On Thursday evening, I found out I couldn't log into Fetlife. Instead, I got a message saying to contact support, which I did immediately. Thus began a four day long period where I was unable to use Fetlife. Here's what happened and here's what I learned:
An hour after sending my mail, I received a letter from someone at support (I will not use names to protect folks) saying that my account had been locked due to activity that looked like I was a robot. I was then asked, essentially, to tell them what I'd done to trigger this action on their part. They asked if I was using any third party programs to access Fetlife (I don't) or if I use any browser extensions that might interfere with Fetlife. Aside from Adblock Plus, which is usually disabled on Fet, I don't.
At the time my account was locked, I had a friend over and we were just hanging out, and I wasn't using Fetlife, which leads me to one of two suspicions on what happened.
Either the presence of several computers all logged into Fetlife at once, with different accounts (my deskotop, laptop, phone, and her phone) all at once, triggered Fetlife to block the account, or else Fetlife is running scripts (automated processes) against their logs to look for suspicious activity.
Either way, the support person was asking me to clarify what was the cause, rather than telling me. This leads me to conclude that whatever mechanism does the locking doesn't provide the support team feedback on what happened.
I didn't hear back from them on Friday (despite my mail) and so I sent them another mail. No reply.
No reply on Saturday either, so I sent them another, this time more impassioned email, asking them if they could unlock my account.
I also found out on Saturday that not only was my account locked, for me, but it was unviewable for others. If you went to my account, you found it was gone, and if you tried to read a writing I wrote, it was gone. And I believe that if you tried to send me a message during this time, that it didn't go through.
Not having access to Fetlife made things difficult for me on Saturday, since I wanted to attend a munch. I had to ask friends where the munch was held, since I couldn't look it up.
And during a play party that night, I couldn't trade Fetlife contacts with people. More on this later.
On Sunday, I had another event which was luckily listed elsewhere, outside Fetlife.
Finally, though, on Monday after several more email exchanges by friendly support folks, they decided that the cause of the problem was likely a false positive, and they kindly restored my account.
This situation has left me with a bad impression and some larger conclusions.
The staff I interacted with were very friendly. That was nice, but at the same time, I wish that the support staff would have been able to tell me the cause of the problem. It seems like a very bad idea to have a system that is locking account but not keeping track of why. It would be a relatively simple thing for the system that is scanning the logs to note which logs or which events set off the problem, and then keep that in the notes.
At one point the support staff said the engineers had to look up what happened. I wonder if they had access to these records.
In addition, for Fetlife staff, while they were friendly and helpful, I wish they would have just given me the benefit of the doubt.
I have been completely honest and forthcoming with them. I was not using any scripts or third party software on their site, period, and I wish they had taken my account activity on the site into account when deciding I was a robot. My account is, at this time, about a year old, with over eighty friends. I write often, I comment often- I'm active on the site. They should take this into consideration before locking accounts.
And when accounts are locked, the accounts should still be viewable, including writings and emails.
But for the larger kink community, this incident has brought some issues to light that I think we need to take seriously.
I often compare Fetlife to Facebook. Facebook is my far the largest social networking site, and many people communicate with their friends over Facebook. But what I've realized through this incident is that Fetlife is actually far more central to the kinky community than Facebook is to the wider world.
I have the email address of every Facebook friend that I care about. While sometimes I might send a Facebook message, I'm just as likely to email them if it's something important. And I've never used Facebook groups exclusively either to promote or to find local events. Lastly, if someone is not on Facebook, I don't think anything of it.
None of those criteria apply here to Fetlife. I don't have the email address of a majority of my Fet friends. We use Fetlife just for this reason, as a shield for our vanilla identities, but in doing so, we've made Fetlife the only means of communicating between one another.
And while some groups, like TES, keep a separate website with event listings, many people use Fetlife exclusively to promote their events. So if you are unable to get onto Fetlife (for whatever reason) you are unable to access the real life events where you might meet other individuals.
And because Fetlife is such a vital part of the social fabric of kinky life, we use a Fetlife presence as a way of connecting and even screening people, especially tops. People can see that I have friends, relationships and play partners. They can read my writings and see my comments on various topics. Fetlife has become a sort of social bar by which one is measured.
In the short term, I would urge people and especially event organizers to have another way to connect to their event. Run your own website, and if you are running regular events, offer your own calendar which people can discover and subscribe
In the longer term, I think we as a community need to think about our relationship to this website. A wise Russian woman once said that the best form of government is a good czar, and that the worst form of government is a bad czar. Even if Fetlife is benevolent, this incident has taught me that even a benevolent force can be a dangerous one.
I think for those of us who are technically inclined, we need to be thinking more seriously about new frameworks of social networks, including and especially distributed social networks. I won't pretend these things are easy. There are several distributed social network implementations and while there is an effort to standardize the protocol through the work of OpenSocial, the work is slow going. Nonetheless, this incident has shown me the dangers of relying on one company as the cornerstone of our community.