You might have been one of the hundreds of people who noticed that we were blocked on Facebook from Aug. 31 – Sept. 17, 2014.
This ban applied to SpiderOak.com, all of our affiliated sites and any related email addresses (like support!) ending in spideroak.com. This meant no mentioning them in both comments and posts on Facebook, and it was too smart to be fooled by URL shorteners like Bitly. We were unable to promote articles on our company’s Facebook page and even I was unable to share a link to my own blog post from my personal account! This not only rendered our Facebook page pretty much useless, it also drastically hurt our numbers for that month since Facebook is one of our biggest social referral sites to spideroak.com.
HOW DID WE NOTICE?
We tried to promote a recent blogpost and Facebook told us that we couldn’t. And that same day, users began to write us and share that they too were getting the same warning message. It included a prompt to tell Facebook if we thought what we were linking to wasn’t spam. So we told them. And we told them again. And we asked our friends and fans to tell them, which they did, dozens upon dozens of times. Facebook’s response? Crickets. Nothing. Absolutely no response for weeks, let alone any explanation of why we were blocked or what we could do to get unblocked.
Well, Facebook claims they’re trying to be more transparent about why they ban certain links, and they explain some of their methodology here: Explaining Facebook’s Spam Prevention Systems. However, their explanation doesn’t go beyond a few anecdotes of behavior that’s likely to get you blocked, such as sending out dozens of messages to people who aren’t on your friends list. They even have this catch-all caveat:
We can’t share all of the details of how these systems work because if we did, the spammers might try to get around them. However, they’re designed to automatically detect suspicious behavior, block it and warn the person who’s engaging in it to slow down.
THE ROOT PROBLEM
We noticed around the same time we were first blocked that McAfee’s SiteAdvisor site had listed us as “malicious”, including an example of a single user’s share room which was being used to distribute malware. So we immediately resolved this issue and started implementing some countermeasures to prevent malware distribution. Next, we sent a support request to McAfee to see if we can get our rating changed or at least add some kind of note to explain that we’re working to fix the issue.
To date, we’ve still had zero response from McAfee, but that’s because their estimated response time is anywhere from 7-180 days, according to the autoreply they sent us. They still have around 160 days to respond before they start feeling like they took an excessively long time to get back to us. At this point we decided to investigate independently, and it turns out this is not exactly uncommon. Not at all. It’s actually been reported by dozens and dozens of users on Facebook’s official community support forum. On all of the threads I looked at, I didn’t see a single response from a Facebook rep or any surefire method users found to get unblocked. This includes people who have paid Facebook to promote their ads, which are now useless.
HOW WE GOT IT RESOLVED
We’re lucky enough to have someone here at SpiderOak who knows someone at Facebook who was able to pass our distressed email to Facebook’s security team. And PRESTO, just like that, we were unblocked.
As of right now, we have still been given no solid confirmation of why we were blocked or consequently unblocked. If we hadn’t literally known someone working at Facebook, I assume we would still be blocked now with no idea how to get unblocked in the foreseeable future.
Fortunately we’re an established company with a few years under our belt and lots of other sources of traffic. If we’d been a small startup or a struggling business that needs every single referral it can get to stay afloat, this unexplained ban would have been a huge blow. I’m sure it is to the dozens of other small businesses and startups who were reporting a similar problem in Facebook’s user forums. I’d love to post an update when we get a better idea of what happened, but frankly I don’t think we’ll ever know. Facebook doesn’t bother to communicate about its decisions or internal policies. It doesn’t have to. It’s the second most visited site in the entire world, and it’s had a decidedly rocky history when it comes to privacy.
Facebook has even conducted experiments on its users to manipulate their emotions without their knowledge or consent. In other words, it’s not hard to reach the conclusion that Facebook doesn’t give a damn about its users. And why would they? We’re going to continue using Facebook, like most people reading this article, because it is the world’s biggest social media site and it allows us to reach thousands of users who might potentially decide to use our software. We just don’t have to like it…