Trap

Facebook: Judge, Jury & Executioner

Why you should be very wary of making your business dependent on just one advertising platform – a cautionary tale for authors … 

Note: This is a very long post. That's because I give you every detail of this sorry incident so you can form your own judgement with all the facts to hand.

I have just had my Facebook ads account permanently disabled by Facebook … for reasons so far unspecified.

I've known for a long time that it's almost impossible to speak to a real human being at Facebook unless you're in the privileged position of spending lots of money with them.

Then they lavish their attention on you.

But my recent experience has proven frustrating, infuriating and downright ludicrous.

Banned – Out of the Blue

I've been advertising on Facebook since 4th January 2010.

Even I'm surprised that it's been that long, that must make me quite an early adopter.

After all that time, not only did Facebook decide – completely out of the blue – to block my ads account, they have refused to give me an explanation as to why they have taken this action.

I had an unblemished track record of well over EIGHT years of advertising on their platform – no warnings, no time-outs, no skirmishes and no transgressions.

Then, on 6th August 2018 – right in the middle of a BookBub promotion – they closed my account without warning, explanation or mercy.

My blocked Facebook account – see full size image here

In the time between taking that action and me writing this post (16th August 2018) they have neither reinstated my account nor given me any explanation why they decided to take this action.

Grim Reaper
The Grim Reaper is at work

What's the problem?

For one thing, I need to get this off my chest!

I'm so frustrated with Facebook right now, I can barely contain it.

But you know, I learned this lesson several years ago when I built a software on Facebook, at a time when most people weren't even using it.

And I want to warn you as an advertiser about how little Facebook values you as a customer.

The lesson I learned from building my software on Facebook's platform all those years ago is that they care very little about the people who use their infrastructure.

Fast Fan Pages
This was an ad for my Fast Fan Pages software

I discovered that when they completely overhauled their business pages without word or warning, leaving those of us with software products to scurry around fixing things as fast as we were able.

Now, don't get me wrong, it's Facebook's platform, they make the rules and they can do what they want.

But isn't there a lesson about how to behave here? 

Who would do that – wouldn't you warn people beforehand, give them time to pivot and offer a period of grace to people who'd invested time and money creating useful tools to enable people to enjoy what you'd built?

Facebook Rejection

I've always known – and understood – that Facebook has the right to reject my ads.

In fact (ironically now, as it turns out!) I'd posted on Twitter about a suggestive ad being knocked back:

That's all fine, even though banning that image does seem a bit puritanical.

It's Facebook's site, they make the rules, I'm happy with that.

All they have to do is disallow the ads, ask me to replace the offending image and we all get on with our lives – simple!

But when they blocked my account and gave me no form of appeal, redress or restitution, they really lost all my goodwill.

That's why I say Facebook behaves like judge, jury and executioner.

Hard luck if they decide you did something wrong!

My Facebook ads were failed!

They'll crush your business without a second glance, irrespective of whether they got it wrong or right, not even bothering to give you a way to put things right.

In my case, I still don't know what I did wrong … and I'm pretty darn confident that I have done absolutely nothing wrong, because I read the guidelines and do my best not to break them.

Why would I want to bite the hand that feeds me?

So this is a warning to all of you who believe the good times with Facebook ads will continue to roll.

They probably will if you've got loads of cash.

But if you're a small fry like me, with no clout or influence, they won't hesitate to crush you under foot

The Whole Sorry Tale

In the interests of balance and fairness, I'm going to share the entire sorry tale on this page, exactly as it played out.

If you can spot what I did wrong, or if you think I'm too damning in my judgement of Facebook, please let me know.

After all, I'm definitely not judge, jury and executioner.

Unlike Facebook, I'm happy to hear the full story and accept that I might be wrong.

Let's start with my ads.

I'm the author of thrillers and sci-fi novels, on this occasion I was advertising my thrillers.

The book I was advertising has a sex scene in it – nothing too raunchy, nothing you wouldn't see in a certificate 15 film.

