Last week on Facebook’s app, a notification popped up on my screen, and I officially arrived in Facebook jail.
“You can’t post in groups at the minute”.
My possible crime?
Posting a link to one of my business-related articles in several business-related Facebook groups.
I thought nothing of it.
After all, I’ve been on Facebook since 2008, behaving impeccably during those 13 years.
Days later another pop up arrived.
This time, the message from Facebook’s faceless, robotic, and uncontactable app was more menacing.
“Your account has been disabled.”
No explanation was provided, but I knew I was in Facebook jail and parole looked unlikely.
And no gentle nod towards my wrongdoing.
With all the friendliness of a vulture about to swoop down and rip through a fresh carcass, the message encouraged me to click a ‘request a review’ button.
In my naiveté, I assumed this would be a straightforward process.
I thought an actual human in some brightly lit Silicon Valley office would confirm my identity.
I’d visions of a hipster with long hair, aviator sunglasses, wearing skinny jeans and a t-shirt with some cheesy American slogan apologising.
“It was our big bad algorithm; we’re soooo sorry, Tall Paul,” is what he’d say meekly.
And then he’d ask me the question on everybody’s lips in his open-plan office, “What height is Tall Paul?”
He’d provide a peace offering of £1,000 advertising credit to numb the pain.
And he might even promise 100% organic post reach for all of my future posts.
He’d set up Zoom meetings with Zuck, Sheryl Sandberg and Nick Clegg to tell me how they would rectify this situation.
Unfortunately, none of that happens.
But what does happen illustrates how a tech company gets so big that it needs software to plug the gaps in human interaction.
Over the last thirteen years, I’ve been on Facebook.
In that decade and a bit, I’ve never been warned by Facebook.
You could say I was a model user.
But, according to the New York Times, I’m not alone in getting a surprising permanent ban.
Facebook hasn’t given me a specific reason why my account has been permanently suspended.
Unhelpfully, they instead point me towards a lengthy ‘Community Standards’ page.
A bit of light reading to enjoy during Facebook jail.
All I need now is a curly kale sandwich, and a free-range avocado drink to wash down the disappointment.
I have to guess which rules throughout the document that I may have broken.
Kind of like a quiz.
“Here’s 50 possible reasons you might have been banned, guess which ones you broke” might be the name of it.
Or it could be a quiz that finds out lots about me but shares nothing of itself in return.
You know, the types of quizzes Cambridge Analytica might run on Facebook.
Well, this is where things get confusing.
Possible rule break #1: I assume it’s because I shared my business articles in business Facebook groups.
But I haven’t been able to speak to a human on Facebook, so I’m left with wild speculation.
Possible rule break #2: Another possibility is that I’ve been banned for having another account.
Anyone involved in Marketing and Communications roles in Northern Ireland will know that it’s a bad idea to use your personal Facebook page to manage (as admin) any other business pages.
Well, because you might share something controversial or accidentally to your business page that shouldn’t have been shared.
In fact, most social media managers and digital marketers in Northern Ireland are actively encouraged by their managers to create a separate account to handle a company’s social media.
And it makes perfect sense too.
Companies want to draw a clear line and distinction between you, the everyday person, and you, the social media manager.
Possible rule break #3: Letting on I’m another ridiculously tall NI marketer?
I have a separate personal profile dedicated solely to managing all my business pages and groups.
I don’t add friends to it and I don’t contribute in any way to Facebook’s ‘community’.
But I’m guessing to Facebook that might look like I’m trying to impersonate someone else.
Perhaps I’m impersonating another 6 foot 6 marketing man, called Paul Malone, with a strong Newry accent (despite his handful of years living in Belfast).
Possible rule break #4: Having a winning personality and boyband good looks?
After a process of elimination, I decided my cracking personality and boyband good looks weren’t responsible.
In fact, friends confirmed that I was “mediocre in looks and average in personality”.
But anyway, that strange decision by Facebook this week is final, I’m told.
No right of appeal.
That’s a one time deal, and I’ve blown it.
And no human-to-human discussion about it.
PS: If you’re reading this, Mark Zuckerberg, here are eight reasons why I won’t be rushing back to Facebook.
Ah, good old Facebook memories.
The ones of me pouring a shot of Goldschlager into my eyeball in 2009 and captioned eloquently with ‘Eye Ball Paul’.
