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Too Popular for Facebook?

What happens when you have too many friends on Facebook? Facebook boots you off -- swiftly, permanently, and without a chance of appeal.
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What happens when you have too many friends on Facebook? Facebook boots you off -- swiftly, permanently, and without a chance of appeal.

At least, that's what happened to Harry Joiner. Harry is a marketing recruiter who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and he is also a friend. (And by that I mean a real friend, not just a Facebook "Friend.") Harry has been a LinkedIn guy, using it to network among hiring companies and potential job candidates, as recruiters tend to do.

But earlier this week he was swayed by other bloggers and business professionals to take another look at Facebook -- and he swooned. He liked the sweet little applications (like click-to-call functionality on the iPhone -- cool!) that Facebook offers. What especially won him over was the musing of blogger Robert Scoble: "Facebook is the modern day Rolodex. It is the replacement for the business card." Seriously... what self-respecting business sort wouldn't want to take a spin there?

The rumble started this Tuesday, when Harry realized he could invite people on his personal Gmail email list to join his Facebook network. Harry has 4,600 people on his Gmail list -- but since there is no limit to the number of LinkedIn connections a LinkedIn member can have, he assumed it was the same with Facebook. He writes on his blog, "Mo users is mo betta for a pre-IPO company, right?"

Only... not quite. Within minutes, Facebook disabled his account for "persistent misuse of the site."

A contrite Harry groveled, "I was learning your application and I realized I could invite my Gmail list to join (all 4600 of them). So I did. Did I do something wrong?"

Facebook was unmoved, charging Har with spamming: "Abusing the features of the site to spam other people is not permitted.... I'm sorry, but you will no longer be able to use Facebook. This decision is final."

And just like that -- POOF! -- Harry found himself banned from Facebook.

There are certainly some reading Harry's story who might argue that Harry overextended his network. "[H]eadhunters are, to some degree, the bane of social networks. Not that they are bad people -- but they make their money connecting people," writes John Whiteside. "That's fine; that's a headhunter's business, after all. But it's not the point of a social network."

Maybe, Harry says. But he likens his banning to being busted for speeding on an unmarked highway: Facebook's push-button interface encouraged him to import people not already on their system, yet he didn't remember seeing a Facebook warning not to exceed a certain number of invites.

Harry's not mad at Facebook, he told me in an email, adding: "I hope we can patch things up. I chalk much of what has happened to their growing pains: 100K new users per day means you have to have rigid policies to keep people from abusing the system. I get that."

But at the same time he sounds a caution to anyone who maintains an online profile in one place like Facebook and who could end up similarly vaporized. For example, Philadelphia freelance writer Sean Scully was also summarily banned for life in July -- also accused of "spamming" -- when he used the network to try to contact friends of Virginia Tech students for a story he was reporting for People magazine.

If that happens, asks blogger Gavin Heaton, what happens to your personal content on their networks? What happens to the images/digital assets you've spent time creating?

"If our digital personalities are the sum total of the digital traces that we leave across the web," Gavin writes, "then the question of trust and ownership arise here. It is not just about the files and connections. It's about something more important.

"So... who owns YOU?"

Adds Harry, via email, "I was amazed at how swiftly [Facebook] vaporized me -- and how that permanent decision was made by a lower level customer service person.

"I have learned, can make you disappear completely, without warning, at the slightest whiff of atypical behavior. Then they will send you a form email saying 'This decision is final.' >poof< So be careful, or you could end up in the Facebook 'witness protection program' -- and so could your data, I suppose."

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