NPF: THE SOCIAL NETWORK

So after a million or so Facebook users saw this post I got a bit of a surge of popularity on that ubiquitous social networking platform. One of the inviolable laws of the internet is that increased exposure brings trolls. Lots of trolls. And I've learned very quickly that motivated trolls are a big problem in that format.

To be brief, if someone reports your post on Facebook you get blocked from posting for something like 72 hours. As best I can tell there is no human involvement. Someone reports your post, a text recognition algorithm or something equally insipid "reviews" it and they send you an automated message banning you for some apparently randomly chosen amount of time. This would not be so frustrating except that Facebook literally has no customer support. I don't mean they have bad support; they have none. There is no chat, no email address, no phone number, nothing. They have a Help Center online and a few forms that, once filled out, result in a terribly helpful canned "Thank you for your feedback, we will continually improve our product" message.

It dawned on me that "customer service" may exist at Facebook, but we would never know. We're Users. The advertisers and the data harvesting industry are its customers. They probably have a hotline with real, helpful humans on the other end. For its billion users there is no interaction available whatsoever. Go ahead and Google it; you can find just about anything on the internet. Anything except a person who has successfully managed to contact Facebook by phone or even by email.

If I were more than a hobbyist – say I was a cartoonist or comedian and I relied on FB as an integral part of my means of supporting myself financially – this would be a killer. I don't understand how they manage to get away with having no support staff of any kind (although the fact that I've been on FB for about seven years and this is the first time I've ever had any need to contact them suggests that they're just playing the odds well).

It's not going to take any money out of my pocket, luckily. But regardless, that's why there won't be any updates there for a few days. If I manage to find the center of the Matrix I'll let you know.

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45 Responses to “NPF: THE SOCIAL NETWORK”

  1. HoosierPoli Says:

    Interesting that you invoke Google; they also famously have exactly zero consumer-facing support. Even if you pay for Google Apps for business, you get a somewhat helpful troubleshooting page and that's IT. It's not like such a large company makes this impossible; Amazon has some of the best customer support I've ever encountered.

  2. Talisker Says:

    Damn straight, Ed. As I've said before: Facebook cares about users in the same way and for the same reasons a farmer cares about livestock. We are not customers, we are raw material for the product.

    @HoosierPoli: Customer service isn't impossible. It is, however, expensive.

    Facebook has roughly a billion users. If on average they complain once every five years, and (simplistically) each complaint takes one person one day to resolve, FB would need to employ 500,000 full-time troubleshooters. They have no intention of doing so when (from their perspective) an algorithm can do a satisfactory job for free. (It's also about expectations management; if we knew a human being would respond when we complained to FB, then human nature being what it is, we would complain more.)

    Amazon is shipping tangible goods to paying customers. If a query of "where's my stuff" got ignored, they would quickly be out of business. With Facebook, the typical user complaint is, "the experience of using Facebook is not to my liking." Well, tough shit. They don't care if any individual user is happy, so long as the metrics of aggregate user activity are positive.

  3. Katydid Says:

    As you and Talisker have touched on, Ed, Facebook exists to harvest your personal information and sell it to interested parties. Look at how many times they've gotten caught invading users' computers. Not only that, but there's a thriving community of thieves trolling the sites to steal your identity. Actual abuse gets ignored, while trolling complaints get action.

  4. jharp Says:

    "This would not be so frustrating except that Facebook literally has no customer support. I don't mean they have bad support; they have none."

    This seems to be the case more often than not.

  5. Misterben Says:

    And THIS is a big part of why I think the TED-talk lovin', tech-panacea utopian, cult of Silicon Valley types need to rein it in. To the big-time internet companies, we're not citizens, and we're not even customers. We're just "users". They're not designing a service in the hope of winning our business. Their concern is keeping us captivated for as long as possible, because that's what they're REALLY selling: our attention, to advertisers.

