I recently took a trip down the rabbit hole in search of Facebook Customer Service, and wanted to share my experience.
Unfortunately, it seems that Facebook’s lack of customer service is enabling a thriving cottage industry of scammers. It also seems that Google is all too willing to throw their archenemy (Facebook) under the bus at the cost of turning innocent Facebook users into victims of scams.
My little journey started when I discovered that my website URL ericstips.com had been blocked by Facebook from being shared on Facebook. I was simply trying to post a link to my own website, from within my own private Facebook group.
As you can see, they said “Your post couldn’t be shared, because this link goes against our Community Standards”…
Additionally, if anyone tries visiting previously posted links to my site, including the ones in my profile and About page of my business, they are blocked:
And if you try sharing anything from ericstips.com using the Facebook like widget, you’ll get the following message:
To say that a person or website is in violation of Community Standards, and has been reported for “abuse” is a pretty strong statement. It’s a big deal because those kind of messages from Facebook can instantly destroy a person or company’s credibility in the eyes of those who see those messages.
For some, say a contractor who depends on Facebook for leads, the result could be total devastation of their business.
So I read Facebook’s Community Standards to try to understand why my website would be labeled as such. Clearly my website did not breach any of the Community Standards. I can only posit a couple of possibilities…
One possibility is that either an algorithm or real person made a mistake in flagging my site. I’ve known many examples where other sites in my niche (teaching internet marketing) have been mistaken by various companies (PayPal, Google, and others) for being “get rich quick” schemes, or spam-related sites. Facebook prohibits “forms of deception aimed at depriving people of money,” including “Investment schemes with promise of high rates of return”. There are posts on my site that talk about making money online, so perhaps a crawler/bot algorithm misinterpreted it.
The other possibility is that a competitor, scammer, or otherwise-hater falsely reported my site to Facebook in order to get it banned. If the warning on the Facebook like widget is true (“other people on Facebook have reported as abusive”), then this seems the most likely scenario. Essentially, anyone can report ANY content (post, comment, message, profile, photo, etc) on Facebook. You just have to select one of these options, such as “Spam”…
Using that mechanism, anyone can report virtually anything (especially a promotional post) as spam, and there’s a chance it could result in a Facebook account or website being banned.
Why would someone want to do that? In the case of a competitor, you can potentially wipe your competition off of Facebook, or at the very least cause them significant inconvenience. The perpetrator doesn’t have to put their own account at risk, because they can easily use a fake or borrowed account to make the report. In the case of scammers, they’re doing it to drive traffic to their “business” of promising to restore those accounts, or to get those websites unblocked. Then there’s the fact that just about anyone who is making any sort of positive impact online is going to have a few haters.
At its most innocent, Facebook is enabling businesses to engage in unethical business warfare. More serious, its enabling scammers to engage in cybercrime. At its worst, it may be facilitating cyber terrorism. Now I’m the one making the strong statement, right?
Consider this true scenario. Awhile back, I reported a Facebook post made by a religious extremist group on Facebook, because they stole and posted photos from my website, and the comments included death threats against my family. Apparently Facebook didn’t care much about the threats, because I got a reply in my Facebook Support Inbox saying “it doesn’t go against any of Community Standards. We check all reported content against these standards.” But after I complained of copyright infringement of the photos, the post was taken down, with no reply to me from Facebook. The owners of the offending Facebook Page can conclude it was me who got the post removed, since they found and took those photos from my site.
The extremist’s Facebook Page has over 300,000 followers. Now for the speculative part. Suppose even just a few of them retaliated by reporting my site to Facebook for various false infractions? What would you call that? Bullying? Harassment? If its religiously motivated it could even fall under the definition of cyber terrorism.
I have no idea whether that happened, but the way Facebook’s system is currently set up, it makes it easy for such cyber-bullying to occur. With a few clicks on Facebook, its easy to hurt a person, company, or group by inflicting real-life consequences.
What I tried…
When I initially saw the notice on Facebook that ericstips.com was blocked from being shared, I took the first action that most users in this situation probably take. I followed the link that said, “If you think this doesn’t go against our Community Standards let us know.”
That takes you to a form…
It doesn’t give a lot of encouragement or hope, since it says “we aren’t able to review individual reports”. I submitted it anyway in hopes that maybe, just maybe, a real person or even a half-intelligent robot would see my report and unblock my site.
A few days went by with no updates, so I decided to take the next step. I figured I had better try to contact Facebook and let them know about this little problem. So I went to the Facebook Help Center, which is where they direct all support-related traffic.
