Profiles, Pages, and Facebook Spam

Earlier today, I received a Facebook friend request from a user account named for a web-based software product. Before dismissing the request, I sent a message to the account that read:

A business or product having a regular FB account instead of a Page is tantamount to spam.

I received a response from the Community Manager associated with this product, asking for clarification. Since I’ve seen this problem before, I’ve decided to post my explanation here, instead of replying privately. So here it is:

First, I expect to receive friend requests only from people. More generally, I don’t want unsolicited communication on Facebook from organizations. When your organization sends me a friend request, you are sending me spam, just as if you had sent me an unsolicited email.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook’s Rules corroborate my position:

  • “Profiles can only be used to represent an individual, and must be held under an individual name.”
  • “All personal site features, such as friending and messaging, are also for personal use only and may not be used for professional promotion.”
  • “Using personal site features for professional promotion, or creating unauthorized Pages, may result in your account being warned or disabled.”

In short, using a regular Facebook account (which is for people) instead of a Page (which is for organizations) gives you access to personal accounts that organizations should not have. (That “should” represents both a philosophical and a systemic imperative, in my mind.) When you take advantage of that access—by sending friend requests, for example—you are spamming.


Update

The organization’s community manager has responded; with his permission, I post his comments here:

hmm…I get your point, but I’d appreciate more flexibility on the whole “spam” concept. We are not trying to scam you, not even sell you anything. On the contrary, we are inviting you to be a part of an idea that we consider to be helpful to every user in the web and we are giving you the option to reject this invitation.

As we see it, Popego is a person made of software and silicon chips, so it is only natural that it has Twitter and Facebook accounts. We do not spam our followers in Facebook or Twitter and we get 10 new ‘friend requests’ every day so I don’t believe that too many people share your vision of spam.

I should first repeat my private commendation of the community manager for his ceaseless courtesy, which I hope I’ve returned.

Beyond that, of course, he and I don’t find accord on much. To his first point—the implication that it only counts as spam if the goal is to “scam” or to “sell”—I disagree. Any unsolicited mass communication in violation of reasonable expectations is spam. This case amounts to such a violation because Facebook explicitly limits the role of organizations within the service. This creates a reasonable expectation that users will not receive mass communications from organizations they haven’t invited to communicate with them (e.g., by becoming Fans of those organizations).

Neither do I find it relevant that the account in question receives friend requests (the community manager’s final point). For one thing, the account receiving friend requests doesn’t violate the norms of Facebook in the same way as the account sending them. More to the point, just because some users don’t share my expectation, that doesn’t mean it’s not a reasonable expectation to have. Again, I take it to be reasonable, at a minimum, because of Facebook’s own stance on the matter.

Finally, a pair of the rhetorical gestures in the response warrant examination. The argument that because a web service somehow having personality (and a smiley-face as part of the logo) makes it “a person” is specious with or without Facebook’s definition of personhood to turn to. Likewise, using flowery optimism (“an idea that we consider to be helpful to every user in the web”) as a defense against charges of spamming seems like an abuse of the good cheer underlying much of the last few years of innovation on the web.

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