My Facebook audience was 18+, so a nice little buffer was built in there, just in case.

I use a couple of tag lines on the book, which nobody has ever complained to me about and which Amazon has been quite happy to let me use on its websites for the past two years:

Be careful who you sleep with …

Two women. One night. So many deaths …

Any issues yet?

Okay, let's push the boat out a little further.

Here are the ads I was running:

Perhaps image 2 was too raunchy? 

I received no complaints and those ads were doing really well – lots of clicks at a lovely, low cost.

I never read the small print, but I am very familiar with Facebook's ad guidelines here.

My ads might be governed by the adult content rules, but I suspect not – advert 2 is perhaps borderline.

Those ads ran quite happily for a couple of days, then all of a sudden, while I was duplicating the ads to send them to a different audience, my interface went ‘a bit funny'.

Then I see the following message in my dashboard:

See full size image here

Believing this to be a mistake, I immediately sought out a web page that I've been recommending to other marketers for years.

It was created because it's so darn frustrating trying to get any response from Facebook – it's an excellent article called How to Contact Facebook and Get Support When You Need It [Ultimate Guide] – you can read it here.

Nothing on that page seemed to meet my specific needs, so I dug around a little.

My first course of action was to get in touch via the support inbox – you can read the text of those communications below:

The gist of it is, we've locked your account, we're not telling you why, our decision is final.

Judge. Jury. Executioner.

I woke up the next day, enraged by this.

It's really important to strike while the iron is hot when you're in the middle of a book launch and I wanted those lovely, cheap Facebook clicks to maintain my high position in the Amazon charts.

I talked online to an author pal who spends thousand and thousands of pounds on Facebook – he must be one of the biggest spenders on Facebook and he's sold thousand of books on the platform.

He was bemused by what had happened.

I reached out once again to Facebook, this time via Live Chat in Facebook Advertiser Support.

Here is the text of that chat conversation – by the way, I have no beef with the two individuals who dealt with me at Facebook, they were polite, friendly, patient and courteous:

See full size image here
See full size image here

Feeling hopeful of some personal attention now, I awaited a positive response.

After all, I'd done nothing wrong, surely Facebook would recognise this and immediately reinstate my account?

I was wrong!

See full size image here

Now, I have to tell you, I was feeling pretty upset by this stage.

And, by the way, I really dislike that turn of phrase Please consider this decision as final.

Like I said, Judge. Jury. Executioner.

I thought I was out options, there didn't appear to be anywhere else to go.

I can't remember what happened next – and what made me reach out again – but my record of communications shows that I sent a second message via https://www.facebook.com/business

See this image full size here

I waited patiently once again.

The support assistant had been positive and sounded like he knew what he was doing and I was hopeful that we'd finally get the matter resolved.

He even telephoned me, but I responded immediately via email as that was more convenient for me at the time.

This is what I wrote:

Hi [NAME], thanks for getting in touch, I just picked up the message on my voicemail, thank you for reaching out.

I'm very grateful to receive some personal attention on this matter.

From my point-of-view, I am simply at a loss to know what this issue is about – nobody has informed me yet.

I run my account as responsibly as I can – I am a thriller writer promoting my books.

I believe that this issue must be due to a misunderstanding, misapprehension, a malicious report or something similar.

I feel that at worst I might have used an image from your stock photo collection that is deemed ‘unsuitable' but in the past, you have always flagged these to me before they appear on your site.

I did have a mysterious payment issue last night – I was being asked for a new credit card – which I added as requested – and this seemed to settle any outstanding fees.

I would be very grateful if I was able to speak to you directly after you have done your research.

I am meeting with clients this afternoon, so it would be best if we can speak at 6pm UK time – would that be possible?

I do hope that you will be able to explain why it is felt that this very drastic action has been deemed an appropriate course of action – I would really welcome the opportunity to find out what I have done wrong and then put it right, which I will, of course, do immediately if I am at fault.

