Facebook is proactively deleting Pages and other content from its site in an attempt to limit fake listings created by unauthorized entities. The new enforcement procedures started on Thursday night with many Facebook users receiving notifications of their deleted pages and an apparent violation of the Facebook Pages Terms of Service. The main issue seems to be individuals on Facebook proving they have the authority to create a Page for their company, band, or product. Facebook is now requesting a yet unspecified amount of documentation from each user before they create a Facebook Page to avoid future deletions.
Yesterday morning many brands sat down in front of their computers and learned Facebook had deleted their pages from the social network. Facebook called into question the identity of athletes, startup company founders, web hosting companies, video game development houses, and television networks maintaining pages on Facebook to connect with their fans. Electronic Arts was no longer engaging fans of its video games on Facebook, Fox television shows disappeared. Athletes such as David Beckham were no longer kicking it with their fans. The new proactive fake Pages sweep by Facebook has isolated brands and celebrities currently evaluating the Facebook social network and its benefits. This early negative experience will likely harm Facebook’s attempts to reach out to brands for advertising and promotional opportunities on Facebook.
We need a document showing that you (or your company, which we will need proof of affiliation with, as well) have the rights to represent these companies and individuals. A document on the company letterhead would be a good start. You can email all documentation to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will then be able to assist you.
Facebook is asking each person creating a new Facebook Page to first contact Facebook’s advertising department via e-mail with documentation stating you have the right to create the page. If your request is approved Facebook staff will “make a note on your account so that [the page] won’t be removed” according to an e-mail I received from Facebook’s sales staff. I have submitted requests for Facebook to reinstate pages for two products I own, Startup Search and Widget Summit. I have also submitted a copyright counter notification just in case someone filed a copyright infringement notice against one of my own sites and logos although I received no notification of copyright violation from Facebook for any pages, only statements questioning my authority to create such content.
What is a Facebook Page?
Facebook Pages were introduced on November 6 as part of the new Facebook Ads suite of products. Facebook profiles correspond to an individual person while Facebook Pages are a specialized type of Facebook profile created for a local business, brand, product, non-profit organization, celebrity figure, or other entity. Facebook Pages are administrated by one or more Facebook members and allow anyone to become a “fan” of a product, company, or service.
Brands such as Blockbuster might create a page on Facebook to connect fans of its video rental service and reach new customers. Blockbuster can distribute its custom Facebook application through this channel and help these new fans share their video rental history throughout the social graph. Blockbuster can also accelerate its fan growth through targeted advertisements on Facebook.
A band or celebrity might create a Facebook Page to let its marketing staff promote and measure their online identity. David Beckham could have an individual profile on Facebook, but the friends requests would become overwhelming and lose all personal meaning. Instead Beckham can create a Facebook Page with multiple administrators and managers experimenting with how to best connect with fans online.
The Fakester Problem
Social networks have always been plagued by fake accounts, popularized under the “Fakester” term during the Friendster era. Anyone can create spammy social network profiles for a popular Christmas toy, pharmaceutical drug, or an actress in the news. These pages take advantage of the celebrity or brand power of another entity for personal gain and may confuse online visitors or hurt an online reputation.
A trademark and service mark is one way we protect online brands and establish authorized uses. Companies often take control of domain names in the hands of domain squatters through legal enforcement afforded trademark owners.
Some social networks choose to play a continual game of Whac-A-Mole with fake profile creators, trimming the unwanted parts of its user base to keep a clean community of real people conducting meaningful interactions. Most social networks choose not to review new profiles and instead wait for a reported violation from a brand or copyright owner through established channels such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its safe harbor provisions. Google and Second Life regularly deal with reported fakesters, trademark infringements, and copyright violations and have established well-documented processes to deal with each request.
Facebook Pages terms of service state “Facebook does not review Facebook Pages to determine if they were created by an appropriate party” yet recent actions and statements by the company indicate a Page is considered fake and subject to removal by Facebook unless written documentation is filed with the company to assure your authorization to create such content on behalf of all involved entities. There are a few big problems to this approach that will likely cause companies to walk away instead of submit papers for each employee and service provider.
