Social networking software

Haiti Relief Action on Facebook Accidentally Blocked as Spam

Some Facebook users sending messages about the Haitian earthquake may have been a bit dismayed at times this week to find that they'd been booted off the site for suspicion of spamming.

Facebook has acknowledged that some users had been dropped from the site because they had been sending out so many messages after an earthquake struck Haiti on Tuesday that the site mistook them for spammers. (Learn how to donate via text message.)

Facebook's mechanism to automatically detect potential spammers was triggered by an avalanche of messages going out about Haiti, said Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy communications at Facebook.

Noyes said that only a small number of the site's 350 million users were dispatched from the site. He did note that users are warned when they approach the cut-off limit.

"This wasn't about status updates," said Noyes. "People are sending numerous messages to numerous people. They're trying to be in touch with people they care about, but basically that system is in place to prevent abuse of the system. It shouldn't be a surprise because they were warned a number of times that this was going to happen."

After a user is kicked off the site for sending too many messages, they can either appeal the issue or they can go through a multi-step process that is aimed at educating them about what is proper and improper use of the system. Once they complete the process, they are allowed back onto the site, according to Noyes.

He also noted that they're expediting any appeals requests that contain the word "Haiti."

"This system is important because in 99% of instances they're protecting people from spam and nasty things," he added. "We're always adjusting our systems based on how people are using our site. We're analyzing this to see how the system can be improved in the future."

Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have quickly become lifelines for people trying to get information about loved ones, damaged areas and ways to donate in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld . Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin , send e-mail to sgaudin@computerworld.com or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed.

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