To be clear, it wasn’t Gudmundson the person that Facebook went after, but his page on the social media giant. But since his page had been a storehouse of personal and family memories, pictures and stories dating back to his college days, it felt like something vital was lost.
“I am pretty devastated,” said Gudmundson, who often used his Facebook page to raise awareness about his 8-year-old son Easton’s cerebral palsy and the challenges special needs families face.
The reason for going after Gudmundson’s Facebook page? Facebook thought the Winona man was the member of a militia. He’s not.
Why was he targeted? A senior network engineer for the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, Gudmundson, 35, does a side gig as a representative for California-based softball bat-maker “Montsa Athletics.” He and a handful of other reps ran an Upper Midwest Facebook page to spread the word about the company’s high-performance bats. It was a site for people to talk about softball bats, for buying and selling them, for singing the praises of the Monsta bat.
Pretty innocent stuff.
The problem lay not in the content, but in the title page: Monsta Militia. Gudmundson isn’t certain about the origins of the name and how it became connected to the softball company’s title. A call to Monsta Athletics was not returned. But Gudmundson said the name had been in the title of his Facebook group page and other similarly titled pages for years, and it never raised an eyebrow.
The softball team Joe Gudmundson plays on with the banner that hangs in their dugout listing sponsors for Cerebral Palsy. Joe is holding his son Easton in the back row, middle. (Contributed Photo)
The first hint of trouble for Gudmundson came on Oct. 1 when he tried to log on to his Facebook page. He was declined. No worries. That sometimes happens. He put in his password. A message popped up: His account had been deleted for violating community standards.
Facebook, in other words, took down not only the softball group page, but the personal Facebook pages of all the administrators running the softball page.
“I don’t care about the softball page. I could care less. But the memories of my kids,” Gudmundoson said. “I have a special needs kid that has cerebral palsy. I had pictures and stories of the growth he has made over the years. All of the joys and hard times we have gone through. All of that was on my personal Facebook, and all of that is gone.”
Gudmundson became the collateral damage of a Facebook crackdown on QAnon and militia movements on its platform announced in August. Since then, Facebook has removed more than 6,500 pages and groups associated with “militarized social movement,” according to Engadget.
Under the new rules, Facebook said it would take down accounts associated with QAnon, militia groups and other “offline anarchist groups” if they “discuss potential violence.”
Gudmundson said anybody perusing the softball page would have seen there was not a hint of militia subject matter in it. It wasn’t a Facebook employee who did the deed, but an algorithm that latched onto the title.
He doesn’t have an issue with Facebook policing its site for terror groups and removing them. He accepts that reality as the price of the times we live in. A week after discovering his personal Facebook page had been pulled, law enforcement arrested Michigan militia members plotting to kidnap the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
But Gudmunson’s main issue is the absence of an appeals process. There is nobody to ring up and talk to about the situation. The private company is largely judge, jury and executioner. Unlike a large corporation that can make itself noticed by the tech giant, Gudmundson is one of 2.7 billion users.
Gudmundson has opened a new Facebook account and tried to get help via its help center. He wants his page, the pictures and the memories back. He has urged other users to pass along his plaintive pleas in the hope of getting the company’s attention, but so far to no avail.
“I haven’t given up,” Gudmundson said. “I’m still trying to find avenues.”
Why does Facebook disable accounts?
According to Facebook’s Help section, here are some reasons why an account could be disabled:
- Posting content that doesn’t follow the Facebook Terms.
- Using a fake name.
- Impersonating someone.
- Continuing behavior that’s not allowed on Facebook by violating their Community Standards.
- Contacting other people for the purpose of harassment, advertising, promoting, or other conduct that’s not allowed.