  6. Wim Says:

    As the most horrifying thing I can imagine is catching up with an old classmate/workmate/bedmate, I've avoided Facebook with a phobic's zeal. As a Luddite, then, with no skin in the game, I awkwardly sympathize with people like Ed or my wife who get banned out out of nowhere for some random period because somebody got his mad on. I don 't know, is it feature or bug? Because it seems psychologically significant that people who are banned from FB seem even more intent on getting back to FB, like this is a component of operant conditioning.

  7. Emerson Dameron Says:

    Former Facebook ad buyer for a former employer. Can confirm.

    You're absolutely right about the ultimate helplessness of creatives trying to make a living on these platforms. It comes up on YouTube all the time, where six-figure careers are at stake.

    Walled Gardens are the new Old Media:
    https://medium.com/backchannel/internet-under-fire-gets-new-manifests-207a922b459e#.8sk5fcvjx

  8. Carl Says:

    That link directs me to the G&T Facebook page, not a specific post. I'm curious as to which one brought out the trolls.

    On a somewhat similar note, I love Hamilton Nolan's "Dumb Hicks are America's Greatest Threat" post, which I'm sure drew the anger of a lot of dumb hicks. Conservative bloggers can say anything they want about liberals, of course, but you know HamNo has gotten angry e-mails and comments about how UNCIVIL he is.
    http://gawker.com/dumb-hicks-are-americas-greatest-threat-1743373893

  9. Professor Coldheart Says:

    Ditto Emerson's comment above. I could get a Facebook ad rep on the phone within hours, given the budget we were playing with and the potential upside. But there is no service for the billion people who actually use Facebook.

  10. Jex Says:

    As someone who buys ads on a small scale I can tell you that we get no support either.
    Your Ad is running. Then 40¢ later.. Your ad is not approved. Reasons mostly include "too much skin" and "too much text."

    Just boost the goddamn post so people know about my event jerks.

  11. verbal Says:

    The banned post was, I belive "JESUS CHRIST THE SYRIAN REFUGEES AREN'T COMING TO WHATEVER GLORIFIED TRAILER PARK / FEMA CAMP / OPEN AIR METH LAB OR DYSTOPIAN INNER RING TRACT HOUSING AND STRIP MALL FART-FUCK OF A SUBURB YOU CALL HOME, THEY WOULD TAKE ONE LOOK AT YOUR SAD EXCUSE FOR A LIFE AND THINK "I'LL GO BACK AND TAKE MY CHANCES, DID YOU SEE THAT WOMAN WITH THE 'BAD BITCH' TATTOO HER TORSO LOOKED LIKE SOMEONE WAS BAKING BREAD IN A HALTER TOP." THE FACT THAT YOU GOT A SECOND HARDEES (NEXT TO THE PELLAGRA CLINIC) DOES NOT MAKE PIGSKNUCKLE COUNTY AN APPEALING TERRORIST TARGET, IF ISIS ATTACKS THEY WILL ATTACK A CITY BECAUSE CITIES HAVE LANDMARKS AND PEOPLE WHO WALK PLACES. WHY WOULD ANYONE EVEN BOTHER TRYING TO KILL YOU WHEN THEY COULD SIT BACK AND LET CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE DO THE JOB, BE SURE TO BUY MORE GUNS THOUGH THEY'RE REALLY KEEPING YOUR VINYL SIDED RANCH HOUSE SAFE. YES THERE ARE PEOPLE OUT TO GET YOU BUT THEY'RE NOT CALLED "ISIS" THEY'RE CALLED THE COLLECTION AGENCY AND YOUR GUNS WILL ONLY IMPRESS THEM TO THE EXTENT THAT THEY WILL FETCH SOMETHING AT AUCTION WHEN YOUR PROPERTY IS SEIZED TO PAY THE MEDICAL BILLS FOR YOUR LAST SIX ANGIOPLASTIES BUT YOU REALLY SHOWED OBUMMER BY NOT SIGNING UP FOR INSURANCE YOU DANIEL FUCKIN' BOONE RUGGED INDIVIDUALIST YOU."