In searching the Help Center for information about my issue, I found ZERO articles or results related to websites/URLs being blocked from sharing on Facebook. So I turned to the Facebook Help Community which is basically a peer-to-peer support forum. What I found there were many other Facebook users with the same issue.
Some questions about this issue had been posted in the past week, while others had been posted on the forum years ago. Here’s one that was posted three years ago, has nearly one hundred answers, and hundreds of comments…
In perusing the topics and comments, I saw literally hundreds of unhappy Facebook users with this same issue…
While many topics in the Facebook Help Community receive helpful advice, including input from members designated as “Facebook Help Team”, the many posts regarding this particular issue do not seem to receive any input from the Facebook Help Team. Almost all of the answers and additional comments posted on these topics are from either:
a) Other Facebook users who are experiencing the same problem
Among the comments I did find a couple of potentially helpful tips, although they didn’t help my situation.
One was to run my URL through the Facebook Sharing Debugger. Unfortunately, the dubugger won’t even run if your site is blocked for Community Standards noncompliance, so that was no help…
The other seemingly logical piece of advice I found was to claim my URL as a business, and verify it with Facebook. That can be done under Brand Safety in the Business Settings of Facebook Business Manager.
There are two ways of verifying ownership of your website: an HTML page, or DNS. I tried the HTML method first, but it wouldn’t work–again because Facebook’s crawler wouldn’t visit my site. So I tried the DNS method and that worked, so ericstips.com is verified by Facebook. However, after a few more days, my domain was still blocked by Facebook.
So I tried the ONLY other method of contacting Facebook that I could find on their site, which is to “report a problem”. To report a problem, you have to choose between three options: payment issue, something isn’t working, or abusive content. I chose to report it as something not working because clearly something isn’t working…
But once again after submitting the form, Facebook made it clear that they would not be responding to me personally…
So what else is there to do?
Some have tried using Facebook Advertiser Support to get answers, unsuccessfully…
If I turn to the Facebook Help Community for answers, I’m bombarded with scams. This is pretty typical of what you’ll find in response to inquiries about blocked sites or banned accounts…
Back in 2017, NPR did a piece on Facebook customer service scams, revealing how they often work. The scammer pretends to be a Facebook employee, and persuades the victim to go buy an iTunes gift card, or some other form of transferable credit, which is then given to the scammer who promises to fix the problem upon payment.
Now, over three years later, not only do those scams still abound, they appear to be more prevalent than ever. Whenever a post is made in the Facebook Help Community regarding one of these topics (account or URL being banned), immediately the scammers begin posting their ads. Some of them are phone numbers, some are websites, email addresses, or WhatsApp numbers.
Perhaps more disturbing to me are that many of these scammer posts remain on Facebook for years. It seems to me that Facebook hasn’t applied their own Community Standards to their own Help Community. They’re continuing to enable the scammers by allowing those posts to stay on their site, and in many cases get picked up by Google and other sites which only spread the scams further.
So I thought to myself… surely there is a real person at Facebook who can help me. According to Wikipedia, they have about 45,000 employees. Maybe just one of them could get on the phone with me and figure this out. With all their buildings and offices and employees, they must have a phone number, right?
I then did what any normal person would do and googled it. The top search result was from Facebook, but in reference to “video subscription payments”, so it wasn’t relevant to me. Just below that, Google answered the question “How do I contact Facebook support?”…
Google has been conditioning us for quite some time now to get our answers directly from their results without ever leaving the Google site. In many cases, they provide good answers. In this case, it appears that they’re providing legitimate information since the source is the Facebook website.
However, the number is from a scammer who posted in the Help Community. I guarantee a lot of people are going to call that phone number without investigating any further. This is essentially the same problem that NPR reported in 2017.
Not only is Google STILL putting those scam results at the top of the page, they’re making it look legit. If you go look at the scammer posts in the Help Community, you see that the phone numbers are mostly obfuscated with extra characters to prevent Facebook’s algorithm from knowing that its a phone number. But in the Google results, Google makes those numbers easily readable with just one extra space after the area code.
This is far from an isolated example on Google. Various searches turn up similar results…
Notice the last example I circled above. Google has ranked a website called “Get Human” as being authoritative for Facebook’s phone number. When I went to that website, I noticed something interesting…
First I noticed that the entire page is basically a bait and switch. They claim to have Facebook’s phone number, and Google seems to affirm that, but when you arrive to the page it says “NOBODY ANSWERS THIS NUMBER”. Instead, they try to funnel you into some form of monetization such as paying for help, clicking an affiliate link, OR… clicking a Google ad!
