Watch for coverage of Facebook account issues from NPR this week

Last week, I participated in an interview with a tech reporter from NPR who has been researching the stories behind the Facebook account issues that a lot of people have experienced.

One of my goals when I started writing about my experiences with Facebook on my website was to share the human side of these kinds of glitches. Yes, it’s Facebook, but impacts people in so many different ways. Some store their memories there, some rely on it for their profession, and others just like to stay in touch with their friends or family members. I conveyed this in my discussions with the technology reporter.

Will one news report fix our problems? No, I don’t think so. But, this does create an opportunity for us to raise more awareness, by viewing and commenting on the story, sharing it on different networks, and continuing to reach out to the media to see if anybody else wants to cover these problems. I would encourage everyone to check out the story when it goes live, and then reach out to your local TV or radio stations to see if they would be interested in covering these stories. Facebook has been facing some negative publicity, so the media might be more interested in reporting on the moderation and hacking problems than usual.

Some Progress

The Facebook PR representative that the reporter spoke with offered to forward the information for the people who were interviewed as a part of the new story to their security team and try to get their accounts restored. I was given this opportunity, and responded with the requested details. They asked for the URL for my account, and a fresh email address which I hadn’t used with Facebook before. One day later, an email arrived in my box inviting me to unlock my account by entering in a code which was provided. I clicked the link, and entered the code, but nothing happened. I tried to unlock my account using the only alternative method provided, which was to reset my password. This worked for the most part, but ironically the next screen which was shown to me stated that my account had been suspended that very same day, and that I had 30 days to appeal. I submitted the appeal.

I haven’t gotten a response back yet from Facebook saying if my account has been unlocked, or asking me to take additional steps. When I do try to log into my account, I am shown a screen which says, “We received your information,” and goes on to state that they are in the process of reviewing my account.

This is definitely an improvement over the previous message, which in my mind was telling me to “abandon all hope,” but I am a little disappointed that it has taken so many days for them to make a decision. I am not sure if I’ll find that my profile doesn’t warrant being reinstated, I’m just in some kind of holding pattern until a human being looks at my case, or perhaps they’re unlocking accounts in batches. There just is no way to know what exactly will happen.

Someone else I spoke to who Facebook helped has been able to get into their account. So, it seems that their customer support is still inconsistent, even for the people who get a little bit of extra support from the media.

I wanted to share this experience to let everybody know that there is still hope that you can all get your accounts back. My account was disabled for almost two months, and while the consensus on the Internet was that Facebook deletes your account after 30 days, they had no issue with restoring my account after this much time had passed. Remember that technology companies will routinely make backups of their servers, and they can restore those backups when necessary. But, I don’t know that they were required to.

Facebook needs better user support

This touches on a second thing that I mentioned during my NPR interview. Facebook really needs to improve its user support. This includes providing users with locked accounts a means for contacting them, as well as communicating a lot better when they are communicating with users. Twice, Facebook has communicated with me about a change to my account (first time, disabled, second time, suspended), but has never specifically explained to me the reason why the action was taken. I’d give them a pass for my suspension if it turns out that was just a formality, but they could have saved me a lot of grief back in June if they had explained why my account was disabled, with screenshots or text as examples. And, I should have been provided with the means to appeal the decision, or at least reach out to somebody at Facebook and try to explain my point of view. It is just really arrogant and bad business for Facebook to assume that their algorithms are so perfect that they do not need to provide their users with any explanations or a channel for communication. It is evident that their automation is far from perfect.

Can Return

Last week, I was using the grimey, persnickety machines at my local Wal-Mart to return recyclable cans. For anybody who might not be familiar with these, they are basically these machines which have been embedded into the wall which have a built-in tube with a conveyor belt which we drop our empty cans or bottles into when we want to refund our deposit. As a can travels down the conveyor belt, its bar code is read, and then it’s sent to either the left or right where it is crushed. As we pass our can or bottles through the slot, the machine counts them and at the end a receipt is printed off which we can use to redeem our deposit money.

There are a lot of rules that have to be followed when you’re using these machines. The item has to be placed in a certain way; bottom first, I think. You can’t send them through too fast, and of course the machine won’t accept them unless it can read the UPC code. This is also how it can tell if the store accepts the items or not. It sends them back if it doesn’t.

So, if everything goes smoothly you are able to exchange your empty containers for a little bit of cash. But, this process rarely goes smoothly inside the can return center at this Wal-Mart. That’s because the machines are old, sticky, and tend to break down a lot. For some reason, it can take a few tries to get the machine to accept a container. During that particular visit, it rejected a couple of twelve packs’ worth of cans.

I thought that this was a great analogy for why we need Facebook to change its automated moderation. When returning a can, I know that the can qualifies for a return and that the machine is wrong if it tries to say otherwise. I think that the failure rate would be much higher if humans weren’t standing there watching the process. The same thing is happening at Facebook; their moderation has a high failure rate, and they need to fix it. It’s gotten too easy for hackers to take control of somebody’s account, so they need to fix that also.

The beautiful thing about Wal-Mart, though, is that I was able to take the twenty cans that weren’t accepted by the machine to their Service Center, and the person there gave me a refund for my deposit money. That’s all I really wanted, either from the machines or somebody at the store. It didn’t really matter, as long as I was able to finish the task.

Facebook has created a system which makes so many layers of mistakes that they compound each other. A little bit of empathy could go a long way.

One thought on “Watch for coverage of Facebook account issues from NPR this week

  1. This is exciting news. Congratulations on making it on NPR! I hope your grassroots movement will induce Facebook to allocate some *human attention* to their account cancellation/restoration pipeline — it sounds like it’s been run by an unsupervised algorithm for far too long.

    BTW, I worked for Kroger in the mid-1990s, before can recycling was automated. It was my job to collect and sort the cans and bottles that folks returned. It was sticky, smelly work. I haven’t used an automated can recycling machine in recent memory, but I can definitely imagine the machines getting gummed up and malfunctioning like Jon says. Bar code readers work best in a clean, sterile environment. There are many words one could use to describe used pop cans, but “clean” and “sterile” are not among them. 🙂

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