It seems as if Facebook has developed something of a shoot first ask questions later kind of mentality. You may recall last week when Roger Ebert's Facebook page was removed after complaints about him (following controversial comments made about the death of Jackass cast member Ryan Dunn). It was reinstated shortly thereafter. You may also remember David Fagin, who decided to sue Facebook for a dollar after he was blocked from sending friend requests, and labeled a spammer.
The mentality has become apparent most recently based on the company's actions of shutting down a number of applications using Facebook Platform, without notification. Facebook's "ban bot" recently received a tweak, and has been more aggressively banning applications it deems to be spammy (hat tip to AllFacebook for bringing this to light).
Has Facebook been too aggressive with app elimination? Comment here.
Related Article: Profile Maker Developer Discusses Facebook Ban Issue
The whole thing reminds me of Google's Panda update - designed to weed out low quality content, which it did to some extent, but only while taking down legitimate content with it. However it appears Facebook is a little more open to human intervention than Google, as some apps are being reinstated, while Google has not done any manual adjustments to help individual sites that may have been wrongfully impacted (though various algorithmic tweaks have helped some sites to some extent).
The whole thing comes at a very interesting crossroads for the Internet, where businesses are looking more to social media to become less reliant on the algorithmic whims of search engines. This shows that the road to social media visibility is not necessarily paved with roses either.
To the press, Facebook has been giving out the same generic statement, without giving any numbers on how many apps have been affected:
“Over the past year, we’ve worked hard to improve our automated systems that catch spam and malicious behavior on the platform. These systems allowed us to cut spam on the platform by 95 percent in 2010, greatly increasing user satisfaction and trust with apps on Facebook. Recently, we started getting a lot of user feedback, spiking significantly over the past week, on the amount of application spam people are seeing in their feeds and on their walls. As a result, we turned on a new enforcement system [last week] that took user feedback much more heavily into account. This resulted in a number of applications with high negative user feedback being disabled or having certain features disabled. We’ve posted a link for developers where they can appeal if they feel they’ve been disabled in error. Also, we’re working on new analytics to help developers better monitor negative user feedback to prevent a spike like this in the future.”
Naturally, fury has erupted on the Facebook Developer Forum. Much of this has been led by a user going by the handle "whitekuti," though many members of the forum have expressed similar notions and agreed heavily with whitekuti's rants.
Whitekuti's apps included two photo effect apps and a "social photo interview" app, each with respectable numbers of users and ratings. 7.5 million users, 300,000 users, and 200,000 users respectively, and ratings of 4.7 out of 5, 4.9 out of 5, and 4.6 out of 5.
Facebook is offering developers a means to appeal, via a form that looks like this:
However, the appeals process has been heavily criticized as well. Whitekuti says they got the following automatic response from Facebook, after having its appeal denied:
Thanks for your inquiry. To help keep Platform policies simple while delivering great Platform experiences to users, our automated systems remove apps providing poor user experiences. Our systems use a variety of signals to assess user experience, such as user feedback on an app's communications (Stream stories, etc.) and on the app itself.
We've checked out the circumstances of your app's removal, and we found that your app received strong negative feedback from users and their friends. Here are some types of feedback that our systems look for when users interact with apps: removing content generated by your app from the News Feed, labeling content by your app as 'spam', uninstalling or blocking your app, and not granting extended permissions requested by your app. These signals denote a poor user experience and amount to a violation of our Facebook Platform Principles, which is why your app was removed.
Accordingly, we will not be able to restore your app. However, if you'd like to launch a new version of your app with a new app ID and canvas URL, please first make adjustments to ensure you're providing a good user experience and meeting our policies. You can monitor your app's user feedback here: http://www.facebook.com/insights. Unfortunately we cannot provide you with your original canvas URL.
Here are a few helpful resources:
Facebook Platform Policies: http://developers.facebook.com/policy
Pre-Launch Checklist: https://developers.facebook.com/docs/gu … checklist/
Examples and Explanations: http://developers.facebook.com/docs/gui … planations
Promotion Guidelines: http://www.facebook.com/promotions_guidelines.php
The Platform Integrity and Developer Support Team
Whitekuti also said Facebook had even killed a "try out" app, which hadn't even been released yet, as it was in sandbox mode.
