A week ago, Robert Scoble called out Twitter for issuing death sentences without warning, explanation, or obvious chance for appeal. A “death sentence” in this case refers to the complete suspension of a Twitter account, such that the owner can’t log in. Apparently a friend of Scoble’s joked about selling his Twitter account — an action which violates Twitter’s Terms of Service — so Twitter suspended the friend’s account before it contacted him to explain why, or what he could do about it. Eventually, the account was restored, but only because the friend of Scoble gave an explanation that satisfied Twitter. That time his account was down is time he’ll never get back, and there’s no guarantee it won’t happen again.
Short form: Twitter can shut off your account any time it wants, and may only give it back if it feels like it. Addendum: Facebook has an almost identical policy and a history of acting on it.
We’ve discussed previously how rare it is to own a popular Twitter account. Facebook fans have a suggested dollar value, too. Yet these assets can be removed from your marketing portfolio without warning — and often without immediate explanation — for any perceived or assumed violation of terms of service that these service providers can and do change as they like.
Imagine if your phone company behaved in a similar fashion, disconnecting your phone number(s) because it didn’t care for the phone conversations you were having. Of course, that could never happen — and not (just) because of government regulation. You pay for your phone service, so the phone company has a certain financial incentive to care for your business. Facebook, Twitter, and most web apps are free. Zero dollars buys you zero service level guarantees. Never forget that you have access to Twitter and Facebook only so long as it is convenient and beneficial to them.
Hope you’ve got a backup plan.
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UPDATE: Facebook recently rolled out a fix to this very problem. Page creators can now be deleted as administrators. This is true, however, only if the Page creator adds someone new as an admin. Thus, it should be company policy that whoever creates a company Facebook page must immediately add a second administrator as soon as a Page is created. If that doesn’t happen, a Page creator will control your company Facebook Page forever.
Here’s a little wrinkle in Facebook’s operating paradigm that most businesses don’t consider: The creator of a Facebook Page can never be removed as an administrator. Put more directly, whichever employee uses his or her personal Facebook account to create your company Facebook Page will forever have access to it. Even if that employee leaves the company. Even if you fire that employee for gross negligence or criminal activity — like illegal use or abuse of your Facebook Page.
For those confused by the nomenclature, a Facebook Profile is the account used by a person. A Facebook Page is the account used by a brand or business. The distinction is made because multiple people (Profiles) can work for or administer a single business or brand (Page). The problem is that whichever person (Profile) first creates a Facebook Page can never be removed as an administrator. This setup works fine if the Facebook Page creator is the owner of the company. It doesn’t work so well when the creator of a company’s Facebook Page is the summer intern who leaves to take a paying gig at your direct competitor.
The only known workaround for this problem is to try to create the same Facebook Page over again — with exactly the same name as the existing Facebook Page — then fill out a form attached to the “this name is taken” error message. Then you wait for a manual response from Facebook, who will respond at their own convenience and anoint someone as the “rightful” owner of the Facebook Page.
Meanwhile, the former employee (who may have a grudge about the “former” part) retains full admin privileges to your company’s Facebook Page. Including the right alter or remove content, message or ban your Facebook fans, or outright delete the entire Page.
Hopefully, you’ve chosen a mature, professional employee to create your company Facebook Page; someone who would abstain from abusing his or her eternal admin privileges to your Facebook Page even after leaving the company. More likely, however, you assigned the task of creating a Facebook page to a normal human being.
Hope you’ve got a backup plan.
Few and far between are the consumers who at this point don’t realize Facebook, Google, Yahoo and virtually every other online player of consequence is collecting data about your online activities. What most consumers fail to consider is that almost any of that data can be subpoenaed in a court of law.
Are you filing a workman’s compensation claim against your employer? Be prepared for them to subpoena your Flickr photos and Facebook status updates to determine if you were actually suffering in the aftermath of your injury, or bodysurfing like a healthy, uninjured everyman. Even if those bodysurfing photos were simply mis-timestamped, you’re in for some interesting explanations before the judge and jury.
Got a sexual harassment lawsuit brewing? Be prepared for your Twitter updates and Foursquare check-ins — including the bawdy comments from the dance club at 2 AM — to be brought to bear in the case. An insider trading investigation on the horizon? Your Yahoo Finance search queries and StockTwits posts are fair game.
Granted, whatever social media data that qualifies as evidence will be given to your attorney during the discovery phase of a trial, but that isn’t a sufficient social media defense for two reasons: You may not be aware of the subpoena in a timely fashion, and not every legal action reaches litigation. As to the first point, some prosecutors are prohibiting social networks from revealing subpoenas until the discovery phase, so defendants are blindsided during the early phases of a lawsuit or prosecution. As to the second point, most lawsuits are settled out of court before the completion of the discovery phase. You don’t want to know less than your accuser — or to know it later — so it’s best to have complete knowledge of your social media liability before its sprung on you in a deposition.
That’s why you want a searchable archive off all your social media data. Use it in your defense before it’s used against you.
Hope you’ve got a backup plan.
News broke last week that the Library of Congress would archive the entire history of Twitter, taking a wholesale data upload of almost every tweet ever posted to the service.
Some potential questions arose from the announcement, so let’s answer them one by one:
Is Backupify now competing with Feds for Twitter backups?
Uh, no. The LoC Twitter backup isn’t for public consumption; it’s just a research tool. If you’re a PhD candidate looking to test a new mulitmodal data-parsing algorithm, or to investigate conceptual meme propagation in a virtual environment, or some other buzz-word compliant thesis topic, you can apply for access to the LoC twitter archive. Only formal research professionals get access. Individuals looking to replicate their old Twitter stream? Not so much.
Does this mean the Feds now get to see my private tweets?
No more so than before. The LoC Twitter archive includes only public Tweets. Any tweets marked as private will be excluded from the Library of Congress data store. If somebody wants your private tweets, they’ll still need a court order to compel disclosure, and they’ll have to go to Twitter itself to obtain them.
When did the Library of Congress get so cutting edge?
Truth be told, this was Twitter’s idea — for PR as much as anything. That said, the LoC usually recognizes a good idea when it hears one. Status messages (which is what tweets are, basically) are a new communications format and methodology that has profound implications on modern culture. That’s worth both preservation and study.
So far as the last point, we agree with the Library of Congress that your tweets have lasting value, and should be guarded from loss. That’s actually our business model. And if the Library needs any pointers on interacting with Twitter’s API, we’d be glad to help them out — for a fee.