And who could forget other classics like your posts about being hungover, hungry, bored or desperate for the dopamine hit that only a Facebook Like can provide?
I won’t miss those annoying daily reminders of the idiot I was over ten years ago.
You’re lying in bed on a Sunday morning.
You’ve got big plans ahead today.
You’re aimlessly scrolling through your Facebook Newsfeed, and a “hilarious” clip from Graeme Norton’s chat show pops up.
You watch all four minutes, straight-faced, urging a chuckle to come forth to no avail.
Suddenly, you’re one hour, twenty-seven minutes into the Facebook video rabbit hole.
You wipe the sleep from your eyes while watching an older woman cursing and threatening random English bricklayers.
And you pop your phone back on the charger as you become engrossed in a flute-playing cat who parachutes into East Berlin.
From today, no more videos.
Well, apart from those on Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube.
Ah, the trusty Facebook newsfeed.
Full of more half-truths than a Tory Government defending its track and trace system.
I won’t miss scrolling through Facebook to notice that an elderly American woman has helpfully shared a missing dog post from Belfast.
Or the adverts that promise me I can look like Brad Pitt for only £22.70.
More chance of looking like Arm Pit.
And who can forget those creepy adverts that appear not long after you’ve spoken about them to your better half?
“I think we should get a bike.”
Our news feeds fill with hot offers on e-bikes, bicycle repairs, and lovingly written articles about how we can cycle without stabilisers within ten minutes.
When was the last time your phone was further than a few feet away from you?
Probably back in 2000 when, after seven months, your Nokia 3310 battery finally died after one too many games of Snake 2.
I won’t miss waking up and checking my Facebook notifications every morning.
Nor the guilt-trip put on me to wish someone a happy birthday.
Facebook is one of those strange universes.
You sit beside someone in school for maybe ten years.
Of course, after you finish school, you lose touch.
Occasionally, you’ll walk past them in the street.
If you’re lucky, you get a smile and a nod.
On a bad day, you might get a blank face.
But then something strange happens.
You get a friend request from them.
Or you’ll get a friend request from your cousin’s friend’s plumber.
Inevitably, you’re faced with a dilemma, do I accept this request and let this person see my whole life?
Or do I be ruthless and ignore it?
Thankfully, I don’t have to do either any more.
The ultimate goal of any social media platform is to get you to spend as much time on their website or app as possible.
And Facebook is the undisputed master of getting us to lift our phones and get back on their app.
I won’t miss excitedly opening the app to see three new notifications.
And I won’t miss the disappointment of opening those notifications only to find that they’re telling me that there’s 20 new posts in my local buy and sell groups.
Credit (ad credit) where it’s due.
Facebook is a selling machine.
But I won’t miss those pushy notifications urging me to boost a post to reach thousands of people.
“We’d like to offer you this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lighten your bank balance and help our shareholders”, it feels like they’re pleading.
Of course, Facebook ads can be hugely beneficial in reaching target customers.
But in Northern Ireland, we’re a little less comfortable with the American style of in-your-face ‘sell, sell, sell’.
Who remembers organic reach on Facebook?
The heady days where if 100 people ‘Liked’ your Facebook business page, there’s a good chance some of them could see your posts?
And who could forget those helpful reminders from Facebook, encouraging us to grow our page Likes to reach more people?
Of course, for a small fee.
Then the sudden realisation that you’ve spent all this time, money and effort increasing the Likes on your page and it’s now of no use.
Well, ahem, because organic reach is now at 2%, you’re encouraged to boost your posts to reach all those people.
Yes, those people who liked your page because they wanted to read your content.
I won’t miss the regular changing of the goalposts.
After 13 years.
An incredible 678 weeks.
And over 4,745 days.
All leading to this sad, confusing end.
No human contact with Silicon Valley’s finest.
And no hope of ever getting lost down a rabbit hole of weird videos.
They say all good things must come to an end.
But it’s been a hell of a run.
Goodbye Facebook. I won’t miss you.
Now… if only I could get suspended from Insta, WhatsApp and the other 73 social media platforms.
PS: If you’re reading this and you’re angry because it’s happened to you too.. then… “U OK, Hun? PM me, xxx”.
PPS: If you like my content and find it useful, you’ll LOVE my new weekly newsletter, Paul of Duty: Modern Marketing. It’ll be delivered right to your inbox every Friday afternoon.