Saturday, December 1, 2012


In the scope of a couple of days, several people have seen their Facebook cover photos disappear without explanation. The issue appears to be a move by Facebook to aggressively crack down on images that are considered promotional.

I first encountered the issue yesterday when Facebook ostensibly removed a promotional still from the TV series Doctor Who that I used as a cover photo. When I attempted to upload another image, I saw this message:

Pick a unique photo from your life to feature at the top of your timeline. Note: This space is not meant for banner ads or other promotions. Please don’t use content that is commercial, promotional, copyright-infringing or already in use on other people’s covers.

Since we published the original article about the incident, several readers have come forward, reporting the same thing happened to them in the comments..

The exact reason why Facebook removed each cover is a mystery, since the user is not informed, except by the glaring empty space where the photo used to be. It could be due to a copyright violation or that the photo was deemed to “promotional.” Although Facebook removes the photo from the cover position, it doesn’t actually delete the photo itself.

“Facebook is in business to make money,” says Lou Kerner, a former social media analyst and founder of the Social Internet Fund. “The great thing about that is most ways they’re going to make money is by letting people do what they want as long as it doesn’t break the law. For the most part, if they act in the user’s best interest, they act in their own best interests.”

While I speculated Facebook was removing cover photos to prevent the site from becoming too tacky, one of me  commenters suggested Facebook was looking to preserve its business model. After all, if brands recruit “ambassadors” by encouraging or paying them upload promotional cover photos, that would detract from Facebook’s own tools that are meant to help brands engage with their fans on the service.

Disney, for example, offers fans of its franchises images to download that are specifically formatted for Facebook Timeline. If this is indeed a crackdown, that practice could cease.

“That seems more heavy-handed than Facebook generally acts,” says Kerner. “That sounds very egregious to me in terms of how they want brands and people to interact. I don’t see how Facebook benefits by not allowing a brand’s fans to engage with the brand like that.”