Facebook Scrambling to Save Face Amid Policy Changes and Bad Press


Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer. Keep your Friends List private.

You may remember a couple of weeks ago we reported here on a story about DEA agents in New York stealing a suspect’s online identity and creating a fake Facebook profile in her likeness in an attempt to lure her friends into guilt-ridden admissions of their own.
The suspect, Sondra Arquiett, sued the Drug Enforcement Agency and the federal government for $250,000 and was due to begin court proceedings on the matter this week, but the suit is now in mediation as the feds try to buy their way out of the embarrassing situation. The revelation that law enforcement was using the popular social media networking site to conduct undercover investigations was just another on a growing list of incidences that have left those still logging on wondering just how real, and how safe, Facebook actually is.

Though critics of the website have gnashed their teeth about the site’s inherent lack of privacy pretty much since its inception in 2004, recent headlines – some totally legit and some patently false – have even diehard Facebook fans deactivating their long-held accounts in droves.
Facebook and Instagram did not become the megaliths of social media that they are today by ignoring, or failing to recognize, online trends. They see their numbers beginning to dwindle, and with other online networking options cropping up almost daily, they surely realize that the perception that they may be in bed with law enforcement is bad for business.
So on Friday of last week, Joe Sullivan, Facebook’s Chief Security Officer, sent a letter directly to the DEA reiterating the new account registration guidelines found in the website’s user agreement. He also reiterated, in no uncertain language, that those guidelines apply to everybody – feds included.
In his letter, Sullivan writes, “Facebook has long made clear that law enforcement authorities are subject to these policies.” He continues, “We regard DEA’s conduct to be a knowing and serious breach of Facebook’s terms and policies.”
So far, there have been no reports as to whether or not the DEA clicked “Like” on Sullivan’s note to them. In fact, they haven’t acknowledged it whatsoever.
Disgruntled Facebook users, on the other hand, have replied to the Facebook/DEA squabble with a general sense of distrust for both sides, most referring to it as simply another in a long line of publicity stunts that the site has pulled of late.
It really began in August of this year, when an article began to make its rounds across Facebook streams, being virally “Share”d by a shitload of paranoid Facebook users who apparently never read past the headline.
Facebook Drug Task Force To Begin Monitoring All Messages October 1st” read the ominous headline originating from the highly suspect URL NationalReport.net. The article, had those who shared it bothered to read it, is full of comically bad writing and obviously fabricated quotes from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
It concludes with a phone number to what the author of the piece refers to as a 24-hour Facebook hotline to address users’ questions and concerns about the new drug policy – the number given leads to the morally bankrupt Westboro Baptist Church, not the morally bankrupt Facebook.
A spokesperson for Facebook called the article “spectacularly false”, but not until it had been shared over 150,000 times on their site.
Around this same time, Facebook announced that it would begin to implement a tagging system , granting them the power to declare certain articles as “Satire” and then tag them accordingly with the word to let readers know that they will end up looking like a crayon-eating moron if they share the article with genuine concern.
Nobody knows how effective the “Satire”-tagging system will be, as it has yet to be put in place. So in the meantime, trolls of all varieties continue to lurk around every status update.
Though Facebook officials claim that the “drug crackdown” article was nothing but a spoof, it cannot be denied that the Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram websites and apps have become a fertile hunting ground for the drug warriors in law enforcement.
Besides the highly publicized Arquiett case, we also told you recently about the year-long Instagram investigation that led to the DEA arresting nine suspects on various cannabis-related charges in San Diego.
The powers that be that run the two mega-popular sites do acknowledge that drug dealing on their platforms is a problem, they just don’t seem to know how to address it without alienating the user base that pays their bills.
Up until now, the most action that Instagram has taken to curb the flow of advertisements featuring sizzurp, kush, Xanax bars, and even a phone number to call or text, has been to ban the use of certain hashtags that were being commonly used to steer web traffic to those posts.
New slang gets born and the effort is futile.
Those who make money slanging drugs on Facebook or Instagram will always find a way to do so. What Facebook is seeing however, is that the number of people willing to stick around is not justifying the number of fed-up users logging off for good as they continue to fear that the feds might be watching their every move.
Recently, Facebook has been strictly enforcing its profile creation policy, particularly when it comes to the name associated with the account. Though most Facebook users tend to use their real names on their profiles, many thousands of users elected to set their accounts up under an alias, or even business name – both of which are allegedly in violation of the Facebook user agreement.
So all around the Facebook cannabis community, the Dabby McDabberson’s are being forced to choose a “real” name, or have their accounts deactivated. The ultimatum of being forced to reveal their full names at the same time when paranoia is at an all-time high regarding cyber-surveillance by the cops has led to the exodus of countless of otherwise loyal users.
Potheads felt that the name-change-crackdown was aimed at them, but it turns out it was really the gay community of Facebook who were the apparent target of the campaign. Facebook even had to release a public apology to the LGBT community for forcing transsexuals to use their “legal” names to use the website.
In that mea culpa, Facebook claims it will be reviewing its mandatory name change policy. Vice President of Product at Facebook, a man named Chris Cox, tried to ease the users’ concerns, stating in an October 1st blog post, “Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess.”
So who knows, Mr. McDabberson? Maybe you’ll get another crack at it.