Yesterday The Aviator‘s Facebook page disappeared. When I logged in to check the page I was greeted by a message that said the page was being removed because it had been identified as carrying material related to bullying. There was a button labelled “appeal”, so I pressed it. That’s all. No contact information, no detail of the complaint. Nothing. Except that I was also prevented from posting or sharing anything on Facebook for 12 hours. The page no longer exists, and I am annoyed.
So: why did this happen? Either Facebook has made a mistake all by itself — not impossible, obviously — or someone made a mischievous or malicious complaint against the page in order to get it taken down. I am a great believer in the cock-up theory of history — big conspiracies make for fine entertainment but poor historical analysis — so I would tend to think there’s been a slip up somewhere. After all, yesterday was the day that Facebook made a big song and a dance about cracking down on people posting about violence against women (and about time too), so perhaps someone in California got a bit carried away with the clean-up.
But to draw the page to FB’s attention, someone — presumably — should have made a complaint. It’s easy to do on any page. You just click on the gearwheel button under the page header, and click on the “report” link. You can also do it on any post from that page that appears in your timeline, though the options you get are different. It’s easy to do, and that’s probably as it should be, given the distasteful and violent rubbish that some deluded souls apparently post. But while it should be easy to report offensive material, it should also be incumbent on Facebook to make reasonable efforts to check that any complaint is not malicious.
Did someone, knowing my high-profile stance on the reality of climate change, and willingness to satirise those who campaign against action to reduce emissions, decide to play a childish prank? Is there a climate denier out there somewhere feeling smug because they’ve succeeded in getting my little page taken down? How amusing that is.
What I really object to is the high-handed manner in which it the page was removed, with no notice, nor any justification. A couple of years ago, when FB took down a few high profile pages for claimed copyright infringement, there was a considerable fuss. The Ars Technica takedown brought to light many other page removals on flimsy grounds — including cases where individuals were trying to extort money from page owners to have their pages returned. In copyright cases, FB supplies an email for the person making the complaint — though it appears they never check that the emails are real (at least, they didn’t in 2011), leaving the system wide open to abuse.
Fortunately, The Aviator‘s Facebook page is not a crucial part of marketing the book, so its absence makes little day to day difference to sales. But it does point up an important issue for anyone using Facebook as a part of a marketing strategy. Y’know, social media are supposed to be really important these days, so you have to be there. If Facebook can take away a network you’ve spent time and effort (and perhaps money, given the intense push by FB to get people to pay to promote their posts) developing, on the whim of some deluded or mischievous individual, then why would any sane business spend money with them? Just asking…