March 8, 2017
A Detroit bookshop has its Facebook page deleted, seemingly at the request of a Swedish media conglomerate
by Simon Reichley
Husband-and-wife team Cary Loren and Colleen Kammer own a bookstore in Oak Park, Detroit, called Book Beat. They opened in 1982, expanded their storefront in ’85, and have been doing business on the web since the nineties. In the early aughts they set up a Facebook page. Last Friday, as Cary and Colleen were logging in to schedule an ad, they discovered that that page had disappeared.
A troubling development, to be sure. Not only did Cary and Colleen find themselves without an effective avenue for promoting their event, they had apparently lost more than a decade of photographs, messages from customers, contacts, notes, and comments. Almost all of the social ephemera of owning a business—everything they had meticulously uploaded, migrated, or posted online—had vanished.
In a post on the Book Beat blog, Cary and Colleen explain that “the reason for our page removal cited by Facebook was for an ‘infringement of intellectual property’ —the complaint was followed by a report #1251702271587860, Rights Owner: BookBeat AB and a contact email.” They say Facebook instructed them to direct any complaint about the removal to the “rights owner,” who would be able to settle the complaint, at which point their page might be reinstated.
According to a write-up by Matt Helms in the Detroit Free Press, the couple tried several times to explain to Facebook’s “notorious customer service vortex” that they had owned and operated the business under the name Book Beat since 1982, and had long maintained an internet presence under that same name, which had never been challenged. They also attempted to reach the alleged rights owner, “BookBeat AB,” at the provided address. No one responded. The page stayed down.
And so the couple started to do a little research and discovered that BookBeat AB was in fact a subsidiary of Bonnier, a ginormous media conglomerate based in Sweden that had in 2015 registered BookBeat.com as a trademark for their nascent digital distribution company. They blogged about it. They started a second Facebook page, and asked patrons to share news of their predicament. Local media began buzzing. The Detroit Metro Press ran an interview with Cary.
Still, no one responded.
Suddenly, on Monday, the page was back up. A quote from Romio Shrestha, a Nepalese painter who claims to be a reincarnation of the thirteenth-century artist Araniko, was pinned to the top of their newsfeed:
“Compassion sets in motion an exponential multiplication of our powers. We might even feel as though we have the power of a thousand arms, a thousand eyes and the nine heads of a Buddha.”
Facebook and BookBeat (the Bonnier BookBeat, that is) had given statements to the Detroit Free Press. BookBeat CEO Niclas Sandin said, “According to communication from Facebook to us the page was not brought down due to us requesting assistance regarding the name but of [sic] other reasons.” An unnamed spokesperson for Facebook said, “The page was removed in error and we restored it as soon as we were able to investigate. Our team processes millions of reports each week, and we sometimes get things wrong. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.”
As Cary Loren told the Metro Times’ Mike McGonigal, “Book Beat chugs along but it’s a tough business. Amazon is a giant gorilla taking sales away everywhere. Few small neighborhood shops exist anymore, and unless they have support, giant conglomerates and the likes of Trump will be running the world online and off.” Which sounds about right.
And so it goes. Ultimately, the issue was resolved. Facebook did the right thing by reinstating the website. They can, perhaps, be faulted for taking so much time to resolve things, but it was the weekend. Everyone should get a weekend.
Still, the chain of events, and the responses from Facebook and Bonnier, are troubling. Firstly, Facebook’s decision to take down the site without notifying Cary and Colleen in advance seems negligent at best. Maybe more troublingly, Bonnier’s statement doesn’t actually deny that they complained to Facebook — just asserts that they know Facebook’s removal of the site wasn’t the result of any complaints they may or may not have made. Add to this the fact that for Bonnier to have information on Facebook’s takedown of the page would have required Facebook communicating with them about the store; but why should Facebook communicate with a Swedish media concern about the page of an independent bookstore in Detroit, particularly if, as both companies claim, it wasn’t Bonnier’s complaint that got the Book Beat page taken down? At this point, the two companies begin to look like a united front.
In the meantime, Facebook has yet to offer any concrete explanation of its actions, offhandedly blaming “other reasons” and human frailty for the mistake. Such vagueness, coming from a company whose stock and trade is the systematic gathering and correlation of staggering amounts of granular data about every living thing on earth, is striking.
The above may offer a compelling illustration, in microcosm, of how some of global capital’s power dynamics play out. Facebook is pitched to us as an ostensibly neutral medium of exchange, an open market of public opinion. But we all know that’s bogus, and that what they actually are are peddlers of influence, open for business with a finger on the scale. To them, people like Cary and Colleen are not potential business partners; they’re a resource to be exploited. In exchange for a little web hosting, they can extract ten years of data, with a couple hundred bucks a year in advertising fees to sweeten the pot. When a big enough corporate player comes along, that’s who they talk with, leaving two human booksellers out to dry for nerve-wracking days on end. When it’s over, the corporations are at peace, and the human beings have received no answers at all. Business as usual.
Simon Reichley is assistant to the publishers and office manager at Melville House.