Has your G+ account been suspended? Don't seek shelter from Google

My G+ account was suspended for more than a month, and I still have no idea why. But I can't say I missed much. UPDATE: Google responds.

I first noticed the problems about a month ago. I tried to promote a TY4NS blog post on Google Plus but nothing happened when I clicked the G+1 button. I figured it was probably a glitch in the plug-in code. I have an attention span of about 4.2 seconds for this sort of thing, so I just moved on.

A few days later I got an Gmail message and decided to add the sender to one of my G+ circles. But Google wouldn’t let me. Another glitch, I figured.

But when these things kept happening to me, I overcame my ADD, bypassed the icons and went directly to my account page. Three days ago I discovered the ugly truth. Google+ had suspended my account.

g+ profile suspended msg cropped.png

I felt bereft, lost in the wilderness, a creature void of form. I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail, poisoned in the bushes and blown out on the trail. (Sorry, when I get anxious I start channeling Bob Dylan lyrics. It’s a musical form of Tourettes.)

What exactly had I done to deserve this? That notice wasn’t much help. Either I had somehow violated G+’s Names Policy, which requires I used my “common name,” or I had broken one of the rules in the G+ terms of service.

The Names thing was a nonstarter. My G+ name is my name – Dan Tynan. Had I used Dan T., or Danny Boy, or the Tynan the Terrible as my account name, I could understand why they pulled it. But I didn’t. (Ironically, among all the social media sites I frequent, my G+ profile is the most complete and accurate.)

So was it something I said? Google’s User Content and Conduct Policy forbids a wide number of possible offenses: promoting dangerous acts, transmitting malware, engaging in hate speech, revealing confidential information (a la Guy Adams and Twitter), hijacking accounts, exploiting children, spamming, dirty SEO tricks, impersonating other users, promoting drugs or guns, and bullying.

I scored a big fat goose egg on all of those. The only thing left that could possibly have triggered it: I had G+1’d a couple of stories from my NSFW sarcasm site, along with something with a naughty word in it from The Oatmeal. That could conceivably fall under the rule prohibiting “mature or offensive content.”

My sarcasm site had already been booted out of the Google Adsense program because we had the temerity to post R-rated photos of scantily clad lasses, though not unlike anything you’d find in Maxim or Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. And we were occasional potty mouths (though we’re punters compared to what mainstream pubs like Wired have done with the F word).

The problem with that theory: My partner in snark, JR Raphael, has posted many stories from eSarcasm without penalty. Even more: He was for a time one of G+’s recommended users, most likely because of his Android Power blog for Computerworld; he currently has something like 900 gazillion followers. And Matt Inman, creator of The Oatmeal, has his own extremely popular G+ profile, so that couldn’t be it.

My third theory: Google bots have gone rogue. I think the software G+ uses to spot offending accounts is turning up a lot of false positives, resulting in people getting accounts suspended for no reason whatsoever.

A search for ‘Google account suspended’ turns up hundreds of examples much like mine. This happened a year or so ago, too, but back then it was linked to a purge of people using pseudonyms. These ousters seem to be completely random.

Like this one:

I have an account suspension although my name matches my payment information registered with Wallet and other products. Seems that the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing. Should be very easy to verify one's LEGAL NAME when you have their credit card information on file with your company already.

Despite the fact that I finally broke down and submitted a copy of my driver's licence, I am STILL SUSPENDED and three appeals denied. At this point I feel like it is discrimination against those with unique names (thanks once again mom).

Or this one:

My personal Google+ account is suspended that I have spent a year networking on with past clients, friends and colleagues all over the United States with mutual interests.  Why?  What kind of dictatorship is this without fair warning as to the suspension ?  Am I a freakin' mindreader?  I was an early adopter of Google+ and all my sharing with friends and family are part of it.

Or this one:

My Google+ account has been suspended for weeks!  Picasa is the slideshow on my website & potential clients can not see my photos - this is having a negative effect on my business! I have gone in & removed all my posts, information, photos & changed the name on my profile. I am at a loss.

The good news is that I asked G+ to review my suspension, and a couple of days later my account got reinstated. But I’m one of the lucky ones. Some people on Google’s Product Forums say they’ve been waiting months for reinstatement.

Quite innocently, I asked Google’s PR team if they could come up with an explanation as to why this was happening. They said they could not answer questions about individual accounts (though I asked a broader question than that), and sent to me to an amazingly unhelpful page with even less information than what’s on that notice above.

What can I say? I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn.

Here’s the important part: I was locked out of Google+ for a month, and I didn’t really miss it. Had I been locked out of Twitter, or Facebook, or even Quora, for godsakes, I would have. That bodes really badly for Google’s hopes and dreams for G+, I think.

If you’ve got a marginal social media service and you’re trying to compete against the big guys, the last thing you want to do is alienate your core users by arbitrarily booting them and then ignoring their pleas for help. Yet that’s exactly what Google seems to be doing.

No shelter for G+ users here, and no salvation either. Just a lethal dose.

UPDATE: After I posted this story to my (ahem) newly reactivated G+ account, I heard from Google Engineering Director Pavni Diwanji. She wrote:

Dan, We looked into this, and we are really sorry that our systems incorrectly detected your account as spammy, which resulted into suspension. We hear you that our messaging to the user needs to be more clear. We are working to improve to provide better explanation and also looking to be more transparent about our appeals process. If there are other users, who feel they are/were in similar situation, please do point them to me, and we will investigate.

So you heard her, folks. Been ousted unfaily by G+ mandarins? Ping Pavni

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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