Every time I try to access Facebook, I get this error message instead.

I’ve been locked out of Facebook for two months now, and I hadn’t given much thought to it lately. I miss my FB friends, at least most of them, but I don’t miss those lengthy threads arguing politics with people I didn’t know. And I have more time now. But when I checked my email Monday, it brought back memories.

And remembering my efforts to connect with Facebook reminded me of grad student days when I tried to read Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (remembrance of things past). The whole experience was pointless; even in English translation, it was vapid and pretentious; it was profoundly irritating, and it triggered my own memories of temps perdu on social media. I’m mad all over again.

Content advisory. A prolonged rant follows — viewer discretion advised. I had way too much fun writing this, but I needed to vent and (hopefully) get some of the bile out of my system.

Instead of a fin de siècle French teacake, my remembrances were triggered by Brian Stelter’s email newsletter Reliable Sources, which arrived in my inbox Monday morning. Down toward the end, he mentioned a Wall Street Journal article on FB’s customer service — or lack thereof — in a series of short takes on the social media platform. It caught my attention:

One of the headlines in Tuesday’s print edition of the WSJ: “Hello? Hello? Is This Facebook? Anybody There?” And the answer, Kirsten Grind finds, is “nope.” Getting customer service help from FB feels almost impossible, as I know personally, since users sometimes email me for help, just like Grind… (WSJ) [Boldface, links and parentheses in the original. — pe]

You see, I know about FB’s customer service from personal experience, too. Here’s a screen shot of the item in Stelter’s newsletter (ours is the last item):

Monday just wasn’t a very good day, I guess. I tried to follow the link, and I hit the Wall Street Journal’s paywall. Here, for the record, is another screengrab:

Strike two. Or three, depending on when you want to start counting.

My FB saga started on March 27 when I tried to check my news feed, and instead I got the message I’ve copied at the head of this post. What the hell, I wondered, is Facebook Protect? And what are these “additional security measures” I have to enable so I can share snarky memes and look at cat pictures? But there was a button I could click, the error message promised me, and “We [FB] will guide you through the process with a few quick steps.”

So I clicked on the button, and wound up in password hell. Or, I guess it would be more theologically correct to say, password limbo. Everything I tried sent me back to a change password screen, and when I changed passwords, it sent me back to the change password screen. After three hours or so, I gave up. After supper Debi, who is much better with computers than I, put in a couple more hours.

Nothing. Nada. I was still locked out.

In the meantime, I did a couple of Google searches on Facebook Protect, and learned it’s billed as a “security program for groups of people that are more likely to be targeted by malicious hackers, such as human rights defenders, journalists, and government officials.” Gee, I knew I shared links to stories in the New York Times and Christian Century, but I didn’t realize I was so important.

I also learned, from an article in an online tech magazine called The Verge, I must have received an email from FB — or somebody claiming to be FB — warning me that I needed to activate the FB Protect program or else I’d be locked out. I didn’t remember one, but I get so much spam — much of it transparent phishing that claims to be from reliable organizations like Medicare, the Internal Revenue Service and various Nigerian princes — that I delete it out of hand unless I recognize the email address.

I must not have been the only one.

“Unfortunately,,” said Barbara Krasnoff of the Verge, “the email that Facebook sent from the address security@facebookmail.com resembled a rather common form of spam, and so it’s probable that many people ignored it.”

Bingo! That’s it. Exactly.

The upshot: An unknown number of small business people and writers relied on FB to communicate with their customers were locked out of FB. The Verge reproduced several tweets, including one from Mike Morrell, an “[o]pti-mystic writer” who has co-authored a book on the Holy Trinity with Fr. Richard Rohr OFM, that struck a decidedly unholy, un-mystical note:

Dear Facebook App: Your new Facebook Protect, which I didn’t ask for, keeps texting me an identical two-factor verification code, which continues to not work. I’m now effectively locked out of my account. This is heightened security? Guess I’ll spend more time on Twitter…

At least for me the final indignity, the final upthrust middle finger after wasting five hours trying to get FB to help me, came in an update to the Verge article. When it first came out March 18, they too attempted to reach FB. They too were unable to, at least before deadline. So on March 21, they posted this:

Update: Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy at Meta, Facebook’s parent company, tweeted on March 18th that “We’re looking into isolated examples where people may need help enrolling in the program.” [Link in the original.]