Loss of Money
Some of these app developers are losing money, and their companies are being severely harmed by the banning of their apps. A user going by the handle leoxtc writes: "My app disappeared yesterday after 6 months of perfectly normal operation…we did not receive any complaint nor thru FB nor via its user feedback channel. The app…is a social game based on the on line investments industry." "We don't do spam and as far as we understand we are 100% in line with the TOS," added leoxtc. "We have been working hard with this app for the last 12 months. It is a local success. People talk about the game. We don´t understand what we did wrong. We spent thousands of dollars for the application development. Its not fair being banned without an single warning."
And speaking of a lack of communication, before a Facebook engineer finally chimed in on the conversation, the company's response strategy was even criticized by one of the forum's moderators (dburns), who said: "Guys, the moderators are volunteers, and we have no power over any of Facebook's software (like the ban-bot) or their policies. We just delete spam on the forums, mostly. We do have a way of raising issues to the FB employees, and we have done so -- over and over! Trouble is, they've been ignoring us (and everyone on the forums too) for weeks or months. Filing a bug is the only way I know of to get official attention. Although they're not exactly quick at fixing bugs either…"
The Facebook engineer, Eugene, claimed to be working on the issue. He essentially echoed the other Facebook statement, while being a little more apologetic:
We've been getting a lot of user feedback recently, spiking significantly over the past week, on the amount of application spam people are seeing in their feeds and on their walls. We turned on a new enforcement system yesterday that took user feedback much more heavily into account. This resulted in a number of applications with high negative user feedback being disabled or having certain features disabled. In particular, many applications were disabled which posted to the walls of other users and had very high mark-as-spam numbers.
My apologies for the suddenness of the action. The numbers were high enough to cause a real loss of trust in applications, which can impact the entire platform. Where we have failed is not providing enough feedback about negative engagement metrics to developers before needing to take this action. This is something we are working hard to fix with the new Application Insights that will be launching over the next few weeks - you will have detailed information about both positive and negative engagement of the content your application generates.
If you think you have been disabled in error, you should have received an email to your application's contact email address with a link to appeal. Just in case, the appeal link is https://www.facebook.com/help/contact.p … ble_appeal . Note that no content has been deleted - if your application is re-enabled, all the content comes back.
We've seen the criticism of the appeals process, and that doesn't do much for those getting ignored, or the employees of the businesses that depend on these apps.
User pvar wrote, "We've actually invested over hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook ads alone for one of our games, and one instance of it got disabled the other day (though it did get re-enabled, probably as a result of this thread and other developer feedback). This game was also operating fine with no issues for over a year (also average reviews of over 4 stars)....until it was killed without any warning, like many of your apps."
"This wouldn't be the first time events like this have happened to us, but this time it was a serious threat onto our business," added pvar. "We work with over 20 employees (that is REAL people, REAL lives), and their livelihoods are greatly affected by events such as this one. At this point, we are not even sure if we are comfortable continuing running our business on the Facebook platform."
"We are currently very close to get funded for creating several other Facebook applications that has great value for users," said user Shmzlr. "This obviously changes everything - first the investors will think twice before going further with the deal, but more importantly - we ourselves can't take part in an ecosystem that has so much uncertainty and high risk for getting banned while not doing anything wrong. This is not the first time we had bad experiences with the automated system, but this is far too much. If our application won't get re-instated soon I can safely say that we are leaving this ecosystem for good without any hesitations."
Of course the app users are upset as well.
"Think about my situation here," user aladaf said in response to the Facebook engineer. "We are a small company based in Sao Paulo. During 6 months we have received no feedback from anyone in FB. 4.6 rating. No complaints. Positive PR. Our app was becoming one of the local most visible cases. All of sudden I am having to explain to 46k users why we are out of business! This cannot be the best strategy to deal with the issue you has just described. I believe everybody here will be more than open to adjust things but the appeal process is not being effective in providing the necessary information. I launched a new version today just to see it disabled after 10 minutes. What exactly I did wrong? "
Whitektui said that a huge number app users "begged" them to return their deleted photos, "saying how they loved the hptos they have created over the year with their children." Whitekuti also posted the following image and user comments:
"Please give me my album back. The pictures are very dear to me, they are mostly of my only son who passed away in october 2010."
