Your Lollipop" app that was all the rage last year?

Kimmie, here's the kicker: I joined Facebook because I'm an author, and was told it was a great way to network (notice I did not say "solicit") my writing. I created a Fan Page (the instructions on how to build it were so cool and encouraging). My page was the perfect place to post my columns, list my web site where people could find out more about me, and have a link to, so they could purchase my books. Within six months I had over 1,000 fans, and I was so excited I paid Facebook to advertise me.

For about a year, Kimmie, Facebook received money every time someone clicked on my ad. People wrote me from all over the world, commenting on columns, telling me about themselves, and connecting. It was exactly what a networking site should allow you to do. I wrote to people in foreign places like Dubai and Japan and Texas. It was then that I realized the opportunities sites like Facebook provided. I praised the site to skeptics, always citing the communication factor. I was listed as "single," and "interested in men," and a guy whom I thought was very handsome wrote me saying he wanted to date. We became a couple, and I had Facebook to thank. I'll take that kind of unsolicited sexual harassment any day!

I stopped advertising on Facebook a few months' back because I didn't think it was helping me sell books. My relationship also ended. But did I give up on Facebook? No way. I had made so many friends and connected to so many people, including long-lost high school and college buddies, that I would have been a fool to let go. I'm also pretty sure Facebook got something back. Every time a friend went to my page or found out I was gay or knew that I lived in New York, you pulled the information and sent them ads too. Last time I logged onto Pandora I discovered that a lot of my Facebook friends also like Kesha's "Tik Tok." I didn't even know Pandora knew I used your services.

Naturally, Kimmie, I sifted through my memory bank to try and figure out where I'd gone wrong. Yes, I flirted with people on Facebook; consensual flirting with men over 21. Yes, on my fan page I showed a photo of my book cover, and told people how you could purchase it. I even listed when I'd be doing book signings. Was that soliciting improperly? The "SF Gate" columnist Mark Morford has a link on his page to all of his columns, and he also posts when he'll be teaching Yoga classes, which I'm fairly certain you have to pay for. (Of course, I'm sure you already know that and have deleted him and his 5,000 friends who don't all know him, as well as his Fan Page -- I mean, anything else would be a double standard, right?)

Granted, I had about 2,000 friends (5,000 is the limit), and hadn't met most of those people. But every time you log on to Facebook, there's a "Friends Suggestion" box, encouraging you to add more acquaintances even though, contrary to violation rules, most of these folks are strangers. Many of those 2,000 friends wrote me, and sometimes the emails or postings were a bit risqué. Since I don't care to have anyone send me an email offering MSN sex, I ignored and deleted those notices, and those people.

So, Kimmie, what exactly did I do wrong to get de-activated after three whole years, and without ever once receiving a warning? More important, why won't you tell me so I can correct the mistake? Why can't Facebook employ a group of people with actual last names who actually speak to you when there's a problem, and who can specifically notify you of what is considered offensive and inappropriate so you don't break the rules? Most of us want to play fair, but that's hard to do when the instructions are only written in your language. Wouldn't you save a lot of hard feelings and bad press if you offered up your own olive branch?

In one quick de-activation, you've deleted a network of people that I've spent three years culminating. You've destroyed all the photos I scanned and downloaded and shared with old friends. You've destroyed a fan page that I built and designed and paid money to Facebook to use -- and you didn't offer me a refund.

On that note, Kimmie, I did send you another email saying that, if you insist upon deleting my fan page, I should be compensated for money spent. You didn't write back. Now I don't know how it works in "User Operations," but most companies I deal with have an actual Customer Service department in case you feel the product in question did not guarantee satisfaction. Facebook has created a site that takes your money, terminates you per their whim, and provides no recourse. Somewhere in Russia, Vladimir Putin is having wet dream Facebook fantasies. I've also permanently lost very important connections, and no longer have the ability to use the site to make the world a more inter-active place. Why it seems like only yesterday that I helped Betty White host "Saturday Night Live."

When I informed people that I was terminated, they were furious. They didn't de-activate their own accounts, and for a simple reason: Facebook is now the Yellow Pages. Everytime someone wants to locate a person (for whatever reason), they check Facebook. They meet people there, network there, share political articles and opinions there -- they do everything you've instructed them to do and warned them not to do. Now that I've become a cyber enemy combatant, given no specific reason for termination but told it's definite, my friends are scared too.

Because of your actions, more Facebook users will become paranoid about who they friend, what they post, what they say, what their sexual preference is, what their religious beliefs are, who's watching and reading their profile pages. Is this the world you're trying to create? A place where everyone uses words but no one actually says anything?

Kimmie, I write a column for a gay and lesbian magazine. Some of the subject matter probably offends or upsets people, as is usually the case when you're paid to write your opinions. And, yes, I'm part of a minority that a lot of people hate. Don't you think it's possible that some reader or group or organization or rejected friend or rejected date or deleted Spammer or pissed-off competitor reported me to Facebook? Or could I have done something that offended, say, an advertiser?

There was an article awhile back about how Facebook monitors its site. Not surprisingly, the answers given were vague. I do remember a spokesperson saying that, if your account is de-activated, or if you receive a warning, or if you post a photo and it's removed, it's probably because a "friend," not a Facebook monitor, reported you. The last time I heard that kind of logic was when my mom was telling me horror stories of that Joe McCarthy fellow.

So, Kimmie, you got me. Never mind the child molesters or perverts or hackers or pick-pockets still prowling around your site. I'm the real enemy, and maybe you got a bonus for your work. Before you head to the celebration Party, keep this in mind: Someday, Kimmie, Facebook will be replaced by an even bigger, even more sophisticated networking site. In their quest to own the Internet, you'll be the first person who needs to be disappeared.

A "Friend"

David is an established columnist with EDGE. Follow him on Twitter at @DRToussaint.


  • Cecilia B., 2010-07-17 16:16:47

    Excellent column, David. I have to say that after your experience, I went through all of my contacts and removed anyone questionable, because who knows?

  • , 2010-07-18 15:57:31

    Excellent column. To begin with, I thought it was a joke, another well written, humorous column. Yes, we are living in a fascist society. Your Mom

  • , 2010-07-18 16:22:32

    Excellent - once again you started us all thinking. Perhaps their usage or click-thru algorithms are off or something as it’s still a mystery to me how I could only be returning the friendly "poke" to those who poked first - yet i’m the abusive one? What made me really chuckle was FB icon when I went to comment! Now the next mystery is - what happens to MY FB account when I click the "submit" below?

  • Garrett, 2010-07-19 12:34:31

    Support David and his new beginnings!

  • cybernoelie, 2010-07-20 19:48:39

    I shared your column on Facebok with this comment: Back up all your photos and make sure your friends have your email address and/or phone number because you never know when Facebook might eradicate you!

  • ???, 2010-07-22 04:53:04

    Haha, so scathing. I love it.

  • puck, 2010-10-13 10:46:15

    Well done!

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