A Wrongful Victim of Facebook's New Alcohol Policy
On July 25, I discovered that my Secret Hopper page had been switched from “published” to "unpublished." This came without warning and I was unsure why this occurred. I immediately appealed and was denied without any further explanation. Once our appeal was denied, we were given no option to re-appeal.
The only conclusion I could come to was that somehow, we were in violation of Facebook’s new regulations regarding alcohol, tobacco, and e-cigarettes. This policy, made public July 24, aims to prevent all private sales, trades, transfers, and gifting of alcohol and tobacco products on Facebook and Instagram. While the Secret Hopper page did not violate any of these mentions, it was the only thing that made sense.
We were somehow a wrongful victim of this new policy.
Upon digging further, we found a notification that our page was unpublished as a result of a recent job posting violating terms and conditions. My wife and I began scouring Facebook for additional ways to appeal, phone numbers to call, and email addresses to reach out to. This resulted in dead ends and phone numbers with countless options - all no help whatsoever. We were frantic.
We had also speculated that something about the content of our page was in violation. I have always been careful not to publish anything inappropriate or such that would violate any terms. Breweries are now required to have their pages listed as 21+. However, upon doing research, I never believed this was necessary for our page, as we, like a news publication, often publish alcohol related content, but are not selling it. If any page putting out content about alcohol was required to be 21+, nearly every news publication's social media would need to update. Here’s looking at you CNN.
I then reached out to our legal counsel at Pierce McCoy. Our lawyers researched Facebook’s terms, conditions, and policies and agreed that our page was not in violation of any. However, finding the path to appeal to Facebook would prove to be another challenge.
Pierce McCoy drafted a demand letter and it was sent to the Facebook legal department. This was sent on Friday, July 26. $675 later.
Several days went by and we took matters into our own hands.
Over the past two and a half years, we have been extremely passionate about engaging daily with our 5000+ followers. Not being able to have this arm of our business prevented us from communicating with our biggest advocates and using our online presence to interact with breweries.
A poster on Reddit advised that the only way to get a hold of a real person at Facebook was to go through their Advertising Department. So, I did what anyone would do, I reached out to their advertising customer support acting like a concerned business that was confused why I was unable to give them hundreds of dollars to promote my business. At least this option got me in contact with a real person.
During each encounter with the advertising representatives, they showed empathy and promised to help me get to the bottom of the misunderstanding. These conversations began via Facebook messenger then switched to email as they looked further into the situation.
Over the course of my 3 attempts to speak with a human via the ad department, I received the news that my page had 4 job postings that violated the terms and conditions. Since January 2019, I posted 19 job postings for the exact same position in different cities across the United States. However, it wasn’t until July 25 that I received any notification that any of these violated any of the terms and conditions, and oddly enough, only 4 out of 19 were cited for the reason my account was unpublished.
I repeat. All 19 job postings were identical, only 4 were flagged, and the oldest was allowed to stay active for 8 months prior to being deemed a worthy cause to shut down our account.
I eventually received the news that the 4 jobs violated the below policy:
1. Misleading, Deceptive, or Fraudulent Job Policy – Job posts must not promote employment opportunities that are misleading, deceptive, or fraudulent.
Our posting was not misleading, as it explicitly stated what the position was (We send mystery shoppers to visit breweries to provide feedback on their customer experience, duh).
It was not deceptive, as it once again, stated exactly what the position entails.
And it was 100 percent not fraudulent. We are extremely proud to be helping breweries coast to coast and sending thousands of beer lovers to visit breweries and get paid for it. Believe it or not, Mom, you can get paid to visit breweries.
If at any point in time Facebook had notified me that something about my page violated any portion of their policy, we would have immediately corrected it. While we aim to be innovators, we do like to follow rules that keep our business running smoothly.
Although each conversation with Facebook advertising support ended with the same conclusion, “we understand your point, but the initial decision to unpublish your page still stands,” it merely fueled my fire to fight.
Over the course of this situation, I was extremely scared to share my story on Facebook itself. Would there be any repercussions? Would it affect my personal Facebook? I stayed silent.
On August 18, I addressed an envelope with Pierce McCoy’s address and sent it to Facebook’s legal office in Ireland. On August 28, I sent the exact same demand letter again after not hearing back. Anyone else wonder why this is the only address for the legal department I was ever given?
At 3:35pm on Thursday, August 29, I received a Facebook notification stating, “Your primary country location will be shown on Secret Hopper.” This struck me as odd, as I hadn’t received any notifications from my page in weeks. I immediately called my wife, asked her nicely to pull out her phone, type in Secret Hopper, and voila, the page loaded.
Without warning, just as it began, our page was now active.
Passion can overcome any obstacle no matter how big..
I’d like to thank Pierce McCoy for having the legal know how to write a quality demand letter. This letter gave me the confidence to persevere and fight the good fight against a social media giant.
I’d like to thank Nivek, Nielle, Charo, and Petra at Facebook for being extremely awesome, understanding, but sadly unable to do anything. I owe you each a beer.