Nov. 17, 2010 at 10:12 AM ET
Facebook's vigilance in keeping it real took some HAL 9000 liberties yesterday when perhaps thousands of accounts — seemingly all women — were deactivated by a bug in a system designed to weed out fake profiles.
Zach Epstein of BGR (Boy Genius Report) broke the story and received confirmation from Facebook about the wave of account shut-downs, in which the affected users took the usual route of Twitter complaints to voice their displeasure. A common pattern soon emerged: this bug, which some thought was a hack at first, seemed to hit only women.
Facebook's response to BGR:
Earlier today, we discovered a bug in a system designed to detect and disable likely fake accounts. The bug, which was live for a short period of time, caused a very small percentage of Facebook accounts to be mistakenly disabled. Upon discovering the bug, we immediately worked to resolve it. It’s now been fixed, and we’re in the process of reactivating and notifying the people who were affected.
While there are no concrete numbers on the "very small percentage," BGR speculates that could easily number in the thousands given the 500 million users of the site.
But Facebook's solution may be making an already bad situation worse: requiring scans of official identification to reactivate the accounts.
A BGR commenter posted the instructions Facebook gave her, and her reaction to it, which does not bode well for furthering trust with the social media network:
I was also disabled this morning. This is what it says I must do :
"Please upload a government-issued ID to this report and make sure that your full name, date of birth, and photo are clear. You should also black out any personal information that is not needed to verify your identity (e.g., social security number).
If you do not have access to a scanner, a digital image of your photo ID will be accepted as well. Rest assured that we will permanently delete your ID from our servers once we have used it to verify the authenticity of your account."
Her's isn't the only response like this, so Facebook may be wise to heed this outrage and play nice. It's not their fault their accounts were flagged, and now they feel they're being penalized on top of the inconvenience of being labeled "inauthentic."
A Facebook group "Against Verifying Accounts With Mobile/ Credit Card/ Government Issued ID" already existed before the bug (thanks to ReadWriteWeb for the tip), but this latest incident has solidified its resolve, as is apparent from this latest wall post:
Don't have to prove you exist to join originally. Don't have to prove you exist if the bug didn't attack you. Seems ridiculous that you have to prove you exist in order to get a legit account undisabled...
Kansas City designer Brian Ford was the one who tipped BGR off after receiving an e-mail alerting him to his wife's disabled Facebook account. In his blog about it, he raises underlying issues that, sooner or later, Facebook needs to address definitively:
Why force people to freak the hell out on Twitter? Why not deploy a system which drops a dismissible banner notification across the top of every Facebook page until the problem is fixed? Facebook has a real problem with transparency and that seems like such an easy problem to solve.
Most, if not all of these accounts, will get reactivated. Question is, after all this, will they still want it?