Facebook: That gaming buddy is not your friend

Players of a game on the social network are seeing their accounts suspended because of tactics Facebook considers to be a mockery of its "social utility" mantra.

A game on Facebook's platform called "PackRat" has been causing some issues for the site, according to a thread in the game's discussion forum.

The aim of PackRat appears to involve amassing graphical "cards" to chalk up points--sort of like the original Pokemon game, some cards are easy and common while others are rare. One of the ways to get new cards is by "stealing" them from friends, so having a huge network of friends who are also playing the game gives PackRat players a big advantage. Reading on in the forum, it looks like one PackRat strategy involves "friending" and "defriending" people frequently so that players can allow and block access to one another's cards. Others appear to have set up accounts strictly to play PackRat. This has apparently sent Facebook into damage control mode.

Several PackRat players say they have received account deletion notifications, and one was posted to the PackRat forum. "Please note that Facebook accounts are meant for authentic usage only," the e-mail read. "This means that we expect accounts to reflect mainly 'real-world' contacts (i.e. your family, schoolmates, co-workers, etc.), rather than mainly 'Internet-only' contacts."

Facebook could've smelled a rat (pun completely intended) if an account had an unusual level of activity when it came to adding and removing friends, as well as little else going on besides the PackRat application. It's also possible that individual PackRat members have set up multiple accounts for more effective gameplay.

The e-mail continued: "As stated on our home page, Facebook is a social utility that connects you with the people around you, not a 'social networking site.' It is meant to help reinforce pre-existing social connections, not build large groups of new ones."

In other words: Facebook considers a game that encourages friend-list manipulation as strategy to be perverting the idea of the "social graph," a concept that CEO Mark Zuckerberg holds dear. Facebook doesn't want to be rival MySpace, which not only encourages the formation of new connections but which birthed a legitimate C-list celebrity in Tila Tequila --who became famous for having more MySpace friends than any other member and wound up with a dating show on MTV."

This revelation is not news, despite what a recent flurry of activity on Techmeme might have you think. Facebook has always banned "fake" profiles and has reportedly also taken action against "serial adders" (site members who simply try to fill huge friends lists, typically by adding attractive people) if other users report their accounts. Executives also are very careful not to call the site a "social network" when speaking publicly, as though it comes with negative connotations.

The e-mail ended: "If this is in direct contrast to what you expected as legitimate Facebook usage, I apologize for any confusion. This is simply the intention behind the site."

But it's an awkward move for Facebook to make, because there simply isn't a way to prove that everyone with an account on the site is "real-life friends" with everyone on their friends lists. I'm pretty sure Robert Scoble hasn't met all of the 5,000 people he famously has on his Facebook contacts roster, for example.

About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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