Thank you for your time, Paul

I received a polite acknowledgement and I really felt that we were close to a solution.

Then – at last – a clue!

Hello Paul,

I have heard back from the internal team and your ad account was disabled for not following Facebook's Advertising Guidelines. Ads are evaluated for policy compliance and quality of content. When ads that are not policy compliant are run, they may be disabled.

I took a look into which ads had been disabled due to non-compliance, and  it's several posts / ads for The Crypto News Podcast, as Facebook Ads must  not promote financial products and services that are frequently associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices, such as binary options, initial coin offerings, or cryptocurrency. I ask that you take the time to fill out the following information as it will help us determine if you're eligible to advertise cryptocurrency and related products and services on Facebook family apps and services:

Cryptocurrency Products and Services Onboarding Request –
https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/532535307141067

Have i resolved your issue today?

Kind regards,
[NAME]
Global Marketing Solutions Facebook

At last!

A reason for the ban.

It was due to crypto currencies and not my author work.

I had wondered what could possibly be controversial about my books.

Maybe Mark Zuckerberg read my Don't Tell Meg trilogy and thinks it stinks 🙂

He's entitled to his opinion, but he doesn't have to block my account.

At this stage I need to let you know that I run a Crypto Currency podcast at https://cryptonewspodcast.com/

It's completely uncontroversial, it's an educational podcast, we're not selling anything, though we have a few affiliate links on our website to some reputable crypto exchanges and services, all of which I use personally.

I have a disclosure policy at https://clixeo.com/disclosure/ and a full financial disclaimer at https://cryptonewspodcast.com/disclaimer/

In January, when we launched the podcast, I tried a couple of simple Facebook ads to promote it and find a new audience.

They only lasted a few days because all the men we were advertising to were piling in with their crypto opinions in the comments, and I didn't particularly care to hear them.

The female targeted ads were a much more pleasant experience, but I knocked the ads on the head after a short period of time.

Here are those ads so you can judge the level of crypto evilness for youself:

How evil is this for an ad?
I should be thrown in jail for an ad like this!
Note the 65 likes on this ad – this is free education in crypto!

If you'd like to see how utterly depraved my crypto training is, help yourself here, it's free: https://www.patreon.com/CryptoNewsPodcast

Now, towards the end of January 2018, Facebook and other advertising platforms announced that they would no longer be supporting crypto adverts.

I can't blame them, there are a lot of ifs-and-buts around crypto regulation, it was fair enough that they took time out to make sure they were compliant.

It didn't impact me because I'd stopped running my ads before that announcement and I haven't run any since.

By the way, I challenge you to find anything resembling the kind of ads Facebook disallows in any of my crypto output – you won't, so don't waste your time looking.

To respond to Facebook's feedback, I immediately disconnected from my Crypto Facebook page which you'll be able to view here until it disappears forever: https://www.facebook.com/CryptoNewsPodcast/

We only used it to auto-post our weekly episodes, you can see what a crazed cesspit of depravity it is here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTmE8VN46DxXOhZ05P2DD-Q?view_as=subscriber

I wrote back to Facebook with this explanation:

Thank you [NAME], I do appreciate your attention to this matter.

Being able to advertise my author business on Facebook is too important for me to take any risks falling foul of any problems around crypto, so I have marked that page for deletion.

I'm completely backing away if it's going to cause any issues for me.

I would plead for account reinstatement because:

1) I haven't advertised on crypto issues since before the crypto ban 
2) I have only been promoting a podcast, no products, purchasing options or anything like that
3) We are an info/education podcast with advice disclaimers and no product or crypto sales whatsoever
4) The ads that you have blocked which are impacting on my income have nothing whatsoever to do with crypto – it's an author business – completely non-controversial – and these ads should not have been disabled … at worst, my crypto account should have been disabled.

I will delete that Crypto page regardless now, I simply can't risk running into issues like this in future – I have lost a lot of author income this week because of this problem.

