Be Warned: Facebook Is As Gray As The FCC
September 2, 2014
As we have discussed during the past few years here on Merge, social media should be viewed as a space radio rents (or in many cases, squats on) in order to serve its fans, and to strengthen the assets it owns – the on-air product, the website, mobile apps, podcasts, and the email database.
Yet all too often, we lose perspective with the social space. We forego any real purpose in favor of posting random memes and content that makes us laugh. We also end up spending more time on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram than we do refining our own assets – the ones we control.
But now those digital chickens have come home to roost.
What if you opened your laptop or tablet to find that Facebook suddenly blocked you from logging in? That means you suddenly lose all ability to run those contests or fulfill those status updates you sold? And it means that you cannot even post basic content nor can you respond to listener kudos and complaints.
Who would you even call for help?
It's not like Facebook has operators standing by waiting to take your call.
It happened last month to a broadcaster associate of mine when Facebook locked out more than two dozen of the company's admins.
I have been given permission to share this story because it is important to everyone in radio that interfaces with Facebook, but I have agreed to keep the identity of the company and the admins anonymous. I am very appreciative they are allowing me to tell you what happened to them and how it could impact any station, cluster, or company.
It turns out that the people who found themselves locked out of Facebook were not the actual folks posting on their various radio stations' brand pages that incurred the wrath of Mark Zuckerberg's social network.
Instead, they are the people who oversee the company's social culture. But what they were about to find out is that admins of any page flagged for content can be considered "perpetrators" by Facebook. And once that happens, your ability to function on Facebook can come to a hasty end.
Once it became clear that so many admins had been simultaneously blocked out of Facebook, the futile hunt for help began. And this was no easy feat.
If you don't know anyone at Facebook – good luck. Eventually, they caught a break after being locked out for over 24 hours and bumped into a Facebook employee. (And speculation is that the only reason they were contacted is that this radio company spends marketing dollars with Facebook.)
When they finally spoke with a Facebook rep, they learned things that most people simply do not know.
They were told that two of their station brand pages had collectively racked up a total of five warnings for violating Facebook's Community Standards – the maximum amount allowed.
And what no one knew is that while these brands were receiving warnings, Facebook was internally slapping "checkpoints" on all their admins. And according to the Facebook spokesperson, you are only allowed five of these "checkpoints."
Five "checkpoints" and you're out.
So what triggers a "checkpoint?" This is where the FCC analogy comes into play because it's not exactly clear. One of the "checkpoints" may have been generated by an image that was posted of a body builder, while another appeared to be a photo of a museum sculpture. Indecent or insensitive? Facebook thought so.
The post that brought on the fifth and final "checkpoint" parodied the ALS ice bucket challenge using an image of the Titanic. The person who posted it thought it was funny. Facebook did not.
And while there is much confusion (even from Facebook) as to why they "checkpoint" all these admins and not just the person who did the posting, what's even more troubling is the ambiguity surrounding what constitutes insensitive content? Facebook has not offered an explanation. As we know from FCC rulings, it's a "gray area."
At least with the FCC, they offer an idea of what's obscene and indecent.
With Facebook, there's no real sense about what's inappropriate. And more alarming, there is no certainty about how these posts get flagged in the first place. Did Facebook users report them by selecting the "I don't like this post" option? Or does Facebook have bots scanning content?
We may never know. Zuckerberg is the landlord and he can make up the rules as he goes.
Ultimately, Facebook reinstated these company-wide admins accounts but here's the other problem. For now, they're fine. But what happens when one of the pages they oversee draws another warning?
Being a large company with countless Facebook pages, chances are good that another "checkpoint" can and will happen again. And, if that happens, is it "checkmate," game over, as in bye- bye Facebook for those admins?
This experience reinforces my well-known viewpoint that social media is not an unrestricted playground. There are rules – perhaps ill-defined – but rules nonetheless and a certain behavior that is required by brands.
What may seem funny to you as an admin may be offensive when it is expressed as your radio station's voice.
When speaking on behalf of a brand, it is essential that you feel content through the eyes of everyone. Focus on complementing the values of the station, not your individual beliefs or your sense of humor.
We are not in control of any of these social platforms, and that includes Twitter, Instagram, and others. Don't construe my comments to infer that Zuckerberg or his Facebook police are evil. They have their standards, and want their site to conform. Apple isn't dissimilar on the apps front.
The dilemma is in not knowing where the lines are.
Social is an incredible customer service tool. It can also be the biggest website referral device. Don't let these actions by Facebook (and others) deter you from interacting with your audience in these social spaces.
But put it in perspective – it's less about Titanic jokes and more about proving our brand's value in the social lives of the fans. The frivolous stuff can be fun, but if that's primarily what you're doing in social media, you're missing the opportunity to truly give your audience a voice while reflecting your station's personality and essence.
Perhaps if we strive to serve and study what positively resonates with fans, we can steer clear of future "checkpoints" and the painful consequences that can occur.
Or maybe not.
Lori is available to discuss these and other issues relating to social media and how radio brands can best utilize them. She is also available to speak to broadcaster groups and organizations. Contact her at email@example.com.
Reach out to me anytime on Twitter @lorilewis.
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