Humor by Greg Schwem

I have always taught my children to look for the good qualities in everybody. Be nice to people, I say. It's okay to have lots of friends, I add. If you want others to like you, you need to like them, I conclude.

Facebook, however, disagrees. Just ask Itheria Hutson-Hollins, a 57-year-old, Dallas-based wedding planner who recently concluded a 30-day Facebook ban for, as she explains it, "over-liking" people.

You can't find a nicer, more likable person than Hutson-Hollins. Her business, Precious Promises Christian Weddings and Beyond, specializes in "Christ-centered weddings and silk florals." Her LinkedIn page contains a referral calling her "a talented and creative woman of God."

A computer novice, Hutson-Hollins has only been using the Internet for five years even though she started her business in 1991. She still uses dial-up Internet access. Yet she was savvy enough to recognize the power of social networking and joined Facebook last spring. After establishing a personal page, she created a business page and asked her church friends to "like" it. Those who obliged, and also had business pages, received a like from her in return.

She expanded her network to include LinkedIn. She joined four LinkedIn discussion groups. Somebody posted a message stating, "Like me on Facebook and I will like you back." Other group members jumped in with the same offer, as did Hutson-Hollins. She estimates that she "liked" about 60 people.

That's when Facebook decided Hutson-Hollins was becoming too friendly.

"All of a sudden, Facebook knocked me off," Hutson-Hollins wrote me in an email. "I actually thought it was my computer acting up. I logged back on. This time they asked me 'Answer Security' questions. (I had to answer several including identify(ing) my personal friends. Yes, they flashed photos of my friends. Good thing they were my church members!!!) So, they let me back in."

Upon returning to Facebook, Hutson-Hollins posted comments on the business pages of those she wished to like. Then things got really ugly.

"As soon as I wrote my comment, and hit the 'Like' button, they knocked me off. This time when I logged in, they told me that I was on a 30-day ban for liking too much, and if I continued they would ban me for life."

A LIFETIME Facebook ban? Seems a bit harsh for a 42-year member of the Westmont Horeb Missionary Baptist Church.

After chatting with Hutson-Hollins, I began scouring the Internet, attempting to find clarification on the "like" rule. Calling Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., is no help as the company does not offer phone assistance. Ironically it does invite callers to "press one for customer support," before a recorded voice says, in effect, "we're just kidding." It's like placing an order at the McDonald's drive thru, pulling around to the window and then being told there are no more fries.

"If you can't find your answers in a forum, you are out of luck," Hutson-Hollins said.

Facebook does limit the number of business page "likes" to 5,000, a far cry from the 60 that received Hutson- Hollins' approval. Facebook may also temporarily block users from sending friend requests if too many go unanswered or are considered unwelcome. It's all part of the social network's attempts to cut down on spam. But Hutson-Hollins wasn't begging for friends. Furthermore, anyone with a dial-up Internet connection is probably not interested in spamming. She was simply being the nice Christian person she is by liking other people's businesses, a gesture that could generate more business for them.

"I don't want to like anybody I don't know," she said.

Now that her ban has been lifted, Hutson-Hollins is back on Facebook but sparingly. She's currently channeling all her social network energies into Google Plus, Facebook's chief rival.

"I will leave the page there because it is a business page and I do want business," she said of her Facebook involvement. "But I'm no longer liking. Now I just write comments."

Finally, should anyone at Facebook ever pick up the phone, Hutson-Hollins has a message for them:

"If you want to ban me from your Facebook world, fine. You can't ban me from Jesus."


Humorist Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad

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