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(Be sure to read this update: “Revealed: The Real Reason Facebook Shut Down Those Coupon Groups”)

You’ve likely seen some of the internet discussion over the past several days, about Facebook deleting groups dedicated to buying, selling, trading or even just plain discussing coupons on the social network. But how true, and how widespread, is this supposed mass deletion? And if it is happening, why is Facebook doing it?

Rumors have been rampant, but verifiable information has been hard to come by. Coupons in the News attempted numerous times to get answers straight from the source. But Facebook has repeatedly refused to respond with any comment on all of the rumors and speculation, or offer any information about what’s really happening.

Which leaves us with the rumors and speculation.

While a scattered few Facebook users have reported that groups they personally know of have disappeared, the vast majority of people spreading the story of the great Facebook coupon group massacre have heard it second- and third-hand. Even the venerable urban legend debunker Snopes.com rates the veracity of the reports as “undetermined”. So it’s been difficult to pin down whether Facebook really is shutting down coupon groups en masse, or whether only a handful were affected and concerned couponers are reading much more into it than that.

Some groups reported to have been targeted were “secret groups” visible only to those invited to join. And to hear some spurned customers tell it, these groups were guilty of more than just selling coupons. One group leader “has taken A LOT of people for A LOT of money,” reported one competing coupon seller. Some customers complained that they never received their promised coupons, and were never issued requested refunds. Other groups were accused of allowing members to peddle counterfeit coupons, even if all of their members didn’t. And one widely-circulated screen shot showed a Facebook notification, explaining that a coupon page had been removed for an unspecified violation of Facebook’s Terms of Use.

And from there, the story of “Facebook is banning all coupon sales” blew up. “Facebook is currently deleting pages that sell coupons,” one alarmed Facebook group administrator alerted followers. “I’m an admin for a group with the word ‘coupon’ in it and was advised that I needed to have the owner of the group change the name because FB is deleting groups with the word ‘coupon’ in it,” wrote another.

Some, or none, of that may be true. The fact is, Facebook shuts down groups and pages all the time. All it takes is one offended visitor to click the “report” button to get Facebook’s attention. Sometimes that visitor might have a legitimate gripe; other times, they may be a competitor, they may have a grudge against the owner of a Facebook group or page, or they may simply be opposed in principle to what the group or page is doing – such as selling coupons.

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With more than a billion users around the world, Facebook can’t possibly monitor every single group and page, and investigate and delete every one that it finds objectionable, one by one. It relies on users’ reports, and sometimes shoots first and asks questions later. In response to complaints, pages about legal tobacco products, for example, have been deleted for violating Facebook’s rules against promoting drug use. Groups dedicated to breastfeeding have been deleted for violating Facebook’s rules against obscenity.

Conceivably, a single complainer could have reported several coupon groups and/or pages that they had an issue with, and Facebook responded by removing them. So couponers’ concerns that Facebook may be deleting groups and pages without cause, may have some merit. But there’s no specific evidence yet that it’s happening as part of an orchestrated campaign against couponers in general.

Yet, whether due to paranoia, or wishful thinking, many have run with the rumors and declared that Facebook has finally seen the light. It’s launching an anti-coupon-selling crusade, they say, just the way eBay did when it severely limited coupon sales last year. No mainstream online platform wants people using their site for any illegal activity, after all.

But while scamming customers by selling counterfeits, or not fulfilling orders or issuing refunds, is illegal, the mere act of selling coupons is not, despite the notion perpetuated by many in the industry. It may be inadvisable, since most coupons state that they’re “void if sold”, but that alone doesn’t make it against the law.

Of course, some coupons for sale may be obtained illegally (other than buying stacks and stacks of newspapers, how does one legitimately obtain hundreds of coupon inserts to sell on a regular basis?) and some may turn out to be fake (and using counterfeit coupons is certainly a crime). So even if no one has ever gone to jail just for selling legitimate coupons, there remains a whiff of illegality about the practice.

So if Facebook is acting on specific complaints about coupon-selling scammers, that’s one thing. But if it’s launched a mass couponing crackdown, the continued existence of a slew of coupon-selling pages and groups would seem to indicate otherwise.

That said, many couponers believe that putting a bit of fear into certain Facebook coupon group members – unfounded or not – may not be such a bad thing. “Many people get scammed and that is wrong,” one online commenter wrote. “If people are doing illegal stuff, those should be shut down.” Added another, “hopefully this is just a wake up call to anyone that is misusing coupons and we all get back to savings.”

A sentiment most couponers would wholeheartedly agree with.

(Be sure to read this update: “Revealed: The Real Reason Facebook Shut Down Those Coupon Groups”)

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3 Comments

  1. One reason could be the Coupon Information Center is on to all this and people are reporting these groups to them.

  2. It’s true! I belong to several and so far about half of them are gone! I don’t know wtf, but IT IS HAPPENING!

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