Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Did Sarah Palin violate Facebook's terms of service?

UPDATE: I was right - Facebook (a client of my employer) have now removed the Lou Sarah Facebook account stating that it did in fact violate their terms of service: “The account was found to run afoul of our terms and it was disabled,” wrote Facebook official Andrew Noyes.

I wonder if Wonkette journalist Jack Stueff started pursuing this angle before or after I pointed it out to him by e-mail?

Yesterday I came across this intriguing tidbit from Wonkette, in which they used info from the recently leaked manuscript from a former Palin staffer to identify Sarah Palin's gmail account, and by conducting a simple search they were able to identify that Palin has a Facebook account under a different name, "Lou Sarah" that she has been using to "Like" content on her own and on Bristol's Facebook pages, and to comment positively ("amen!") on both pages. The profile still exists, but has now been scrubbed of its activity record - when I looked at it last night, though, it still looked the way it did in the Wonkette story:

Can Slate stop doing those dumb fake Facebook profiles now? Please?

So here's the thing. I do a lot of work on Facebook. I work for an agency that has Facebook as a client. I manage Facebook pages, I advise clients on use of Facebook. I've royally screwed things up on Facebook from time to time as well. Hey - it's how you learn!

So I think it's probably important to clarify a couple of things quickly (don't worry, you may commence your respective "Sarah Palin is the Devil" and "How dare you attack this woman who will SAVE this COUNTRY!" diatribes momentarily).

Firstly, Wonkette says the Lou Sarah account is Palin's "second" Facebook account. If it were true that Palin had two Facebook Profiles, that would be a violation of Facebook's terms of service, which specify:

1.You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.

2.You will not create more than one personal profile.
But it's not immediately clear whether Palin has done this or not.

The famous Sarah Palin page with 2.75 million fans is a page - not a profile. A Facebook page is sort of like a website set up on Facebook. There is no limit to the number of people who can "Like" a page, and pages can be managed by multiple users. Pages that represent a brand or famous person are asked to confirm that they do in fact represent that brand or person.

Facebook profiles, on the other hand, represent individual people, not brands. They have "Friends" rather than being "Liked", and are limited to a maximum of 5,000 "Friends". The important thing to note here is that Facebook pages can only be managed by people with a Facebook profile of their own.

So, if "Sarah Palin" the individual person and politician would like to directly edit and manage "Sarah Palin" the Facebook page, she needs to have a Facebook account of her own. And, as a famous person, she may well want to avoid using her actual name for that, since people that she doesn't know personally shouldn't interact with her via her profile, but rather via her page.

So, in short, it wouldn't be so odd if "Sarah Palin" the person (hmmm... getting tired of the scare quotes, will drop them from now on) had created an account under a disguised version of her real name - Louise is her middle name, so Lou Sarah isn't a million miles from representing her - and that personal profile might well be something she would want to use to interact with people she really knows such as... her daughter. An occassional comment on Bristol's page from this account therefore doesn't strike me as terrible, especially since Bristol will presumably know the secret of "Lou Sarah's" real identity. Moms are allowed to gush over thier kids, so we'll let that go.

BUT - consider for a moment Lou Sarah's comments on the Sarah Palin page. Firstly, liking and commenting positively on your own content is a bit sad and pathetic (and in this case, pretty pointless - it's not like she needs to drive traffic to the page!) but not against the rules. But the fact that she was able to post at all as Lou Sarah on the Sarah Palin page shows that the Lou Sarah account is not an admin on that page.

If Lou Sarah had been one of the profiles permitted to post to the Sarah Palin page, then any comments she made on that page would not appear under her profile. Page admins appear under the identity of the page whenever they post on their page.

Thereby, QUOD ERAT DEMONSTRANDUM we arrive at a great big circle. There are only two possibilities here. Either Sarah Palin herself is not an administrator on the Sarah Palin page (which seems unlikely) or she does indeed have two separate Facebook profiles.

Which is in violation of Facebooks Terms.

Right then.


Kevin said...

Hm. What she was doing was lame, but I have a number of friends who have more than one profile. The most common scenario is a personal one and a work one. I've also seen people have a gaming profile for MMPOGs. All of them are "personal" accounts, they're just set up for different audiences.

People do this to protect their professional reputations and to protect their privacy. Using one to sock-puppet cheerlead the content on the other is just lame beyond belief. But the other uses seem completely valid.

Obama London said...

Hi Kevin,

I'm completely sympathetic to those who feel uncomfortable using their personal profiles for work purposes. I sometimes worry about this myself. BUT 1) nevertheless Facebook's terms are clear and multiple accounts will be deleted if they are discovered and 2) it's not really clear that there are valid privacy concerns with page owners using private accounts - all communications with members on any page you administer shows you under the page's identity, with no personal details visible. And Facebook's competition and page ownership terms require that you contact people off the platform (e.g., via e-mail) for the exchange of personal information such as addressess for prize giving and/or specific customer service support. So there is an internal consistency to Facebook's policy.