Once again, I thank you for your patience and attention to this matter.

Best wishes, Paul

Fair enough?

I'm pretty certain I have done nothing wrong crypto-wise, but I was prepared to remove any shadow of doubt over that matter, now or in the future.

If Facebook doesn't like crypto, I'm out, we'll just run the podcast for educational purposes and hope that people find us by word of mouth, on Twitter, in their podcast feed or via the search engines.

This had to be it, we had to be close to a solution!

Nope 🙁

Hello Paul,

I have heard back from the internal team and i regret to inform you that your account has been disabled for not following Facebook's Advertising Guidelines. Ads are evaluated for policy compliance and quality of content. When ads that are not policy compliant are run, they may be disabled.

Specifically, this ad was disabled for containing misleading content that has been known to result in negative feedback from Facebook users, and is contrary to our goal of providing the highest quality user experience possible.

As mentioned, we reserve the right to disable ads contrary to our objectives. For this reason, if any of your ads have been disabled, we will be unable to reactivate them. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Please consider this decision final.

All the best, 
[NAME]
Global Marketing Solutions Facebook

Note that annoying Please consider this decision final … it gets a bit wearing after a while, doesn't it?

I wrote back, bemused, even more frustrated and still completely in the dark:

Hi [NAME], can I just check and confirm something?

Is it the ads account disabled or the ad?

Can I still create ads on my [NAME] account?

In addition, I'm still not clear which as was a problem and why – nobody has told me!

Are you able to let me know what the issue was so I can avoid in future?

Is this only my crypto ads?

If so, why are by author ads disabled?

Thanks for your help, Paul

We're getting close to the end now.

If you were after a long saga to follow on from War and Peace you just found it 🙂

Here's the reply:

Hello Paul,

Thank you for your email. 

Of course you can check. I'll h [SIC]

Your Ad Account, [NAME], has been disabled so you will be unable to create any new ads. 

The message i sent you earlier, was what i received from the internal team, there was no direct mention of exactly which ad caused the issue. I would guess it was one of the Crypto ads/posts.

The author ads are disabled, as the entire ad account is disabled.

You're very welcome, it was my pleasure to help you. 

Have i resolved your issue?

Don't you just love it was my pleasure to help you and Have I resolved your issue?

No, you have NOT resolved my issue!

There was one more reply to come:

Hello Paul,

Thank you for your email.

In regards to your future advertising options, i would look into seeing if you can add a new ad account to your business manager and taking it from there. What ever you wish to do, i wish you best in your future endeavors.

You might want to fill out this Disabled Ad Account Help form – https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/2026068680760273

So, here's what happened next.

I set up exactly the same ads on my wife's ad account, a completely clean account which had never been used for advertising before.

The ads were approved, ran for a few hours, then:

My wife's blocked Facebook account – see full size image here

You can imagine what my reaction was … 

via GIPHY

What would you do at this stage?

Is it fair enough that I'm frustrated as hell?

Do you feel like this is a fair hearing or a reasonable explanation from Facebook?

If I'm completely wrong on this, please let me know, I'm happy for you to set me straight.

And then – to add insult to injury – Facebook asks me for me feedback!

Hi Paul,

I recently replied to your Facebook support inquiry but haven’t heard back from you, so I wanted to check in. I'm happy to provide you with further support, so please let me know if you have any follow up questions.

Note: If you haven't received our response and yet getting this email, please make sure that you whitelist Facebook's IP addresses and domains to receive our response for your inquiry. 

Best regards,

[NAME] 
Global Marketing Solutions Facebook

At this point, I decided to give Facebook my full and frank feedback.

Here are my ‘coaching points' in full:

Hi [NAME],

Whilst I'm happy with the way that you personally have fielded my queries, I am frustrated and furious at Facebook.

