"The thing that we are trying to do at Facebook, is just help people connect and communicate more efficiently." -- Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder
Why would Facebook want to kill B.C's largest Facebook protest group, with over 125,000 members, and one of the province's biggest Facebook groups overall?
Search me, it makes no sense. I created the group -- NO BC HST -- back in July 2009.
But today's column isn't about the Harmonized Sales Tax, it's about Facebook’s bloody-minded disregard for its users that's forcing many to bail out of the giant social network.
What Facebook is doing it calls "archiving" some groups but "upgrading" others to a new format.
Problem is, only Facebook gets to decide if you are eligible to upgrade and if you are archived, your group loses all its members. And Facebook is killing groups with as many as a million members.
In the United States, a Facebook group called "Barack Obama (One Million Strong For Barack)" has 989,421 members but is being archived.
As a result the group creators set up a Facebook "page" to replace it -- and currently just 1,784 people "like" it.
Changes like these may explain why in Canada in May alone Facebook lost 1.52 million users -- that's eight per cent of the still amazing 16.6 million Canadians who use the service.
Facebook also lost six million users in the United States, dropping from 155.2 million to 149.4 million.
And that was before this month's radical new design changes to Facebook that has generated outrage from many users.
So why does Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg keep getting in people's faces?
And will Facebook eventually turn into the online version of an 8-track tape? Already Twitter has become a powerful alternative and Google has just launched Google+, a new service directly aimed at disgruntled Facebook users.
Zuckerberg is a genius, no question, and worth $17.5 billion at just age 27.
But that doesn't mean Zuckerberg can't make huge mistakes. Just ask Enron or WorldCom, if you can find them.
Message from HQ
Back here in B.C., I have politely tried to convince Facebook not to "archive" NO BC HST since I found out about its plans in May.
At the top of NO BC HST was ominous news.
Clicking "Learn More" I found this friendly message:
"Things that will NOT be available in the archived version include:
• Recent news
• Group officer titles
• The info box under the old group picture
• The group network
• The members of your old group."
Oh, is that all -- just lose all your members. The message continued:
"If your old group has enough recent activity to make it a good candidate for a new group, you will see a message at the top of the group with the option to upgrade."
But no upgrade option was offered.
So Facebook was told that NO BC HST -- which I created to oppose then premier Gordon Campbell's plan to impose the HST -- went viral in B.C., growing at a phenomenal rate of more than 6,000 members a day to peak at over 136,000.
(That interest was further confirmed when I helped found Fight HST with former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm, ex-Unity Party leader Chris Delaney and others to eventually launch the successful citizens initiative petition signed by 705,000 British Columbians.)
The current 125,000 members compares very favourably to other B.C.-based Facebook groups.
What appears to be B.C.'s biggest group -- though members could be anywhere in the world -- is the Vancouver Canucks Facebook page with 618,521 fans.
A page called "Beautiful British Columbia" but not connected to the magazine has 160,377, while the BC Lions official Facebook page has 37,158 supporters. Premier Christy Clark has a Facebook page too, with 3,942 fans.
Facebook was also made aware that NO BC HST is a very active group, with thousands of posts from members in the lead-up to the referendum vote and beyond.
(They may have already known that after NO BC HST disappeared completely for three days in Jan. 2010 and became a news story. Facebook then declined to talk to me but eventually told media here that it was merely a "technical" issue.)
But it was all to no avail. Facebook wasn't listening or helping "people connect and communicate more efficiently."
Facebook's official response was -- too bad.
Face the Wall
"We are currently migrating various Facebook Groups into a new format that makes it easier to communicate with smaller sets of people. During this process, some groups will be given the opportunity to upgrade into the new design while others will need to re-create their groups," said a June 1 email from Kelly Ornelas, a Toronto communications consultant working for Facebook.
"We determined what groups to archive based on a number of factors, including the amount of recent activity. We encourage people who are trying to engage with large numbers of people to create Pages," Ornelas wrote.
But there was some good news, at least from Facebook's twisted perspective.
"However, the HST referendum vote is scheduled for June 24, which is before the Group is scheduled to be archived," Ornelas concluded, referring to the original balloting end date that was later extended.
Well, thanks for that. I had explained that Facebook killing NO BC HST during the vote would be a really big story and appear to be an intervention on one side of the referendum.
In a telephone call June 15, Ornelas suggested that I could: "Post a message on your Wall telling members you're starting a new group."
Sure, that will work well. See what happened to Obama's group!
Or perhaps I could ask Zuckerberg to next invent a time machine so I can go back to July 2009 and set up a non-Facebook page that won't be subject to his whims.
And to pour salt in the wounds, the pro-HST group YES BC HST with all 408 members, including several BC Liberal MLAs -- isn't being archived. They got picked for the upgrade.
You will be assimilated, er, archived
But at least I'm not alone in being totally frustrated that Facebook, which is a great social network despite itself, is intentionally alienating group creators and members for no obvious benefit.
One huge Facebook group is sending Zuckerberg that message. Called "We Hate The New Facebook, so STOP CHANGING IT!!!", it was set up in 2008 when the first annoying set of tweaks was introduced and now has 1,541,806 members.
I would suggest that you join up but guess what? It's also being "archived" and those members will disappear shortly.