Those Google ads also happen to be some of the more deceptive type of advertising because they are very difficult for the average viewer to distinguish as being ads. One of the Google ads on that page is even made to look like a connection to a Facebook Technician, which to me seems like a misleading implication of an official relationship with Facebook. A term like Facebook Expert is generic enough, but a “technician” sounds like they actually work for Facebook, right?
So in this case, instead of sending people to a truly authoritative source (such as Facebook themselves), Google is sending traffic to a site where Google makes money from ads.
We all know Google is pretty darn smart. Their algorithms certainly aren’t perfect, but they’re good enough to know that they’re delivering scammers to Facebook users, and they’re good enough to know that they’re prioritizing sites where Google makes money. In my opinion, Google is competitively exploiting Facebook’s lack of customer service by sending Facebook users to scammers who will ultimately make Facebook users even more frustrated and less likely to return to Facebook. I can’t prove it, but I don’t need to. Google was obviously made aware of the problem when NPR reported it in 2017, and the problem appears to be worse today.
That having been said, I feel that the onus of this particular problem lies with Facebook, not Google. After all, if Facebook provided a better customer service experience, this wouldn’t be such an issue. To that end, I have some simple suggestions for Facebook…
1) Facebook can create a specific “phone support” page in their Help Center, expressly explaining their lack of phone support. Even with no phone number available on that page, Google would essentially be forced to rank that page for “Facebook phone support”-related searches. Instead of sending traffic to scammers, Google could then send traffic to Facebook’s official phone support page that tells its users there is no phone support.
2) Facebook can provide official answers in their Help Center for FREQUENTLY asked questions that are currently not answered by Facebook, such as “how do I get my site unblocked?” As it is, users are forced to look elsewhere for these answers, which leads to scams. If official information were readily available and easily findable, the scammers would not abound.
3) Facebook can clean up the Help Community to keep scammers at bay. They’re doing this on some level, but they’re not doing a good job of it because there are scam posts currently in the Help Community that have been there for years. Facebook is one of the foremost tech companies in the world. They can better use their cutting-edge technology to keep the Help Community safe. If they could prevent (or at least remove in a timely manner) scam posts, Google wouldn’t be ranking scams that appear in that community as real answers.
4) Facebook can be a little more transparent with users who are penalized. Sure there are scammers and bad people on Facebook who have their accounts shut down, and Facebook doesn’t want to give the abusers any insight into how to better scam the platform. However, I believe those bad players already KNOW why their accounts got shut down, and they aren’t searching for answers or trying to get their accounts reinstated. Instead they just open another account and start over. The vast majority of users who are looking for answers and help have NO idea why their account got penalized, or why their site got blocked. In a case like mine where a domain is blocked, there should be a way to find out the REASON for the block (more specifically than “goes against our Community Standards”) after verifying ownership of the domain.
5) Facebook can implement an appeals process for users who are penalized. They sort of have a process for accounts that are banned, but based on the feedback in the Help Community it is not working well. Meanwhile there is no process whatsoever for website owners who have sites that are blocked. This process could be mostly automated. If website owners knew the reason their site was blocked, they would then know if it was wrongly blocked, or if there is something they need to fix before making their appeal. In the case of sites that are blocked for malware (which is usually the result of hackers, not the site owner) it could be totally automated, as the Facebook crawler can go examine the site to see if the malware was removed. To keep site owners accountable, and prevent scammers from abusing the system, Facebook can implement rules for the appeals process which keeps track of verified site owners who submit an appeal that fails due to noncompliance.
One final thing to keep in mind…
If Facebook doesn’t want to provide any support, that’s their prerogative. As a publicly traded company they have certain responsibilities, but offering phone support–or any support at all–isn’t one of them. The moral of this story is one that I’ve been harping for many years. If you make your business dependent on a giant like Facebook, Google, or Amazon, you’re essentially at their mercy. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve spent on ads with them, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve evangelized their platform and helped it grow; they can flip the switch and turn off your business at any time for any reason.
If Facebook or Google have any comments or corrections for this article, I’d be happy to publish them. Sorry I don’t offer phone support; you’ll have to use my helpdesk. Then again, if you’re Facebook or Google, you’ve got my number!
Also I’m still hoping to get my site unblocked, so if you have any suggestions let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading my experience, and please share your own stories in the comments below.
Have a great day!