I will be writing and sharing a blog post this week entitled Facebook: Judge, Jury & Executioner in which I plan to outline for public consumption every detail of this experience, because it seems that I have no other recourse here than to share with my blog, social media and podcast listeners every detail of this shambolic episode and to warn them against advertising with Facebook because of this petulant, irrational and inconsistent behaviour.

How can anybody build their business with Facebook when they're treated in such an atrocious manner?

Here is why I am so frustrated and furious:

1) You still  have not told me why my account is in violation of your policies – it's a simple question: What have I done wrong?
2) You still  have not told me which ad this relates to
3) You have not made the offer to allow me to course correct – I'm clearly not an ‘evil advertiser', no rational person would block my business like this, you would simply advise me what I've done ‘wrong' and allow me to correct it
4) You guessed that it was my crypto account that was to blame for this violation. You suggested I set up a new account. I deleted the crypto page, I promoted my book adverts via my wife's account and now you have banned that too – so it's quite clear this must related to my book adverts – so you even gave me the wrong advice because even you – as a Facebook employee – don't know why this account has been blocked.
5) If you believe my book to have unsuitable content, you are wrong. Let me say that again – YOU ARE WRONG. There is nothing in my suspense thriller that would cause offense – just read the reviews on Amazon, it's not erotica, it would be a 15 rated film, you are WRONG if you think there's something unsuitable about the book I'm trying to advertise.
6) You are putting my business at a considerable disadvantage by blocking my ads – it is unfair, ill-conceived, poorly researched and an appalling way to run a business.

If you wish to put this right, here is the action I would expect to be taken:

1) Refer this matter directly to a decision-maker, with authority to reactivate my account
2) Arrange a time for us to discuss my ‘ad violation' on the phone – explain to me what I have done wrong and how I can put it right
3) Be prepared – if you try to give me some generic answer without justifying your actions, I will hold you to account. Be very clear why you think my ad is in violation of your policies, I have read them thoroughly and believe you are wrong
4) Do the rational thing – allow me to put right whatever I am supposed to have done wrong and unlock my ads account
5) As a sign of goodwill – once you realise how ridiculous you've been over this issue – you can send me an ad credit by way of compensation for the income I've lost while Facebook has handled this matter in such an abominable way.

I thank for your attention in this matter.

Regards, Paul Teague

I even used capital letters.

I remember telling my dad not to do that.

It's like shouting in an email dad I told him.

Yes it is, and that's how it was meant.

So what happens now?

My ads account is banned.

My wife's ad account is banned.

Facebook won't talk to me.

As you know by now, their decision is final 🙂

In my final feedback above, you'll see what I want Facebook to do to put this situation right.

That's just the rational, sensible approach isn't it?

Item 5 is a bit cheeky – asking for an ads credit – but I'm really fed up with them and they've cost me a lot of money denying me access to their ads portal.

So a bit of compensatory goodwill only seems reasonable.

What can we learn from this?

Whatever you do, do not fall into the belief that Facebook is your friend.

If it is your friend, then it's a dysfunctional relationship – they don't care about you or your business.

So always set up your business asking yourself the question What would I do if Facebook blocked me today?

Because they may well do just that!

Spread your advertising seed and spend your money elsewhere.

I have found BookBub ads to be much better than Facebook ads, that's been a rather nice by-product of this skirmish with Facebook.

So learn about BookBub ads, I highly recommend Adam Croft's excellent teaching on this topic:

Amazon ads are also a great alternative.

There's plenty of great tuition on this topic, most notably by Dave Chesson at https://kindlepreneur.com/ams-book-advertising-course/

Brian Meeks is also an Amazon ads ninja, his book is well worth a read.

Finally, if you want to drill down deep and become a read ads expert, check out Mark Dawson's Ads For Authors course at https://selfpublishingformula.com/courses/

I welcome your comments, thoughts and suggestions on this post.

In the meantime, I will continue my efforts to get Facebook to explain what I did wrong and see if I can put it right.

I'd love to use the ads platform again, but an episode like this seriously damages trust and credibility.

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