Wwould you rather be banned for life from tesco or apple? Or, to go further: would you find it easier to cope with losing access to all major supermarkets, or just Google? The answer will depend on your particular circumstances, but there’s no denying that losing access to a major tech company can be catastrophic. In my case, losing Apple services would render my smartphone almost useless, while losing access to Google would take away my email account. An Amazon ban would prevent me from reading thousands of pounds worth of purchased books and comics connected to my Kindle, while a Microsoft ban would turn my Xbox Series X into an expensive paperweight.
The number of non-tech businesses that can cause equal harm is few. If Sainsbury’s banned me from its supermarkets, I’d have to walk a little further to Waitrose, but I wouldn’t have to return all the groceries I’d already bought from the store. If my bank blocked me it would be extremely inconvenient, but strict regulations mean it would be difficult for the company to close my account AND keep my money
Despite this, tech companies have long been reticent to accept the severity of a ban from their services. Legally, they may have the right to deny service as they see fit – but that’s cold comfort to former users whose lives have been ruined by allegations of rule-breaking.
So it’s good to see that someone is starting to take the issue seriously. Bloomberg’s Kurt Wagner reports:
Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms Inc. is building a customer service division to help users of its social networks whose posts or accounts have been unexpectedly taken down.
The effort is in its early stages and has been given a higher priority thanks to feedback Meta has received from the supervisory board, the independent body created in 2020 by the company to review some of its decisions on controversial or problematic content. The board has received more than a million appeals from users, many of them related to account support.
“How can we provide care, customer service and feedback to people about why their content has been taken down or why their accounts have been taken down?” said Brent Harris, Meta’s vice president of governance, who confirmed that improving Meta’s customer service is something they are “spending a lot of time on.” He did not provide details on how the group would interact with users.
Losing access to a Facebook account can be brutal. For most users, it will remove two social networks at once – Facebook and Instagram – leaving them free from socializing online and isolated from their friends. For some, it will also render some expensive devices, such as the Portal videophone or Oculus headset, useless.
And for some it can be devastating. If you run a direct-to-consumer e-commerce business, the ability to pay for Facebook ads can be the difference between survival and failure. If you run an online media, promoting your content on social networks is not optional. And if you are a professional influencer, your Instagram account it’s your career.
But unlike its mega-corp peers, Facebook runs a social network. It might be bad if I get banned from Amazon, but, unless I return a lot of merchandise and break their fraud algorithms, it’s unlikely. On Facebook, however, the platform’s community standards span 25 pages in public versions alone, and hundreds more in detailed documents handed to moderators to guide their work. Just knowing what rule you’ve been banned for can be difficult, and contacting someone to plead your innocence, or plead for leniency, can be nearly impossible.
So it’s good to see that the social network finally accepts the seriousness of such bans. Facebook has historically been loathe to hire people to do jobs that can, at times, be poorly automated, but the sooner it gets this team up and running, the better.
Of course, the power of a Facebook ban is a direct consequence of the power of Facebook itself. Leaving Tesco is not devastating, because other supermarkets offer almost identical products; an HSBC ban could survive because banking regulations require the company to provide a smooth step out of diversion, rather than simply deleting your account without appeal.
For a social network with a large market share and few regulatory restrictions on the capricious exercise of power, account bans become a much more pressing problem. So far, governments have focused on a particularly narrow form of the issue, with conservatives in the UK and US arguing against politically motivated moderation that doesn’t seem to actually exist. But it also serves to cement the idea that Facebook and its ilk should be careful with their banhammers — and perhaps that idea finally pushed Facebook to act.
Sticking with Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg sat down with Joe Rogan, the only podcast your potty ex listens to, for a three-hour interview. It’s easy to be dismissive of Rogan, and even easier to worry about his tendency to promote interviewees who flirt with right-wing radicalization, but his interviewing technique is truly impressive. Rogan’s persona is that of a total naïve, willing to believe absolutely anything he is told in an excited and collegial manner. He is terrible at holding people to account in the conventional sense, but good at forcing people to work out the implications of their positions and at simply revealing the swallow for what it is.
All of this made Zuckerberg’s interview interesting, not as a searing revelation of Meta’s future plans or Zuckerberg’s genius, but as a character study of a man who is pretty sad about his job and looking for desperately something new to get excited about.
“You wake up in the morning, look at my phone, get like a million messages… it’s usually not good,” Zuckerberg said. “It’s almost like every day you wake up and get punched in the stomach.”
One important point for me from the interview was that the financial analysis of Metas’ pivot to the metaverse misses the point. Yes, parent company Facebook needs a new narrative to justify its stock price following the equal growth of Facebook and Instagram. His tagline – “We’ll all live in the metaverse” – ensures this.
But Facebook isn’t run by, or for, shareholders: it’s run by and for Mark Zuckerberg, King for Life, and Mark Zuckerberg desperately needs some joy in his life. Dropping $10 billion a year on building virtual reality technology that lets you play poker in space might not be a great business move, but it allows Zuckerberg to spend part of his workday don’t get yelled at by humanity for creating a website that destroyed the old world order and replaced it with a crappy one that doesn’t even have a customer service helpline when your account is permanently deleted.
Who among us can honestly say we wouldn’t do the same?
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