Hacked &Hustled: Facebook and the Coordinated Con
January 3, the first Monday of the new year. I am packing for a storytelling event in Minnesota. It’s going to be a great year, I know it.
I open the Facebook app on my phone to post an inspirational meme, and a message pops up. It reads, “Your page has been flagged for inappropriate content.”
“Inappropriate content”? I’m a minister who tells stories about the softness of Black girls and the compassion of Black women. Has Facebook altered its definition of “inappropriate”?
I’m directed to push a button to dispute the decision. The message says it’ll take “just over a day”.
A couple of hours later, I receive an email from the Facebook Ads Team notifying me of two campaigns approved to run from 9 AM — 8 PM. I replied to the emails stating that these campaigns were not requested or approved by me.
The next day, I received two ad receipts: one for a ¥45000, or $400, and another for $500 USD. Over the course of 11+ hours, “Yuko Amano” received 149,368 impressions, while “Cinnamon Girl” received 95,132.
Fortunately, they didn’t use my credit card.
Unfortunately, they didn’t use theirs either.
I built my following through organic engagement. I framed my posts around my reverently irreverent brand. I honored Facebook policies, setting up the two-tiered security system, clearly for naught.
When I reached out to them, they told me to push the button, and that they’d get back to me.
As of the date of this publishing, I have not heard from Facebook, and my pages are permanently down. The whole experience has left me to wonder the following: did I fall prey to a coordinated con from within the Facebook organization?
Here’s why I fear I was duped by org insiders:
- They got paid and sent me receipts.
Even though on January 3, the ads ran for almost 12 hours, my pages were shut down first thing that morning. This con netted them close to $1000. And roughly 250,000 folks engaged with content on their platform. They used to only rob the local metro dailies of ad revenue. Careful, FB-users.
2. They won’t respond to my inquiries.
In fact, they took away all options to communicate with them. When I replied to the same email address that sent me the receipts, the actual name of the email address is “no-reply.” How convenient.
3. They wiped clean all evidence of my existence from their platforms (IG included).
I started to receive emails and text messages from fam and fans asking if I’d quit the internet. Every name I used, every book I’d written, every live stream I broadcasted, every sermon I preached — all of them were wiped clean from the platform. Facebook was like, “Alexus who?”
4. I received private messages saying my pages could be restored…for a fee.
When I posted about this situation on Twitter and LinkedIn, I received private messages from different people giving personal testimonials about the same thing happening to them. Then they would give me a contact person, but it was never the person’s full name. Every one of them offered a combination of consonant letters and numbers. All I could think was, “Give me two or three more vowels and I’ll hit ’em up.” The other odd thing is the solution they posited. They all assumed I wanted my pages back, which was not true.
I wanted to chat with someone inside the organization who had the power to offer me redress for my hacked pages. What’s the point in paying someone to get my content restored if it could simply be hacked again? Uh, hard pass.
I’m grateful this happened at the start of the year. The whole experience has been a universal redirect for me. My amended content-creator calendar has stretched me, forbidding me to settle for, what poet and prophet Audre Lorde calls “the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected or the merely safe” (granted, she’s referring to love partners; but I think it fits in this scenario, too).
If I depended on FB for anything, I’d be pretty fucked up right now. Fortunately, I live-streamed simultaneously on YouTube and only posted what I originally captured with my cellphone camera and had pre-written in my phone’s notepad. So I’m good actually.
I explained to everyone who inquired about my absence that my pages had been hacked and that Facebook “put me on hold.” But I refused to sit by my computer waiting on them to make a decision. No decision was necessary — they got their money. Waiting on them to return the use of my pages felt disempowering. And I decided that those muthafuckas had been given too much power over my likeness, brand, and content already. I’ve got other options, and I’m using them.