How to get banned from social media without posting a thing

Mme D finally takes to the Web 2.0 stage and becomes a bad actor


Something for the Weekend? "Is it in yet?"

There you go! It's working now! "There's no need to push it," I explain calmly. "Just put it right here and it should insert itself automatically, see?"

Mme D is trying to connect two social media accounts so she won't have to upload the same photo twice. Frankly, she doesn't even want to upload it once. She'd rather not have to deal with it at all.

Mme D does not do social media. Never has; never will.

This is a little tiresome because she needs to have an active social media presence to promote awareness of her brand new local business. Oh yes, social media is an absolute necessity. All the influencers say so, and we should always do what influencers tell us to otherwise they won't be influencers any more. And, well, that would be a disaster, wouldn't it?

I once tried to impress on her the importance of UGC. For weeks afterwards she looked at me in a funny way until we eventually cleared the air by establishing that UGC does not stand for Universal Genital Castration. Given that 25 per cent of user-generated content comprises dick pix, this was a misunderstanding too far.

"Social media is a time-wasting pit of crazies, pornographers, criminals, and perpetually angry nobodies flinging insults at each other," she replied.

For someone who doesn't do social media, she has a remarkably strong insight into it.

The argument that won the day, however, was when I suggested the alternative was to print hundreds of leaflets and go door-to-door posting them into letterboxes. Or buy advertising space… which would need to be online and backed up with a posh website.

Let's start with just a couple of social media accounts, I said, and we'll connect them so that you can upload your photos to one and then they'll appear in the other by magic! It'll only take five minutes!

Here we are, five hours later, still trying to get it to work.

The first hour was wasted choosing a username. Strictly speaking, she needed two usernames – one for each platform – but they needed to be the same, or as similar as possible, so that people would recognise them as being related to the same person. There's no point being Jesus_Forgives411 on one platform and Hail_Satan666 on the other; it tends to confuse the message. But registering the same username on two social media platforms these days turns out to be trickier than I remembered from when I last did it more than a decade ago.

By "trickier", I mean impossible.

We kept two browser windows open side-by-side, trying to synchronise names. As soon as we'd found one that worked on one platform, it would be unavailable on the other. I even clicked on the button "Suggest a username" and got DABBS_354168. Who'd have thought there were so many Dabbses? Well, apparently there were even more of them on the other platform as it insisted Username DABBS354168 is already taken. Blimey, common as muck, we are.

Eventually armed with the memorable DABBS_9571684884194295615498, we set up a content link between the two platforms. Great, let's try it out!

Mme D says she is bored with social media already and insists we take a break as she is not yet sufficiently acclimatised to adopt the social media power-user convention of pissing in empty cola bottles under the desk rather than step away from the screen for two seconds. I acquiesce.

After lunch, we sign back in so she can upload her first ever social media post. What ought to be an auspicious occasion is marred by a message when she logs into the first platform.

Your account has been blocked due to a breach of our content rules.

Nowhere is there an explanation of what rules have been broken or how, or indeed what to do about it. We spend the next couple of hours searching the customer support pages [ha ha ha, sorry, it always makes me laugh when they call them that], followed by general Google searches, calls to the Citizen's Advice Bureau, and a telegram to the Vatican. Nobody has the faintest idea, although at least I did manage to confirm that Francis took in that Amazon parcel for me. He says he'll pop it round on Sunday after work.

For further amusement, albeit not ours, we hunt for a contact email address or phone number at the social media platform to ask what to do next. I even try asking on social media itself but of course that doesn't get us anywhere at first: all that happens is that a bunch of people jump on my post to tell me I am "just like Hitler" before sending me photos of their privates.

But then, as I'm scrolling through them, I spot a reply from the feed moderator [Curation: Richard Intimate Photography, I guess the official job title goes] who's pasted a shortened URL we should click on for help. I click on it and and we find ourselves looking at an unblockage request form. At last.

Our reclaim form completed and sent off, we while away the next hour awaiting a response. Mme D goes back to work. I skim through the online news, preferring to remain in front of my computer for a bit longer now that I have lined up a row of empty cola bottles under my desk.

The reply comes back in an instant. The social media moderators had been poring over our case for at least… ooh, I dunno… a good four seconds before delivering their final verdict.

Your account has been blocked due to a breach of our content rules. You may not contest this decision.

I am disappointed but not surprised. The case almost certainly had not been looked at by a human with a brain but by an AI without one. There is no way to get past this barrier except by trying to kick up a fuss on the public support feeds. I'm loathe to do this as you end up looking like just another shouty arse along with everyone else in social media.

It's funny, though, how social media companies claim to be eradicating so-called "bad actors" and hate-speech posters from their platforms on a regular basis. I say "funny" because they usually quote big numbers in the thousands or tens of thousands, but nobody ever seems to challenge who is included in these regular purges. Has anyone ever asked to look at the list?

I am asking for a friend: specifically, on behalf of DABBS_9571684884194295615498, who has found herself rubbing shoulders with assorted bad actors and haters. She is now banned… a lonesome vagabond on the surf of sershal meejah; a pariah of posting; rendered hungry through a lack of feed.

I ask: what the heck did you put in your feed to make them go postal on you like that?

"I haven't posted anything yet," she replies. "We had lunch instead, remember?"

And there you have it: Mme D's social media feed managed to irrevocably breach social media content rules within minutes of creating her account – without actually having any content in it.

Hoorah for AI! And hoorah for those tens of thousands of banned accounts! The world feels safer already. ®

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He is currently wondering whether it is time to step back from his helter-skelter publishing schedule of posting one tweet and one LinkedIn blah a week. Maybe once a year would do. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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