After spending over $57 million on Facebook ads, they kicked me and my pages off without warning or explanation
The purpose of this article is to share my story in hopes of connecting to the right people at Facebook who can help me save my businesses, and the jobs that go with it. To date, we have not been able to find an avenue through which to talk to Facebook and hopefully find a resolution that will ensure we can continue to run our businesses while complying with all Facebook policies.
We built our business over the course of more than 15 years, spending almost $60 million on Facebook ads in the process. My company, Shared, is a content publishing business (shared.com, life.shared.com, fun.shared.com). Until recently, we had more than 25 million enthusiastic fans on 11 pages. We posted memes, videos and links to articles written by our teams of writers. Facebook’s own Page Quality tab showed that all of our pages were green (no violations). We have high credibility and make it easy for people to reach out to us with any corrections or concerns.
Our legacy promotional business, Freebies (freebies.com, free.ca), publishes notices of free samples, savings and coupons from great brands. The majority of our expenditure on Facebook is through Freebies.
In the past, we have met with Facebook’s policy team to make sure our landing pages are fully compliant with its policies. By being upfront and honest, we have built a base of millions of users who regularly return to our Freebies websites and other Freebies Facebook pages.
To this day, I am grateful for, and proud of, the businesses I have helped build on the incredibly powerful Facebook platform.
Until recently, I believed Facebook felt the same way about me and my businesses. I have visited their offices and have hosted their representatives at mine. I still cherish my relationships with all of them.
Over the past few years, however, the lines of communication have gone dark. Instead of our trusted Facebook partners, we found ourselves trying to communicate with 3rd party contractors who didn’t always share our goals and objectives or understand our business. There was little interest in helping us understand new Facebook policies or what we were expected to do to comply with them.
From 2006 to 2020, the group of businesses that I co-own and operate have spent a total of $57,263,553 CAD on Facebook ads. We have spent money on other platforms, but Facebook has remained our main one. We believed Facebook when they said they cared about small businesses.
Freebies has been plagued by recent ad violations suggesting they are not following policy for dating ads. Freebies has never run a dating site, nor has it advertised for dating sites on Facebook. The CEO of Freebies, Mike Debutte, tried in vain to reach out to Facebook for help in appealing the supposed violations that are causing major disruptions and loss of revenue to our business. It was frustrating and handicapped the business, but it had become the cost of doing business on Facebook, so we just kept doing the best we could to continue to grow the business.
On Oct 26, 2020 my phone lit up with notifications that any business owner reliant on Facebook never wants to see: a number of my pages from both businesses had been unpublished. At first, it was smaller pages with between a few thousand and a few million fans each.
An hour later, our main Shared page, with more than 13 million fans was unpublished and my personal Facebook account was disabled. My business partner, James Walker, and our ex-media buyer, who had started a new business together, also had their personal accounts disabled.
In total, several pages that had 21 million fans had been unpublished, and Facebook had taken action against me, personally, that one assumes are reserved for the worst in our society — criminals, pedophiles and conspiracy theorists. “We’ve determined that you are not eligible to use Facebook. This decision is final. Unfortunately, for safety and security reasons, we can’t give you any additional information as to why your account was disabled. For more information about our policies, please review the Facebook terms,” read the message when I tried to login to my account. If you’ve ever read the Facebook terms, they are long and often ambiguous. A lot of what you see in the newsfeed is arguably against the terms and Facebook decides what is our isn’t. It’s their platform, I get it. But in this case, it was clear there had been a misunderstanding or error.
I took some measure of solace in the fact that earlier in the day on Monday, Oct 26, the Facebook newsfeed had appeared to reset itself. I later discovered that we also received ad violations on an ad account and page that we hadn’t used in over 2 years. So I assumed it was all a mistake or glitch, a false positive somewhere in Facebook’s AI.
Over the next few days, Google searches turned up many stories of people being disabled for no reason, and ad accounts being shut down. Again, I believed it was all some sort of mistake. I filled out every form I could find, as did my colleagues.
In the meantime, we still had the ability to publish to 3 of our pages. So we made do with what we had while we waited for our pages to come back, confident that they would. Maybe after the US election which we understood was causing some distractions for Facebook. But the election came and went.
After 45 days, Emma Craig, Shared’s Head of Content, reached back out through a chat support in the Facebook Business Manager and asked if there was anything we could do to speed up the process. Shortly thereafter, she received a notification in the Facebook app, “Due to repeated Page violations, you can’t post to any Pages eligible for monetization.” There was no ‘learn more’ or method to appeal. She was no longer able to post to the pages we had left. She quickly went back into the Facebook Business Manager, and reviewed the Page Quality tab (where Facebook tells you if you have page violations) on each of the pages both unpublished and published. All of them were green. No violations.
We asked Mike to try posting to the two pages he had access to. We can’t give him access to the third, because we‘ve been locked out of making changes in the Business Manager. For 24 hours, Mike was able to post, and then he too received the message, “Due to repeated Page violations…” It should be noted here, that prior to this, Mike has never been in a role where he was required to post to pages. He posted to pages for a total of 24 hours before receiving this notification.
Facebook has systematically shut down our 2 small businesses during a pandemic and economic crisis without explanation. Part of me is still convinced that it was a glitch in their system and nobody has taken the time to fully review it. Another part of me thinks someone saw something they didn’t like, didn’t take the time to understand it and won’t give us the chance to explain it and make it right.
It’s possible that Shared or Freebies, or my business partner and his new business made a mistake and we’ve all been found guilty by association.
But after more than 15 years and $57M dollars, is it too much to ask that Facebook provide me with an explanation and allow me to defend myself for whatever wrongdoing they believe I’ve committed? Instead, with the flick of a switch, and with no regard for the consequences, they may have destroyed my business along with the jobs it provides.
If given the chance, I would go to great lengths to adjust my business, to right whatever wrong Facebook believes I have committed. I would change my business model, and shift the direction of my business to ensure I am fully compliant with Facebook’s policies. I have done it many times before. I would like to do it again.