Sunday, December 16, 2012

Just a bit about "Facebook Jail"

I dug up something from Facebook help related to this.

  • Feature overuse: There are limits to restrict the rate at which you can use features on the site. Overusing features is not allowed because it may make other people feel annoyed or unsafe.
Facebook has limits in place to prevent abuse of our features and to protect users from potential spam or instances of harassment.
Unfortunately, Facebook cannot provide any specifics on the rate limits that are enforced. Please know that the threshold at which you are warned is not a specific number, but rather determined by different factors, such as speed, time, and quantity. 

Before today, I had never heard of the term "fb jail." Maybe because I'm not an insufferable dolt who is so addicted to Facebook that my behavior could be confused with that of a bot created by the soulless engineers employed by some evil viral marketing company. But, I'll try not to jump to conclusions there. Let's have a more in-depth look at this, shall we?

What is it?

The person who used the term offered no clear context as to its meaning. I had to do some digging to figure out what they were talking about. From what I can gather, "fb jail" (or "Facebook jail" if you're not too god damn busy to type the entire name of the social networking service you have a crippling addiction to) refers to a security measure that was apparently set up by Facebook staff to curb the activity of spammers on their site. Essentially what happens is the system places a temporary lock on your profile. You can still log in and read things as usual, but can no longer "Like" pages, add friends or comment on anything until the lock expires.

As I think back on my experience with Facebook in the past, I may have experienced this once or twice. I clicked "Like" on a page or something but the change did not take effect. At the time I chalked it up to my Internet connection acting up. It really was not a big deal, and everything was back to normal in a matter of minutes, so I never considered it a problem. In fact, if I had been made aware that it was an anti-spam measure, I'd actually appreciate that and be glad such measures are in place. I hate seeing spammers on Facebook, so anything that can hamstring their ability to market their worthless crap to me is a welcome addition.

However, it seems some people experience this anti-spam measure so frequently that they are actually enraged by it. They think Facebook is wrong to use this measure, and they gave it the oh-so-catchy nickname "fb jail" to rally more hatred toward it. I'm guessing most of these people either don't understand the purpose of the measure or simply don't care. They want to be able to Like as many pages as they want, to friend as many people they don't know as they wish, and to make as many comments as they desire in the span of a few minutes.

I sincerely doubt anybody who incurs the effects of the anti-spam measures on a regular basis because of their incessant activity could possibly have anything to say that is worth hearing, so I personally have no problem with them losing their ability to comment for a while. But, I'll play devil's advocate for a bit:

Why is it no good?

While an anti-spam measure that effectively forces social networking addicts to take a break and do something else with their pointless lives for a few minutes is hilarious to me, it really is ill-advised on Facebook's part. I would cite the anger being fostered in their users, but let's be honest: that's only an issue for Facebook if those people would quit over their anger, and that's not going to happen. They've bitched and moaned their way through every change Facebook has made in close to a decade; they're here to stay.

So, here's a more important point: users who experience the lock-out have developed ways around it using personal pages and the like. If they can do it, I'm sure spammers could do something similar, so this measure is sadly not working. An anti-spam measure that affects actual people and can be circumvented is simply not a good enough solution to go on using.

What would be a better solution?

My suggestion: if a user is acting in such a way as to trigger anti-spam measures in the system, instead of silently locking them out, throw up a security dialog to verify them. Just give it a little message like,
"Hey, you're kind of overloading our system with all your activity. Could you just take a second and prove you're an actual human and not a computer program serving evil marketing demons?" 
Then ask them a question only an actual person could respond to. If they pass, let them go about their business, at least for 10 minutes or so before triggering again. If they trigger this enough times but fail the question, put a more permanent lock on their account but let them know how they can get it lifted (in the event that a person's account has been hacked). If they trigger this a lot yet still prove their humanity each time, refer them to an addiction support group in their region.

As for what the security question would be, anything along the lines of "Mother's maiden name" could potentially be accessed by hackers, or set up by whoever created a bot account, so that wouldn't work. I'm personally a fan of CAPTCHAs, but they may experience some of the same problems. I've definitely been on sites where a CAPTCHA popped up that not even a human could decipher.

Closing comments:

So, in truth, maybe there isn't a much better solution right now. I'd recommend trying a CAPTCHA for a while and seeing whether it does a decent job of controlling spam. Users will inevitably start complaining that they now have to answer a CAPTCHA while they're browsing Facebook, but those users are self-entitled fuckwits and nobody really cares what they think anyway.

Actually, I take it back. What I'd really recommend is people not using Facebook so excessively in the first place. (And changing your password from time to time to avoid hacking.) Seriously, I understand that not being able to use Facebook for a little while can be frustrating, but you're not entitled to its use every waking moment of every day. It's a free web application that the proprietors of Facebook provide on their own terms. They are under no obligation to tailor it to your personal needs. The changes they do make are usually to try and improve your experience anyway, such as anti-spam measures to keep that crap from showing up and spoiling your day. The fact that you demand even more from them all the time just makes you sound like a spoiled child. You can't walk into McDonald's and demand they make the McRib available year round and expect to be taken seriously. You can't go to Facebook and demand they run their web-based business on your terms either.

Anyway, that's all I wanted to say on that. If you have never experienced this "fb jail" thing yourself, congratulations on having a life outside your smartphone and computer. Everyone else, seriously, get over yourselves. If you want a social network that runs exactly how you want, get some programmer friends from college and make your own. Otherwise, chill out and try to remember there's more to life than Likes and status updates.

Peace and love, readers.

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