SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA — At the time of publication, Jim Shlarmensch has 23 days, 17 hours, 43 minutes, and 28 seconds left on his Facebook suspension. Users of the world’s largest social media platform call it being in “Facebook jail” when they can’t like, share, comment, or post to Facebook. Suspensions can last anywhere from a few hours all the way up to forever. Over the years, Shlarmensch has worked his way up from smallish Facebook jail sentences up to the 30-day mark, which is the amount of time he was recently suspended from the site for, after posting a meme that showed a priest giving communion to a mother using a Tide Pod.
The meme that Shlarmensch shared is pictured below. Reader discretion is advised.
“What I don’t get,” Jim told us via Skype, “is why things like memes get people 30 days in the Facebook hoosegow, but a company like Cambridge Analytica can steal millions of users’ private data to exploit it, and Facebook covers it up for a couple years before they boot them.”
Mr. Shlarmensch says he doesn’t have any proof for his theory, but he believes that Facebook’s dedication to their algorithmic based profit model made them both susceptible to and either tacitly or explicitly condoning of, companies like Cambridge Analytica, a data research firm at the center of a new firestorm over the 2016 presidential election. The company was hired by the Donald Trump campaign, and investigative reporting in more than one outlet have shown that they breached Facebook user data for the purposes of helping to inject the stories into users’ news feeds that Cambridge wanted them to see. Instead of letting users organically choose what they want to see, Shlarmensch argues, Cambridge Analytica and other Russian bot farms were able to take advantage of the very profit generating algorithm that got him put in Facebook jail.
“It’s all about that algorithm. It determines what you see, when you see it, and how much,” Shlarmensch said. “The algorithm also figures out when someone has been naughty and broken the rules badly enough to warrant a suspension from the site. All someone had to do was figure out how to game that algorithm in the right way, and they could do exactly what the bot farms did, and if they had help in the form of user data that they somehow got from Cambridge Analytica, that makes their job even easier.”
Shlarmensch says that Facebook is so secretive and protective of their algorithm it makes them even less transparent than a corporation typically is. Users can appeal suspensions, and he’s appealed his, but they never get any specific feedback, and the punishments are almost never reversed. Jim says that it’s “extremely frustrating” knowing he was kicked off the platform for a month, but that Cambridge Analytica spent years violating Facebook’s terms of service, and that by all appearances, they largely turned a blind eye to it.
“Were they being paid by Cambridge Analytica? I imagine they had to be getting compensated somehow, because if they were just providing free access to all our personal data, Facebook is somehow dumber than I gave them credit for being,” Shlarmensch said.
Whether or not his suspension is lifted, Mr. Shlarmensch says that he’s figured out there is a “giant hole” in the social media market.
“The first platform that truly allows users to have control over their news feeds, to let a content provider’s posts show more or less based on the user’s desires and not the algorithm’s,” Shlarmensch says, “will siphon off a ton of users from Facebook and Twitter. Until that happens, we’re all stuck playing their game by their rules, which lets bad actors like Cambridge Analytica steal our data and use it against us.”
Facebook did not comment on this story.