Local business authorization is expensive or impossible
Facebook would like to create local listings Pages covering bars, restaurants, bookstores, and other places of business in your local town. The owner of my favorite cafe uses a Gmail address and my uncle runs his auto repair shop from Comcast services. They both have filed appropriate false name forms (doing business as) with their local county governments but the hassle of locating or reissuing these documents for a social network such as Facebook is a prohibitive barrier to entry. VeriSign will walk into your startup’s office, verify your existence, and issue an extended validation web browser certification for $1500 if you have the money and the patience to endure that level of verification.
Big brand, many managers
Companies have teams of individuals working on a product or service both inside and outside the company. A smaller website such as RockYou might have a marketing consultant, public relations firm, and a product team interested in engaging a larger audience on Facebook or other networks. A video game such as Rock Band is developed by Harmonix, published by MTV, distributed by Electronic Arts, marketed to the press by a public relations firm, and marketed to an online audience by a specialized social marketing firm.
The number of people involved in a particular brand, product, or service makes verifying each business and its employees a prohibitive cost of engagement. Like the $1500 browser certification, companies will only go through the hassle if they have a significant opportunity for large returns on their investments. Facebook and other social networks are still in the experimental stage at many large brands.
The techie friend
Less technically skilled businesses and brands rely on the help of a techie friend for many tasks in the techie world. My local cafe might not know how to log-in to a website, claim their business, and input their hours of operation. Traditionally the techie friend role for local listings was the phone company calling every business for yellow page listings and perhaps a few ads. Earlier this year Google started paying $10 for each local business listing created by its users going door to door snapping photographs and collecting local business data.
It is difficult to verify the techie friend since they are helping out someone who was not Internet or social network savvy enough to fill out the appropriate online forms or mailers. I had not heard of any restaurant or cafe listings removed from a local database until Facebook’s recent cleaning spree.
Protecting your company and brand
There are a few things your company and staff can do to decrease the chance Facebook might remove your employees, products, or advertisements from its site.
Create a Facebook Network for your company and its employees.
Facebook Networks associate Facebook members with their current or past places of employment. Company membership will be validated by e-mail address, allowing anyone with a “yourcompany.com” e-mail address to join your corporate Facebook network.
Web hosting company Joyent recently had their Facebook Page deleted even though the company had an established business partnership with Facebook. Joyent’s CTO and VP of Marketing were Page administrators yet there was no Joyent company network and therefore no established link to help their case. The executives had no official Facebook validation and verifications on their account and were listed as regular members of the San Francisco network.
Submit a documentation request to Facebook’s Advertising department, asserting your ability to create a Facebook page for your brand. Name each of your employees or outside partners you would like to grant explicit permission to administer or contribute to your Facebook Pages or content.
Facebook requires documentation from “all companies involved” showing each Page administrator has been authorized to represent the product. The exact documentation and assertion required from Facebook is still unclear, but a pro-active approach should help protect your Pages from deletion.
Facebook also offers people-friendly URLs for some verified pages. Your page could have a URL of facebook.com/blockbuster instead of Facebook page 5973937214 after verification.
Create a Facebook ad.
Paying Facebook a few dollars might help ensure the long-term existence of your Page. Fraudsters might be less likely to spend money promoting a false page or entering identifying information such as a credit card in Facebook’s system. An advertisement history associated with your page may be a positive signal indicating your engaged interest in the success of your Page.
Facebook advertisements have a minimum cost of a penny per click and a daily ad budget of $5. If you would like to associate an ad with your Page for little to no money just target an obscure group for a 1-day ad campaign, such as Texas vegetarians who prefer Kobe beef, to help ensure your fees never approach even $5.
Facebook is a closed network and the company reserves all right to determine when, where, or how you or your brand might exist on its site. It’s a shaky ground to enter but the promise of millions of eagerly waiting customers act as siren calls to brands entering the wild west world of social networking and user-generated media. Large brands such as Coca-Cola are pulling back from their planned involvement and instead opting for a “wait and see” attitude, and other brands may follow their lead as Facebook works out the kinks of each new system.