Drugs got me banned from Facebook, but what does my story tell you about the world's biggest social network?
A message to Mark Zuckerberg. Hey Mark, have you heard of MySpace? If you keep running Facebook like this, kids will be saying that about you.
Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne and this is an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook.
Dear Mark, I would love to be sending you this message via Facebook, but as we speak, I have been banned from Facebook and my account has been shutdown.
This is what you see if you go to my Facebook page, right now.
I think drugs are to blame. A cocktail of cocaine, heroin and meth got me banned from Facebook. I didn’t take any of these drugs. I just made an episode of my show called ‘War on Drugs’ and posted it on Facebook.
The show analyses government policy towards prohibition of drugs. Take a look. It’s a sober piece of journalism, which argues legalisation would be a better public policy.
Mark: when I tried to ‘boost’ my post, namely buy advertising from you to promote the show on your platform, your people banned it because they said the show: “promotes the sale or use of illegal drugs.”
Now, ordinarily, it’s a badge of honour for any journalist to be banned. But honestly, it’s a pain in the butt, which has cost me time, money and disrupted my business. Oh yeah, and then there’s that thing called freedom of speech.
Because when I emailed your people pointing out my show doesn’t promote drugs. It argues for a change in the law. They replied, clarifying, it was being banned because it: “promotes the sale or use of illegal drugs OR the legalization of drugs.”
This is in writing. Facebook admits it banned my show because it makes a libertarian political argument for the legalization of drugs.
Mark, let me introduce you to Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada. Oh, you guys have already met. Did he tell you he has just introduced a Bill to legalise cannabis. And did you tell him you would ban him if he put any video on that topic on his Facebook page?
I mean: if this is the policy, it has to be enforced consistently, right?
I emailed the Facebook press office in London; and an external crisis management company called Teneo Blue Rubicon contacted me on your behalf, promising to escalate the enquiry and get back to me.
Despite the earlier explanation about promoting legalisation, this was the new response:-
“…the issue you have encountered… comes down to the image used for the ad/thumbnail. The image included in the advertisement was marked as violating our ad policies as the image itself depicts drug use and/or paraphernalia.”
This is the image referred to. I thought to myself. OK, fine. If that’s what it takes, I’ll change it to this. Then I re-posted the video and re-submitted the ad.
This is where the story gets Kafka-esque.
15 minutes later, my phone rings and it’s someone called Cindy from Facebook’s Customer Delight Department. Cindy told me the ban would continue. This time, she referred to a specific line of text in the published transcript of my show:
”Cocaine, heroin, crack, meth amphetamine… all of them should be legal and treated in the same way as any other food or medicine."
This she repeated was promoting the sale or use of drugs, which was a violation of Facebook’s rules.
I said: Cindy, your press spokesman just emailed me to say all I needed to do was change the thumbnail, which I have done, and re-submit the video.
No, said Cindy, I don’t know anything about that. You’re still banned.
Bizarrely, as we were speaking, my re-posted video was approved and Facebook started advertising my show. In the next three days, the show was watched by 32,000 people on Facebook. And then yesterday, I tried to log in and found my account was disabled and my page blocked.
Now, I’m still waiting to hear from Cindy or your press office why this has happened, but this is how the situation looks to me…
Facebook is clearly a massive bureaucracy of headless chickens, not talking to each other and not having a clue how to pull together and execute a consistent policy.
You call yourself a technology company, not a media company. But politicians around the world are pressuring you to exercise greater editorial control to prevent things like bullying, terrorist-supporting material and fake news.
But if it’s OK for you to ban an Islamist preacher in London, how should you treat an anti-Putin protester in Russia?
Look, I understand. I have been a content CEO and I used to advise media companies like the London Evening Standard and Hearst Magazines on their content strategies.
But my personal experience has demonstrated Facebook is out of its depth. Your people don’t know what they’re doing and are woefully inadequate at dealing with content issues or communicating with customers and the press.
Mark: you may not be a content guy, but you need to hire one fast because Facebook’s fortune can go down as rapidly as they have gone up.
I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.