"I am so incredibly disappointed... I had just posted that this was the best application on fb and then my album disappears... All the photos of my family who are passed and others that were very dear to me... "
"my album is gone also - was just about to accuse grandson of deleting it!!! we want our albums back !!!"
" WTH??? Why is everyone loosing their photos?? We obviously liked this application & all of our photos get deleted??? NOT COOL!!! I had my kids , grandbabies, my daughters picture in her cap & gown!!!! VERY DISSAPIONTED & SLIGHTLY UPSET!!! FACEBOOK YOU NEED TO FIX THIS ASAP OR GET RID OF THE APP IF IT'S GOING TO MESS UP ALL OF OUR PHOTO ALBUMS~~ signed a very upset & deacated Facebook fan!!!!!!!!"
Reinstating the Apps
As mentioned, Facebook isn't above reinstating apps that it deems legitimate. GoodReads is an app that has been named as one that got banned and reinstated. One member, mosh951 writes: "Facebook has re-enabled most of our 30 apps, but still a couple of them along with my account are still disabled."
The whole communication thing appears to be the biggest problem, along with that whole shoot first ask questions later mentality. User Kauffman writes: "Why didn't the new ban system get implemented AFTER you gave developers all the tools they require to understand why such a thing happened? For example, AFTER you launched the new insights system? Developers are a tiny subset of the entire Facebook population - that's why you don't give a Shit. And that is the truth. If people's photos started getting deleted without any warning, the PR team would be on overdrive on all media outlets. Us - we get some engineer spouting off lame apologies when the damage has already been done. 'A couple of weeks' is no assurance - if you guys are going to flag apps automatically, you better have a review system that responds immediately. You're talking about people's businesses and lives on the line here."
Even Whitekuti has had some apps reinstated, but is still talking about leaving the Facebook Platform. He's not the only one I've seen make such a statement. "We simply lost faith to its System," whitekuti said. "We might not be the biggest developer on Facebook , with total of 15 million users , but this is enough to prove to us that Facebook is no longer the place we could trust."
whitekuti even says of the forum itself: "Just FYI, THIS FORUM IS BARELY AN ACTIVE FORUM, so many developers do not even know where to report this ridiculous mass banning. We are sure there are hundreds more like us out there."
User wwav10 writes: "We appreciate facebook re-enabled our Grand Poker application last week. But we did suffer a huge loss in DAU and revenue."
A Matter of Being the Little Guy?
Is the ban bot playing fair?
Some of the developers appear to be under the impression that how big you are makes a big difference. Pvar said in the forum, "Also, as a side note, from what I recall (and from what I heard), Zynga's Empires & Allies app was also disabled for a few hours after it first launched. Of course that one got re-enabled pretty quickly. Ultimately, Facebook probably won't care about smaller developers (aside from Zynga, etc)....so this post was probably just a waste of my time."
Zynga, the creators of hugely popular apps Cityville, Farmville, and Mafia Wars have no doubt seen their share of blocks from users. These games are some of the most often complained about apps on Facebook, simply in terms of non players being annoyed by the activity of their friends who are players, though to Facebook's credit, the company did launch new features in September related to controlling game updates so that only those actually playing the game would see the updates.
"This means people who play games can post stories to their Wall without worrying about overwhelming their friends who aren’t playing, and people who don’t play games won’t see irrelevant stories in their feed for which they have no context," saidFacebook Games Product Manager Jared Morgenstern.
Josh Constine at Inside Facebook, which tracks Facebook Platform for developers, looks at the Game of Truth app, one that was impacted, and deemed a small to mid-sized app at 10 to 20K daily active users. He provided the following graph:
He suggests Facebook release some kind of benchmark for an acceptable level of negative feedback. We'll see if something like that come with that new set of metrics that's supposedly coming in the next couple of weeks.
Update 06/30: A Facebook representative finally returned our request for comment, but avoided specific questions and only said :
We don’t comment on specific cases but we have an appeals process if developers feel they’ve been disabled in error. Additionally, we’re working on updated tools and analytics to help developers better monitor user feedback and provide more transparency into our systems. As part of this, the team is working to make changes to the process, improve the developer experience related to spam enforcement, and provide more data on negative user feedback. However, for apps that do violate our policies (https://developers.facebook.com/policy/), we will continue to take action in order to maintain a trustworthy experience for users.
Do you think Facebook has been fair to app developers? Tell us what you think.