    And probably a combination of conservatives, random trolls, and people offended by the judgy tone toward the poor and fat complained about it. And the algorithm saw a dramatically higher complaint level than usual, and pow, right in the kisser.

  12. doug Says:

    Ed, you nailed it on the uniform descriptions. I kept thinking the TV was on the blink and displaying colors wrong. But no…

    Carl and Emerson, Both great links. Thanks.

  13. J.D. Says:

    Our only hope to avoid an Idiocracy future is to provide free, effective birth control to all who want it, and to make it easy enough to acquire that Lazy McFatfuck will stumble upon it before getting knocked up. Otherwise, the number of kids popped out by the ignorant will continue to overwhelm natural selection's ability to keep up.

  14. Skipper Says:

    If you do not pay for the product, you ARE the product.

    It's that simple.

  15. c u n d gulag Says:

    Yet another reason I don't "do" social networking.

  16. Mo Says:

    Thanks, Verbal. And Carl, too, for the expanded but less elegantly phrased essay on the same topic.

    Hehhehheheheheheheh… Better than caffeine, simply contemplating the indignant clucking and squawking that your post evidently generated around the chicken yard.

    Wondering if the all-caps format made it more familiar and readable for the hicks.

    Or maybe the crank was that neat-o little razor slipped in:
    "BAKING BREAD IN A HALTER TOP?"

  17. Chicagojon Says:

    If that's the system I'm surprised you weren't shut down ages ago. Though I don't see any systematic 'report this post' function on facebook another side of the trolls is that they show up and start, well…trolling.

    This being the internet that will inevitably lead to arguing. Since it's facebook there are often people on both sides that have easily traceable profiles to their name, work, family members, etc. Whether it's the troll or the 'loyal G&T defender against trolls' there are a lot of lines crossed in the comments threads of recent posts. I suspect those are what is being flagged to FB as much as the tone of the post itself.

    Kinda makes you miss the old anonymous internet posting days. Oh wait, those were categorically worse.

    I suspect within 5 years we'll all be forced into the internet under our true identity and the smallest of threats will be prosecuted in the real world — or potentially more damaging in the virtual world.

  18. Major Kong Says:

    @verbal

    That's awesome. If it isn't on facebook in damn well should be.

  19. Greg Says:

    It was most likely the commenter adding a photo of a drowned child that got the Pearl-clutching into full overload.

  20. Skipper Says:

    @ Major Kong — it was on FB. That's what got Ed suspended.

  21. College Senior Says:

    To be fair, I can definitely see why the post was picked up by an algorithm after it was flagged. Computers aren't very discerning. I think it should probably need more than one or 2 flags + an algorithm to determine if something is threatening. Sadly I don't work at Facebook to suggest this though.

    Someone mentioned Google's support being bad, and I think that's true for the most part where most customers are concerned, but a few of the products that they actually sell do have support. I.E. It is possible to get a human from Google on the telephone. Not much, but apparently better than Facebook?

  22. Major Kong Says:

    @Skipper

    It must have been taken down. The link leads to a post about the NFL.

  23. noseflower Says:

    Remember: if you are using something "free" on the internet, YOU are the product. You are not a facebook customer, you are one of it's billions of products.

  24. Ten Bears Says:

    Not unlike paying the oil companies for the privilege of dispossing of the toxic by-product of their production of drugs, plastics and composites by pumping it into our transportation devices and turning it into yet another toxic gas that may well render the only atmosphere we know of we can inhabit inhabitable within a generation or two.

  25. Kris Says:

    I'm a musician and Facebook auto-generated a music page for me (how or why, I don't know). It is IMPOSSIBLE to have it removed, despite my repeatedly trying to and not wanting anything to do with Facebook. So now it looks like I signed up and have a total of 30 fans that "like" me. To top it off, it is one of the first things that show up when you search my name!

