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  • Writer's pictureGraham Coulson

Sanding in the Dark

A bit of a long entry to start with, just some history on why I set up this blog.

In today's connected world we are so dependent on social media the thought of being without it doesn't really enter our minds. I was of that mindset until about 8 weeks ago. Like billions of others I was on Facebook primarily and also had a business page for Graham Coulson Furniture. I didn't have a huge following, about 940, but it had taken a while to get. Ironically and annoyingly the last post that I put up had the highest engagement of any post of mine without a paid boost. It was a rather glowing review of a table I had sent to New York.

I used Instagram as a window into what was new and happening in the world of design, occasionally I used to post but couldn't really get used to the hashtag. Which ones should I use, how many do you use and then waiting for responses. It seemed 15 minutes was all you had until you slid into irrelevance.

That all changed mid July. I got an e-mail stating my Steam password had been changed. Hang on, what's Steam? Oh, it's that game site I signed up for to get my son games when he was too young to have his own account. While I was sorting that out I got an e mail about my Microsoft Live account being accessed. So now I'm trying to deal with both of these issues online at the weekend in a pandemic with limited helpdesk availability. The third issue came about when I received an email from myself saying I had committed federal crimes in the areas of copyright and or illegal pornography and I needed to send $500 in bitcoin to a certain account. They also revealed a password I used so now I realized that my e-mail was compromised and so all accounts that use e-mail as a user name were also under threat.

Being stupid I replied No thanks to this e-mail which in hindsight probably pissed them off.

For some reason I could not change my password online and had to deal with an online helpdesk instead. On day one I got so fed up with this that I abandoned it without finishing. I thought it was more important to remove this e-mail address from all the money so that's what I did.

I woke up on Sunday morning with a message from Facebook saying my password had been changed at 3am. I tried to log in only to find my account had been disabled. I eventually got control of the password by changing settings to mobile device only. By this time it was too late. I was asked to verify myself by sending a picture of official ID. I was a bit reticent but did so. Shortly afterward I received a notification that my case had been reviewed and I had breached Facebook terms of service and was permanently disabled with no reversal. No warnings, no suspension, just an execution.

Searching online I found a whole community of people who have been removed from Facebook for either unknown reasons or accidental suspected violations of the all powerful and quite vague TOS. The bottom line is is that once you are gone you're gone. It's mainly bots and AI making decisions with no chance to speak to a person but with users in the billions what do a few thousand or even hundreds of thousands casualties matter. I eventually found out why I was disabled, speaking to my brother he said that he noticed some ISIS images had been put up on my page and my profile picture had been changed to a flag waving ISIS terrorist, that along with international password table tennis will probably red flag you.

I sent e-mails for a while to what I believed was Facebook support but got no response. I even tried to set up a new account but if there is anything in common with your disabled account it will also be disabled. How far did I want to go with this? Get a new phone number, use a false name. There was this feeling of emptiness and loneliness inside of me. I had been on Facebook 10 years had about 300 friends, it was nice to know what people were up to even on the most casual basis. I used it as a news feed and to keep up with music and some trade sites as well. As I said I had a business page that I used to post about the more interesting aspects of my work. As if this wasn't bad enough I shortly discovered there was no more Instagram or messenger. Messenger had the added downside of being how I normally communicated with my family and friends in the UK.

I know it sounds overblown but I really was having an existential crisis. I felt I didn't really exist properly and that everyone would move on and forget about me if I wasn't responding to posts or putting up posts. When you go out people talk about posts they've made or seen and you are no longer part of it. More than that people couldn't see what great stuff I was doing. Added to this was the fact our only son was heading off to college removing my role as full time father as well, I had also just been laid off from my part time job and a client who had ordered a TV stand out in California refused to go to the Greyhound depot to get it despite knowing full well this is what you had to do. Things were rough, as well as a pandemic and political turmoil.

So, what do you do? My main priority was the business. Where can I go to let people know what I'm doing. I was already on LinkedIn and had recently been making more of an effort to post stuff but it's s bit dry and I get the impression no one is really interested in what other people are putting up. Twitter is an option but with its presidential endorsement I think it may be more of a shit show than Facebook, I'm sure I will succumb at some point. Revisiting Pinterest I found that it is a greater source for design inspiration than Instagram ever was. I haven't quite worked out how to use it effectively for my work but small steps.

Getting a news feed fell to a combination of BBC, HuffPost and Reddit for randomness and cats. Reddit also has subfeeds for all sorts of stuff so I can put my work on there for critical appraisal. All in all it seems that the Facebook empire is not the be all and end all of social media. Life, does indeed, go on.

On a practical level I had to reevaluate how effective Facebook was. Most of my sales come through Etsy and they give me traffic stats of where views and sales come from. Facebook provides about 2% of views per month even with boosted posts so unless they are all sales I'm not really losing anything.

Finally I thought this would be a good time to revisit my website which I had all but forgotten about. The site I use has improved immensely since I first set it up so things are actually quite easy now. They have also added this blog app as well so I am hoping to use this as a diary for my work and also other random stuff that pops up. My first task will be to make an abridged version of my facebook feed reposting most of the work I have done over the past 9 years. I called it "Sanding In The Dark" because initially after I lost Facebook that's what I felt like I was doing, anything I did was done in isolation with no audience.

Despite things being seemingly all doom and gloom for the past couple of months there have been a couple of noticeable changes for the better. Shortly after my removal from Facebook I noticed an uptick in enquiries from another site I use called Custom Made. A couple of these turned into orders. The TV stand that failed to go to California found a local buyer who also happens to be a reporter for our local paper and he did an article and short video. This led to an immediate sale of a tv stand and several enquiries. The article was syndicated across Central Wisconsin. Since then orders have been coming in fairly regularly making it almost like a proper business. I think with the pandemic keeping people at home they are looking around and thinking I'd like something nice. My part time job also want me back but they have to work around me. After a few weeks at college my son is back home studying online for the foreseeable future.

I certainly still miss the convenience of Facebook being a one stop shop, but I also think it makes you lazy and complacent.

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