If you want a digital detox, you’re going to have to pull the trigger yourself. Social Roulette is an app that would delete one in six users’ Facebook account data, but its founder confirms it’s been blocked by Facebook so it no longer functions. While there’s no specific policy prohibiting apps from deleting your data, Social Roulette is clearly counter to Facebook’s mission and business model.
Social Roulette launched on Saturday as an online version of Russian Roulette, the lethal real-life game where a player places one bullet in a six-chamber revolver pistol, spins the cylinder, and fires the gun at their head. You die, you lose. But on Social Roulette, it’s implied that having your Facebook account deleted means you won. If you’re hit that one in six chance, the site explains “we can completely remove all your posts, friends, apps, likes, photos, and games before completely deactivating it.” Otherwise, it just posts to Facebook saying you survived the game, and encouraging your friends to risk their digital lives.
Social Roulette describes itself, saying “Everyone thinks about deleting their account at some point, it’s a completely normal reaction to the overwhelming nature of digital culture. Is it time to consider a new development in your life? Are you looking for the opportunity to start fresh? Or are you just seeking cheap thrills at the expense of your social network? Maybe it’s time for you to play Social Roulette.” Co-founder Kyle McDonald tells me he came up with the idea a few weeks ago, but hacked it together in just four hours with Jonas Lund and Jonas Jongeja after Lund had an idea for how it could actually work.
The app capitalizes on exhaustion with social networks. The dizzying stream of information, constant success theater, and perceived “responsibility” to be contactable can grow tiresome after a while. When I asked co-founder McDonald about the philosophy behind Social Roulette, he told me,”Everyone talks about deleting their Facebook account, but we rarely take action. Sometimes we need a simple game to help take the responsibility off our shoulders, and provide a moment for reflection. Social Roulette is more of a provocation rather than a tool.”
Social Roulette seemed to be looking for a fight, considering it’s selling t-shirts of its logo, which rips off Facebook’s and sticks it inside a chamber of a six-shooter pistol. Facebook has aggressively pursued others who’ve tried to coin off of its trademarks. Facebook has also recently shut off API access to apps it perceives as competitors like Vine, as well as ones like Voxer that don’t share much back to it. Facebook has also blocked apps without specifying a reason but that have been accused of spamming like Path.
Now McDonald tells me, “It took us 4 hours to create the project, and it took another 4 hours after the launch for Facebook to respond by blocking the API key and restricting our ability to create Facebook applications. The app was flagged by an automated system for ‘creating a negative user experience.’ After review, they decided they don’t like our logo either. We tried to follow the branding guidelines but we must have misunderstood them.” You could say the shut down was a bit murky as there’s not a specific platform policy that the app’s data deletion function violates, but Facebook typically enforces the spirit, not the letter, of the law. It might end up adding a specific provision banning apps that focus on deleting your data.
Facebook tells me in an official statement, “We take action against apps that violate our platform policies as laid out here: https://developers.facebook.com/policy/, in order to maintain a trustworthy experience for users.” It didn’t specify which policy, though. However, the app did allow users to circumvent Facebook’s account deactivation feature, which is designed to let people turn off their account but turn it back on later without losing their content and connections. This could be considered a violation of Facebook Platform Policy I.3 that states “You must not circumvent (or claim to circumvent) our intended limitations on core Facebook features and functionality.”
This brings up the larger issue of where Facebook draws the line when determining when something is too close to its native functionality. Some developers believe the Facebook Platform is unstable because of Facebook’s power to pick and choose who can do what.
Without API access, Social Roulette can’t let people login with their Facebook account, or delete content from their profile. Surprisingly, McDonald is optimistic that Social Roulette will win Facebook’s approval and live on to kill another account. “We’re currently working to address this and other issues and expect a return to normal service some time this week.”
I wouldn’t hold my breath, though. Facebook’s goal to connect the world and earn money through advertising based on their personal data is directly threatened by Social Roulette. Facebook purposefully makes deleting your account tough so you don’t do it in a momentary fit of anger. Even if it receives jeers for shutting down apps at will, it’s not going to put that gun in any third-party developer’s hands.