Losing Facebook

This is more of a personal story. Hoping to hear back from anyone at Facebook about getting my page switched back. While I have had apologies and promises, I thought I’d write about how I am doing without Facebook.

Travelling is part of my job. I love meeting, talking and writing about new people and the new technologies in various fields. But getting to where they are has also been part of the fun. Travelling was part of the game, and from my home in Australia I found myself in Europe, up into Asia, and spending a great many times in the USA, usually the west coast in Hollywood, Santa Monica, San Francisco and other cities, learning and talking, getting to know so many people, others only ever read about. The key was our own online forums.

One of my favorite stories written for CGSociety. Still one of my go-to movies for stereo effects.

My job was Editor of the massive Computer Graphics community website, CGSociety.org, a forum for digital artists doing visual effects for movies and games. We’d sell ad spaces to software and hardware companies, and studios would post job ads on our site. We staged Challenges online for artists to hone their skills and contest their graphics talent in online galleries. We had a publishing arm, and we’d pull together gorgeous coffee-table books with the heavy hitters of the industry and sell these worldwide.

These publications became high-end collector’s items and helped so many young computer graphics (CG) artists get their first jobs in the industry. I wrote letters of introduction for so many artists for jobs at cutting-edge movie studios, game companies and to US immigration for special consideration. And I loved doing it. So many people. So much technology. Writing articles about game production and the latest movie effects tech, I’d still be travelling a lot, getting to know those around the world in the thick of the visual effects and entertainment industry.

The job was great, but I knew it wouldn’t last forever. When Facebook opened in 2007, the writing was immediately on the wall. They began to ‘eat our lunch’, starting with our ad revenue, then the analytics algorithms changed. Our forums emptied. Pretty quickly, just like everybody else, we opened our own Facebook page. If you can’t beat them, join them. So I did. Very early on in 2007, I had my own Facebook presence which I populated busily, building my own community of real friends and colleagues. Like pretty much everyone else, I refound old school friends, distant relatives, as well as connecting with new clients in the same amazing digital and visual effects community.

About to jump across the Pacific again, this time for SIGGRAPH 2012 in Los Angeles.

So, I was walking around a huge trade show floor at SIGGRAPH 2013 in Anaheim, California. I had an invitation to go to the back aisles of this sprawling trade show, to a nondescript white box of a stand, with a door. I knocked. Inside, I met two young men, Brendan and Adam(?), upbeat and excited to show me a big screen and a headset, and an empty chair. These were the owners of Oculus VR, and makers of this stereo headset. You wear it on your head. They called it a new industry. The visual experience they demonstrated, had me travelling along a roller coaster with dinosaurs jumping out of the forest along the way. A totally mind-blowing, immersive experience. Less than a year later, neither of these two young men ever had to work again. They’d sold the Oculus VR technology to Facebook for US$2 billion.

Five months after meeting the Oculus founders at SIGGRAPH, back in Australia the editorial side of my publishing job was disbanded, and I was cast adrift. I went freelance. And I opened this site, VFXScience.com. Of course, I still had all my contacts and I used social media to my advantage for sourcing stories and keeping up connections. But Facebook’s Messenger was my Rolodex. Like any professional, I also had Linkedin, Twitter and a cocktail of other socials. Living out here in Australia, I was away from a lot of the action, but I was thankful for the connection Facebook afforded me.

COVID. No more travelling. But my work picked up. I’d picked up other work in retail and that helped pay the mortgage and essentials while my freelance writing continued to go along, but sometimes it disappeared completely. I started getting into Virtual Reality and wrote about companies generating VR experiences in Asia. I wrote a story about the changing face of immersive tech.

I bought my own Oculus headset, so I could experience that amazing world once again. I’d been in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu before the pandemic took hold, seeing how VR had taken off, before the pandemic. I had stories lined up to pitch about many sectors using this technology to train surgeons, dentists, astronauts and marines. This industry was going gang-busters.

Then one fine day I opened up Facebook in my home office and was met with a confusing dialog box. ‘Your account has been disabled’. I was quite busy that morning and went on with my other work. When I opened up later that month, there was even less for me to see. I could not raise my account at all. I was met with, ‘We can’t review this decision because too much time has elapsed since your account was disabled.’ At one point I found a way for Facebook to ask for identification and it took me to a page where it would show what it had on my account. There staring across at me was a photo of a middle-aged woman and an asterisked email address from Russia (see below). Does that mean the account had been hacked? I couldn’t be sure.

My entire presence on Facebook had been deleted. Not only that, because Facebook (or Meta) owned Oculus, and as my Facebook account had been deleted, I was locked out of my headset. So, what do I do? The Facebook Support page would swing me around the same circuit that gave me the ‘Too late’ message. The Oculus Support would send me back to the same Facebook page. On each company’s chat support, they would apologise and promise to be back in touch within days. After another few weeks, I would contact them again and the same apology and promise would bling back.

It’s been three or four months now and I’ve been busy on other articles, jobs and other chapters in my real life. I’ll keep writing about technology, and keeping in touch in so many other ways. I’m just hoping someone behind those curtains knows where my Facebook page has gone. Has it really been taken down? Was it hacked? I wanted to let people know I’m still out here, even though it looks like I’ve completely disappeared, I still exist.

phellard@gmail.com

@astroperson

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VFXScience on TWITTER

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