This story begins with a warning: Make sure you have registered MULTIPLE EMAIL ADDRESSES with Facebook. And make sure that at least one of your email addresses is from one of the big email providers, like GMAIL, HOTMAIL, YAHOO etc.
Why? Because this nightmare could be yours. Pass this around. Share it with others. And understand this is not a BS story. Here’s what happened to my wife’s account on Facebook.
My wife joined Facebook several months ago. Like everyone else, she was excited to re-connect with old friends from high school, long lost co-workers and the like. She did what many of us do, upload photos of family, old pics from “Back in the Day” and all that. She used her work email as her username. Everything was fine.
About a month ago, she went to log in to Facebook and got an error. The Email/Password combination didn’t work. Now, like many FB users, her account had been “phished” at a point earlier and she had recently made her password more robust. She figured maybe she was either being hacked again or had just plain forgotten the new password she made, so she immediately went down the “forgot your password” route.
That’s when the mystery started, for when she entered her email log-in in the little form field provided and clicked “Reset Password” , the following error appeared in a red box across the page:
“Your email/domain has been reported as abusive by facebook users. If you have any questions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org”
As I am the resident tech guy, and also the guy who administers u n c l e s a m s m u s i c . c o m (it’s our family business, and hence our domain name), I was called into action. I retraced her steps and came up with the same results. I started doing a little troubleshooting on FB and soon realized that I couldn’t even type the name of the domain in a note, or a status or anything (that’s why I spell it out using spaces in this note). The domain had been totally and effectively banned from Facebook entirely. What a catch-22! You can’t log in using the username/email because the back part of it, the “.com” part, is banned from even being TYPED in Facebook. You can’t even log in to delete the account!
So I then go about sending an email to Facebook. As instructed, I send a note, a friendly note mind you, to email@example.com . A couple of days go by and I hear back nothing. The wife is getting antsy, but I tell her to be patient, Facebook literally has MILLIONS of users and they’ll get to us in time. I dig through the Help Center on Facebook in the meantime, looking for alternate means of contact. They have all these forms you can use, but nothing for this specific problem. So we wait for a response.
WHY WAS THE EMAIL DOMAIN BANNED?
I am something of a web guy. I own a lot of domains and host many of them through GoDaddy.com. So when this domain was banned by Facebook, I had to figure out why. We don’t send bulk emails or anything like that through our business. Maybe FB was blocking everything at GoDaddy? No, one of my other domains didn’t have a problem. But two others did. And upon further examination, i discovered that my account at GoDaddy that gives access to all of my FTP log in information, the “control panel”, had been hacked.
What the hackers did was go into the web servers for my websites and create directories with re-direct pages inside them. What this allows them to do is to spam using MY domain name. When the user arrives at say www.mydomain.com/funnym0vie, they hit a page put there by the hackers which redirects them to the destination of the spammer’s intent. This way, they can break all the rules and spam the hell out of everyone while I pay the price in banishment from places like Facebook and in getting blacklisted as a spammer. Nice.
For the record, I did have a pretty robust password on the GoDaddy control panel. I think I was hacked by spyware on my local, personal machine that keylogged me (or recorded my keystrokes). Who knows. Either way, it is my fault and my responsibility. All you can do is learn and do your best to not let it happen again.
THE FORM PROCESS
Meantime, back at Facebook, I had found a form. Buried deep in the Help Center, yes, but I found it. The form was pretty straightforward. They ask for your name (her name, I should say), a contact email, a birth-date and whatnot. I fill in all of her information and also create a GMAIL account for her to use as her new log-in. I figure GMAIL is so darn big that Facebook could never afford the headache of banning them no matter what. After submitting the form, soon an email arrives at the newly created GMAIL account. In that note from Facebook, it is requested that you copy the text in the body of the email and paste it into a NEW email that is to be sent from your existing (old) email account. In other words (and I read it a million times to make sure this was the case), I took the text from the email she received at GMAIL and pasted it into an email that was sent from u n c l e s a m s m u s i c .c o m to Facebook.
Another week goes by. Then another
WHY NOT JUST DELETE?
At some point, one starts to consider restarting the whole FB thing all over again from scratch. Sure, she has loaded her page with over 200 friends and 100 photos, but what the hell. After 3 weeks you start thinking no one is ever going to respond.
But here’s the problem.
Aside from the pleas in the emails received from Facebook NOT to create a new account and warnings that it would violate their Terms of Service, it is also confusing and impractical. See, while Lisa can’t log in to her account, the account is still up and active. If you go to her page, it is there just as she left it. And while she can’t log in, she can’t DELETE it either. So even if she was to create another account, it would really confuse things like old friends searching for her, not to mention the countless photos she is tagged in that would point to the old account. It is really frustrating to be active online with no way of modifying the information, much less deleting the account.
THE MIRACLE HOUR
So there came a point where I figured nothing was going to happen with this account and that she would be in limbo forever. A real shame too, as she is a great positive Facebook user with lots of friends. She really enjoys the service. But after sending probably 40 emails to as many Facebook email addresses as I could find, emails of varying tones, subject lines and lengths, I had frankly given up.
Then, suddenly last night at around 10:30 PM Eastern, she had access!!
Horray and Hallelujah!
Somehow, her old email log-in from u n c l e s a m s m u s i c . c o m was working again. I figured the gnomes at Facebook had just flipped a switch and all was back to normal. She was so psyched! But before we got too far, I had her go to her info page and change her email address. They requested that she enter her password, which she did. The password was the one that hadn’t worked since the day she was booted and as it happens, she did remember it correctly all along. Done with that, she went on her way celebrating her return to the Facebook universe.
But alas, it was short lived.
Later that night, i went in and logged into her new GMAIL email just to see if Facebook had actually written to apologize for the inconvenience. And look, there was an email from Facebook in the inbox.
But it wasn’t an apology, It was just the usual automated email you receive when you change information like your email address. In it, there was a link to confirm that Lisa was changing her email to the GMAIL account. I clicked on the link, which brought me to a page which required that I log in using the Uncle Sam’s address.
And it wouldn’t log in at all. It was as if nothing had changed. She was effectively banned. Nothing could be done, all the same errors were replaying over again and it was as if the access granted earlier in the night was a tease, a mirage that only made us all the madder.
I have exhausted all means of contacting Facebook I can think of. I have phone numbers, snail mail addresses that are as ineffective as the emails I have sent. I have prowled the internet for solutions too. Some people have had this problem, but most are rectified in a matter of days. not us. I have even considered trying to advertise with them using the banned domain of our business in order to maybe get their attention via their purse strings. I haven’t gone there yet. Meantime, poor Lisa is back in limbo, bumming and fuming.
Maybe I’ll start a group. Maybe a petition. Maybe a street protest. That would be a great vacation to Palo Alto. My Bro-in-law lives there. But I guess all I have left is a warning to you guys and this story. Pass it along. I know it’s long, involved, but I promise you that you yourself run the same risk if you are only registered with one single email on Facebook. Add another, from a big provider.