Facebook Crackdown

=== by Bob Sutherland ===

How to avoid having your Facebook account identified as probably being a fake user account and then being automatically deleted by robots.

There has been lots of public outcry lately about the flood of fake news stories that have swamped social media on the Internet. Facebook's executives initially responded by saying that they are not in the news business and that they do not want to start censoring their network. As public complaints continued Facebook's executives finally announced that they will attempt to do something to fix the problem. Any remedial actions that Facebook undertakes are bound to include searching through their computer network and removing all of the fake user accounts they can find.

I recently was involved in an incident in which a fake user account sent me an invitation to become a friend on Facebook. The account was suddenly deleted a few days later. That spiked my curiosity wondering how Facebook's computers and staff could detect fake user accounts on their network. The following is what I have discovered through some research combined with my previous experience as a Computer Science teacher managing many different school computer networks with hundreds or thousands of student, staff and sometimes public user accounts.

Facebook's team of programmers have probably created many robotic computer programs that can search through the accounts of their users. Any accounts that meet certain criteria can be flagged to become targets for further computer program action.

Facebook is a social media network designed to allow people to share information. Not everyone in the world wants to share information as some people want to preserve their privacy so they tend not to join Facebook. On the other hand there are many people in this world who are motivated by a desire to participate in social interactions. These socially oriented individuals and anyone who may be motivated for other reasons are very willing to share information about themselves while they participate as users on Facebook.

There are many aspects of your Facebook account where you have the option to select privacy settings to control what the public and your Facebook friends can see. But Facebook is intended to be a place where you share information. If you use the privacy settings to block the public from seeing too many parts of your Facebook account then you are going to raise suspicion. If you use the privacy settings to block your Facebook friends from seeing important parts of your Facebook account, such as your list of friends, then you are putting your account at risk for deletion. Facebook's robots are very likely to delete your account thinking it must belong to a fake user if you overuse the privacy settings by blocking the public and your friends from access to too much information on your account.

Just a few decades ago owning a film camera was either an expensive hobby or a career occupation. Today nearly everyone has some form of digital camera or ready access to someone who can take digital photographs for them. Therefore there is no excuse for not having a Profile Picture, a Cover Photo behind it, and at least a few other photographs on your Facebook account. Not having any photographs is bound to get your Facebook account flagged by the robots as being very suspicious and probably a fake user account.

Now there is some leeway with regards to the photographs in that Facebook does allow you to use photos of couples, pets, cars, buildings, computer artwork and other creative pictures as your Profile Picture. The trick if you want to be creative is to change your Profile Picture every once in a while and at least sometimes include a real photo of yourself. Facebook's computers looking through the history of your account on your Timeline, your five Featured Photographs, and other photos on your account should be able to quickly find and accurately identify some of the photos as being of you.

Before you upload a Cover Photo to your Facebook account look at the space reserved for it. Your photo must fit that shape which is basically a landscape oriented photograph tending towards a stretched rectangular panoramic shape. Facebook is going to crop (cut off) the edges of both your Profile Picture and your Cover Photo when you upload them to make them fit within the spaces provided. Try to select photos that will still look good after cropping.

Your Facebook account has an About section where you fill in information about yourself. One of the main purposes of the About section is to allow people who may know you to do a friend search. For example, a former student may search for all of his or her former classmates that attended Mosquito Bite High School. Then when your name pops up on the search results list as a former student of the school they can send you a friend request hoping to become one of your new Facebook friends. Similarly someone who knows your email address can search for you on Facebook.

Now I do not suggest that you fill in all of the information in the About section. It is your responsibility that you do not set yourself up to become a victim of a crime such as a kidnapping or fraud by providing too much information to potential criminals. It can also be damn difficult to answer some of the questions as I found out when I tried to enter places where I have lived and my current employment. The Facebook computer just was not programmed to accept the answers I was attempting to submit.

Any robotic computer program designed to find fake user accounts on Facebook is bound to expect that people will complete and publicly share at least some information in the About section of their account. Similarly the robotic computer program is going to expect you to occasionally post things on your Timeline to indicate that you are still alive and using your Facebook account. It is not good enough to just let other people post things on your account's Timeline without any major contributions from yourself as owner of the account. It is not good enough for you to ignore your account while periodically adding a few Likes and Comments to your friend's accounts. Finally, it is not good enough for you to ignore your publicly viewable account's Timeline while just sending private messages to others. Failure in these areas is bound to get your account flagged by Facebook's robots sooner or later and may very well cause your account to be deleted as most probably being a fake user account.

Now do not mistakenly think that you can quickly fix the problem if your account does get deleted by simply telephoning and registering a complaint with a Facebook customer support representative. There is no such job title among Facebook's staff. Facebook provides the accounts for free to members of the public with no service guarantee. Facebook's main source of revenue is advertising but its profit margin is probably less than a penny per day per Facebook customer. Facebook simply cannot afford to hire customer service representatives to provide any level of service to the millions or billions of customers it has scattered around the world. To the best of my knowledge Facebook does not even have a computer program running on the Internet that could mimic the sympathetic listening and swift actions of a customer service representative.

Facebook does have offices with staff scattered around the world in various countries. They roughly fall into two categories. Some of the buildings contain computer programmers, scientists, mathematicians and engineers who are busy trying to create some new science fiction invention for Facebook such as a flying saucer, or maybe a robot to replace human customer service representatives. Facebook is gambling that their company will be able to stay in business and earn a fortune for many years into the future from the inventions their employees are currently working on.

The second type of Facebook facilities are advertising offices where employees are keeping track of each country's legal regulations while trying to sell advertising space on Facebook's network. They do not want to be talking to Facebook's customers about deleted accounts and other complaints when they pick up the telephone. These Facebook employees would not know what to say and would not be able to do anything to solve your problem. Their training and focus of attention is strictly on negotiating contracts with advertising agencies to fill Facebook's network and user accounts with lots of advertising to keep the company in business.

I hope I have provide you with sufficient information as to how and why Facebook's robotic computer programs may flag and delete your Facebook account if they suspect it is a fake user account. I suggest you take action now to remedy any problems or weaknesses I may have helped you identify through this article.

As I stated at the beginning of the article, Facebook is being pressured by public commentary to take action to eliminate the excessive amount of fake news that is circulating and being distributed by its social media network. In the process Facebook is bound to initiate a crackdown campaign on fake user accounts. It would be a logical assumption that fake user accounts are part of the fake news problem and they are probably much easier to target for elimination. It would take far too much time, effort and expense to have Facebook employees involved in reviewing and deciding which user accounts are fake so computer robots will do most or all of the work. Therefore regardless of what you may have gotten away with in the past regarding owning a substandard Facebook account you had better bring it up to par now or risk having your account deleted by an unsympathetic robot.

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I am a retired Computer Science teacher with a Facebook account. I am not a Facebook employee nor do I have any inside knowledge of Facebook management's current thinking, actions or future plans. To write this article of suggestions and predictions I simply did some research of publicly available sources including legitimate Canadian national news websites. I then combined that knowledge with my own recent experiences on Facebook. As a Computer Teacher I have spent many years managing school networks where sometimes a few users would misbehave and I would have to take corrective action.