In light of recent events on Facebook, I tried to compare the huge social medium to something (anything), and the best I could do was “a cross between Big Brother and a strange cult.” Big Brother because Facebook does a masterful job of collecting the personal information that we so willingly surrender, and strange cult because—among its other odd customer relations practices—Facebook “shuns” users that believe they have rights, or don’t drink its Kool-Aid.
Okay, Facebook is free and it’s not a public utility. Theoretically, Facebook doesn’t have much responsibility to its community of users; those who don’t like it can go elsewhere. Or nowhere. Things get sticky, though, when one considers the heroin-marketing techniques that Facebook employs. First, get people hooked, then change the rules. With heroin, get people hooked with free product, then when they’re addicted, bleed them dry with the cost of the product; with Facebook, get them addicted and then restrict use.
Facebook may not be as evil as heroin (may not be), but many of its users are “addicted,” and they cheerfully admit that fact. When I started using Facebook, I was pretty much addicted to games, but after about eighteen months I was faced with the choice of being productive or being a Yovillian/Farmvillian. Productivity won.
Facebook, however, has become a literal lifeline for people involved in rescue, particularly animal rescue. Every day, thousands of animals are posted and “shared,” animals that are on “death row” in so-called shelters, animals that have been abused, and animals that are advertised through classified ads, the internet, and Craigslist. Dogs and cats have been adopted across-country and saved by local rescues and private adopters who learned of them through Facebook postings.
Last summer, CeliaSue Hecht, in Have Dog Blog, Will Travel, reported that “numerous animal rescue/animals lovers and groups…have been accused erroneously by Facebook for posting spam and ‘irrelevant’ content and disabled for 15 days. We have been posting and cross posting about animals that need rescuing from shelters and owners trying to find new homes for these animals. This is NOT SPAM NOR IRRELEVANT!!! These postings have helped unite pets with owners and obtained NEW homes for pets and SAVED ANIMALS LIVES!!!” Penny Eims, in an examiner.com article titled “Facebook and the death of networking,” stated, “Lost dogs are found - death row dogs are saved - long term fosters are finding homes...networking saves lives. It is neither irrelevant nor ‘spam’.”
Until I read those articles, I wasn’t aware of Facebook being used to do actual good. Once I did, I became active in the rescue community as well, sharing information about animals across the United States that were in immediate danger. Previously, I had merely rescued abandoned animals through adoption, which limits the impact one has on the problem of homeless dogs and cats to the number one can fit in his or her home without being considered a hoarder.
Facebook, which is described by Penny Eims as “the Gold Standard for enabling rescuers and networkers to save lives" (she further remarks, “As more and more animal welfare advocates joined the huge social networking site, thousands of homeless animals have been saved”) is now doing something that thousands of rescuers have noticed: Facebook is blocking the accounts of rescue networkers. In her article, “Is Facebook chasing away animal rescuers?,” Eims mentions that many rescuers are creating accounts on MySpace, preparing to move to that venue.
In conversations with active rescuers, I have suggested Google Plus as an alternative. Wherever rescuers move, they can only hope for a warmer reception than they are getting from Facebook. When Facebook deletes an account, a user loses all their information, including a list of contacts that may have taken years to assemble. Rescuers do not doubt that Facebook’s recent actions have cost animals their lives.
Facebook’s arbitrary attempt to limit use of the service is just plain dumb. Most users know that they can have as many Facebook accounts as they want, and the real problem with this “punishment” is that users lose the data they’ve collected. However, many Facebook users are also aware that they can back up the data they’ve collected.
I cannot speak for all Facebook users, but I know that my presence on Facebook is limited to animal rescue, yet that hasn’t prevented me from clicking on ads and purchasing from Facebook advertisers. Banning users is banning customers, and surely advertisers don’t think that’s in their best interest.
Ironically, Facebook also punishes users for engaging in activity that is promoted by…guess who…Facebook. When Facebook offers “friend suggestions,” users jeopardize their membership “privileges” if they request a friendship from someone on the Facebook-generated list and the target complains that he or she doesn’t know the user who has made the request. Recently a fellow rescuer asked for friend recommendations and after someone I suggested accepted I got this message from Facebook (names have been changed to protect the innocent…from Facebook): “The Cat in the Hat” and Jane Doe are now friends, as you suggested. You can suggest more people Jane knows.” Why would I do that--Jane has already been suspended for accepting too many friendship invitations. This is only one example of the many penalties exacted against users.
Why has Facebook reduced lives to the level or “irrelevant”? Does the rumored unfeeling, asocial personality at the top represent its corporate culture? Facebook should be capitalizing on the lives it helps save, not condemning animals to untimely slaughter. Should Facebook continue with this current campaign of stifling rescue, it will face a mass exodus of users who will then go to the competition. Is that what the social media has been trying to achieve for the past year?