  26. Skipper Says:

    @Major Kong — does this work

    http://on.fb.me/1SMfOQu

  27. Robert Says:

    Thanks, Skipper! I have shared this on FB.

    And thank you, Ed. That screed burns with a gemlike flame.

  28. sluggo Says:

    be very careful, ed.

    look what happened to gulag, facebook broke his ankle and had him banned for two months. twitter still hasn't return his car keys.

    (if all caps is shouting, then no caps is a whisper…..)

  29. Skipper Says:

    The worst thing about all this is what's called the "chilling effect." Whether you intend to or not, the next time you're inspired to write a ran like that, you will be looking over your shoulder.

  30. just me Says:

    I'd rather like to think that Ed will wind it up even tighter before he lets out a rant.

    Nice rant, BTW.

  31. FMguru Says:

    Ed, let me be the seventeenth person to point out that you are not the customer, you are the product being sold to the real customers (i.e. companies that want you to #engage their brands).

  32. Chicagojon Says:

    Note related but related:
    There was an NPR piece today about Square – the hardware/software that lets you run credit cards on a phone/tablet. Apparently if they/their algorithms detect potentially suspicious activity they'll shut down your account and freeze your funds for 90 days. This puts you into a class of not-active accounts and the support is zilch.

    As long as the masses can continue to __ with their ___ who cares what happens to content providers, businesses, individuals, etc.

  33. Scepticus Says:

    I bet "all caps" is one of the data points that algorithm looks for.

  34. Dean Barber Says:

    Hi,

    I don't have much to say right now because I haven't explored your blog very much, but I also found this due to that post you mentioned. And it's an absolute treat. I will be following you now.

    And by the way, I used to work in call-center setting where FB data mining was conducted. You're absolutely correct. It's not a subtlety at all, and truthfully…you brought it on yourself being so smart and incisive.

  35. The Jack of Hearts Says:

    Congrats on your internet fame. I think it was Louis CK who said he gave himself seven years to gain a following, which meant he gave himself permission to fail and do whatever he wanted during that time? But you are no Louis CK. You are much funnier, smarter, sexier than he could even dream of being. Don't forget about us little people now, okay?

  36. Noskilz Says:

    That's a shame. Hopefully it gets sorted out sooner rather than later.

  37. Leading Edge Boomer Says:

    That screed was classic, hilarious, and surely a finalist for the Rant Hall of Fame. I am trying to share it widely, giving G&T credit of course.

    @verbal Was this post in response to an earlier one? I do not and never will do FB, so your help can put this into context.

  38. Skipper Says:

    Just be thankful you're not this guy. His name — real name — is Phuc Dat Bich. It's Vietnamese and isn't pronounced that way in Vietnamese, but FB keeps shutting down his account.

    http://bossip.com/1255093/hold-up-vietnamese-man-named-phuc-dat-bich-posts-passport-on-facebook-to-prove-his-identity-is-real/

  39. Kathy Einwich Says:

    I thought the post was hilarious, and rather true. I wanted to send it to my Titans-lovin' nephew. Thanks so much.

  40. Alex SL Says:

    Ye gods, I never looked at your FB stream before. It's hilarious!

  41. Dr. Acula Says:

    Interestingly, I have repeatedly reported racist shit to Facebook, and every single time, I have received a "reply" that says that the post or page doesn't violate community standards.

  42. Khaled Says:

    @ Dr Acula-

    I too have reported all kinds of vile, racist shit on Facebook and gotten the same canned response. But Ed get suspended for a post making fun of people. Which, you know, is kinda the point of Ed's Facebook page.

    As someone who discovered Gin and Tacos through Facebook, I've been missing the updates. Thanks for letting us know what happened Ed. Otherwise, I might have figured that Chuck finally kidnapped you, Misery-style, and was holding you hostage until you saw the light.

  43. Morley Bolero Says:

    Seems appropriate to share this on my FB page ;)

  44. Kmtberry Says:

    The jokes on them! I use FB all the time, but I DON'T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO BUY ANYTHING!!

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