I’ll never forget the day it happened. It truly was one of the longest days of my life. What could possibly feel like an eternity, you ask? Well, I was put in Facebook jail. That’s right, my friends. I’m a Facebook felon. You want to know why? I commented publicly in a group that someone should be careful they didn’t get “slapped with a lawsuit.” Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, I quickly found myself incarcerated for 24 hours. The charge? Threatening violence against another user. No, really. If you’re on the floor laughing so hard you think you might pee your pants, I don’t blame you. It’s rather amusing. At least, that is, until it happens to you.
For a full day, I could do nothing except longingly stare at all the fun and informative content posted by friends and colleagues. No engagement allowed. I couldn’t post to my Facebook feed for my own business or that of any of my clients whose social media pages I manage. Appealing to Facebook was a no-go. I received a swift response warning me that if I persisted in objecting to their harsh sentence, I would be permanently banned. I wasn’t sure whether I was amused or irritated by the whole situation. As I hear more and more stories of people landing in Facebook jail, I think it’s safe to say my feelings lean more toward outrage now. Here’s why.
Facebook jail offenses
So, how does one spin the wheel and win the prize of landing in Facebook jail? It’s called artificial intelligence, my friends (although I’m pretty sure there isn’t much intelligence happening with these AI bots). By its own admission, Team Zuck uses AI to identify what it considers “objectionable content.” These overzealous bots use Facebook’s internal enforcement guidelines to search for content in seven areas:
The AI bots that constantly crawl the site use their newfound knowledge to identify posts that violate terms of service (TOS). I could get behind the movement if it weren’t for the fact that Facebook’s AI bots have a lot of trouble with context. Therein lies 99.99 percent of the problem of ending up in Facebook jail without the possibility of parole.
What happens in Facebook jail?
Well, for starters, you can’t comment or like any posts. Doesn’t matter how awesome the content is or who posted it, once you’re in Facebook jail, you’re done interacting until your sentence expires. If it’s your first offense, you’re most likely facing a 24-hour ban from the platform.
Once sentenced by Facebook’s AI bots, you also won’t be able to:
Basically, my friends, you can look at Facebook and that’s about it. You’ll have to wait until you get out on parole before you can do anything fun again. If you try to reason with Facebook about your sentence, you’ll only prolong it. Trust me on that one.
It's the context, silly Facebook bots
It’s clear to anyone who’s been paying attention that Facebook’s AI works off a list of trigger words. If you have the misfortune of using any one of these words in an otherwise innocent, non-threatening statement on the platform, you risk a Facebook jail sentence. I alluded earlier to the time I said “slapped with a lawsuit” during a discussion and was put in Facebook jail for threatening violence. A former colleague of mine recently shared a cell with other users for daring to say she “punched the clock” at work. You and I know that she meant she clocked in for her shift at work. We’re humans. We get context and slang phrases. Facebook’s AI bots definitively decided she must have physically assaulted an inanimate object. Oi.
Good communicators know that language requires context to be understood by both the speaker and the listener. Humans are superior to AI bots in this skill. We know how to listen to the rest of the words in the sentence before judging the speaker’s intent. In the case of my Facebook jailing, all the AI bots recognized was the word “slapped,” and assumed I meant the term in a violent way. As my college journalism professor often espoused, “When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME.”
AI bots can do many things but understanding the intent of our words doesn’t appear to be one of them. It’s one of the many reasons why I don’t panic about all these AI writing software programs that claim they can replace a traditional copywriter.
English is a violent language
I know what you must be thinking. Shari, just avoid using words that Facebook’s AI bots might flag as violent. You would think it would be that simple but I’m here to tell you that it’s not, my friend. I’ve never realized how many words in the English language could be construed as violent before my trip to Facebook jail. (When you can’t play on social media, you entertain yourself in other ways). Here are just a few of the many intense words Facebook might flag (or has flagged), plus the common ways we use them in everyday language.
Our wordy friend the dictionary defines bloodshed as “the killing or wounding of people, typically on a large scale during a conflict.”
Yep, that’s violent, alright. Unless, of course, you say something like, “I just heard some songs by Bloodshed and had no clue he was such an awesome rapper. Too bad he’s dead.” I bet you dollars to doughnuts Facebook would ding you for that one, even though you’re talking about a musician, not committing actual carnage.
Hit me (with your best shot)
If you suddenly have Pat Benatar’s iconic tune stuck in your head, my apologies. I needed to use this phrase to illustrate yet another time Facebook’s AI bots dinged me for violent language. I asked some of the copywriters in a professional networking group to which I belong to provide feedback on some language I wanted to use in a campaign ad for a client. I ended my request by saying, “Don’t be shy, I’m not easily offended. Hit me with your best shot.”
They gave me great advice, alright. I just couldn’t thank them for it for 24 hours because – you guessed it – I was back in Facebook jail.
“I totally killed it today on the basketball court!” Did you now, my friend? Well, don’t be telling anyone about it on Facebook. You know why? Because those pesky AI bots will slap on the proverbial handcuffs and escort you right into Facebook jail. No, really. One of my friends made the mistake of bragging about his baller skills in a post on another friend’s Facebook wall. Before long, he was texting to tell me Facebook reprimanded him for threatening violence against another user and gave him a 24-hour timeout to think about what he’d done.
“I took a slapshot at the goalie and scored!” My husband loudly proclaimed upon returning from his adult league hockey game one morning. I was just logging into Facebook and told him not to say it too loudly for fear the bots would come to drag us both off to Facebook jail. I was only sort of joking. Just the day before, another colleague exuberantly exclaimed “Slap me silly, Sidney!” when talking about a recent score Pittsburgh Penguins’ star player Sidney Crosby had made the night before against state rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. Anyone who follows hockey knows that’s a famous phrase uttered by sports reporting icon Mike Lange any time Crosby scores an amazing goal.
Apparently, the Facebook AI bots aren’t hockey fans. My friend ended up in Facebook jail a few hours later. His crime? Inciting violence. No, really. Try not to roll your eyes hard enough to give yourself a concussion on this one.
Outsmarting the Facebook jail guards
So, what’s a wordsmith to do, you ask? The hell if I know. What I can tell you is typing out anything on Facebook immediately triggers my anxiety these days. I’ve been put in Facebook jail so many times now that if it happens just one more time, they’ve assured me that my account will be suspended permanently. (I can almost see the Facebook bots wagging their autonomous fingers at me while making that threat).
It takes me a long time now to string a few sentences together on the platform. I analyze everything I say and how it could be misconstrued before posting. While it’s a total crapshoot on whether you’ll end up being flagged for violent language, here is what you can do if it happens:
I can tell you one thing. My Facebook jail experiences have made me a better wordsmith. Sure, I’m a giant bundle of nerves every time I make a post. However, I also find new and creative ways to replace words that might be mistaken for threats of violence. Want to check out some of my craftiness? Stop by my Facebook page and give me a like and follow and a few words of encouragement. I promise I won’t report you to Facebook for offending me. 😊
Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for 25 years.