Hey, Nathaniel Gleicher! Over here, see me now? I’ve got another “isolated example” for ya! Your #%^ing company is notorious for its lack of customer support, and maybe if you upgraded your help desk so you could, like, actually hear from your #%^ing customers, the #%^ing examples wouldn’t be so #%^ing isolated. The comments section on the Verge story made it abundantly clear I wasn’t the only little guy who couldn’t get any, like, actual help.

One of my favorite comments: Posted by Verge subscriber shockrouge, on March 18. “If you’re gonna force something, at least make sure it works. That should be on every tech company wall.” And this, by scoobydooby: “This is not a problem at all. Just use the amazing 24/7 customer support agents who are always standing by to assist you with any issues you have on Facebook or Instagram. /s.”

But the all-around best, and most informative, comment was this, posted March 18 by Verge subscriber JFitzgerald:

The one thing Facebook is ultra competent at is the advertising platform. That’s where they put the money and effort. Because its customers are advertisers. Users are a cost of goods sold, and those costs need to be minimized.

Therein lies the rub. For all the hype the social media companies and their ideological foes put out about an electronic public square, FB is in the business of gathering clicks and directing consumer eyeballs to advertising clients and sponsored content. Little things like customer service are purely ancillary.

I don’t think they’re politically motivated, either, unless the tone-deaf dingbats at FB decided to roll out an elaborate, super-duper new security gimmick to counter the persistent rumors they’ve been hacked by Russian trolls. Or deep-state commie Democrat pedo grifters. Or whomever. The whole charade has the feel of the un-hackable passwords the whiz kids from IT would roll out at a former workplace of mine; they were so far out there, I’d just copy them onto a Post-It note and stick it above my computer screen. (So much for security.) I blame a general aura of cluelessness and ineptitude that surrounds everything FB does.

Another informative article is headlined “The Best Ways to Contact Facebook Customer Service” on a website at pissedconsumer.com (which ought to tell you something). It gives several phone numbers at corporate in Palo Alto, and offers this advice — which will sound familiar to most of us who have tried to contact customer support, not just at FB but anywhere and everywhere:

When you try to contact Facebook this way, you won’t reach a person. Instead, you’ll be caught in a cycle of recorded options asking you to email or to click on a “Help” link that doesn’t actually appear at the bottom of the page. Thousands of Facebook reviews have shared how frustrating this sort of loop can be.

The pissedconsumer.com article also mentions scams that promise, falsely, to help their suckers get through to FB support. My takeaway after reading “The Best Ways to Contact Facebook Customer Service?” Don’t even try!

So here I sit, two months after I got locked out of FB. I don’t miss 99% of it, but I do miss my FB friends. And, according to my WordPress stats for Ordinary Time, FB was responsible for 20 to 40 page views per month before I got locked out — chiefly, I think, because I would share links to new blog posts on my FB feed. Now, with May just about over, that number has fallen to zero.

We’re not exactly running a high-volume website here, and every click counts. So do updates on family and friends, animal rescue organizations, snarky memes and, of course, cat pictures. So I’ve got the incentive, and getting back on FB is definitely on my to-do list as soon as simmer down a little. I hope that happens before I finally get around to reading Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.

Links and Citations

Paul Debenedetto, “Texas argues Facebook and Twitter are a ‘modern-day public square’ in defense of censorship law,” Houston Public Media, May 9, 2022 https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/politics/2022/05/09/424885/texas-argues-facebook-and-twitter-are-a-modern-day-public-square-in-defense-of-censorship-law/.

Rebecca Garland, “The Best Ways to Contact Facebook Customer Service,” Consumer Reviews and Complaints, Sept. 14, 2021 https://help-center.pissedconsumer.com/best-ways-to-contact-facebook-customer-service/.

Kristen Grind, “Hello, Hello. Is this Facebook? Is anybody there?” Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2022, quoted in Brian Stelter, Reliable Sources Newsletter, May 23 http://brianstelter.com/the-newsletter/.

Barbara Krasnoff, “Facebook is locking out people who didn’t activate Facebook Protect,” The Verge, March 18-21, 2022 https://www.theverge.com/2022/3/18/22984802/facebook-protect-lock-out-twitter.

[Published May, 31, 2022]

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