Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Craigslist's Help Forum Fails To Help

I had a disappointing experience with Craigslist this week.

When a rental is vacant, I post it on Craigslist because it's the best way to find qualified tenants in this area. I've been doing that almost exclusively for the past 12 years. I'm a happy landlord evangelist for Craigslist.

For the first time, my rental post was flagged and removed.

I didn't do anything different, so it must have been a change on CL's side. Either they changed their terms of use (TOU), or I've unknowingly been breaking the rules, and now they have a way to detect it.

That's fine. I have no issue with that. I want to follow the rules and am happy to bring my posts into compliance.

But that's when things started coming off the rails.

First, I noticed I wasn't getting any calls. So I logged in and saw it was flagged. I suppose I understand why CL wouldn't alert a spammer that they've been flagged, but I get the feeling that it only hurts someone like myself who's trying to do it correctly and not someone who's trying to game the system.

At this point, all I know is that my post was flagged and removed. I don't know why beyond a general reason that "the post doesn't comply with the TOU."

Fine. I read the TOU and posting guidelines. The closest thing I could see was that I included a link for people to apply online, which could be seen as "the primary purpose is to drive traffic to a website" (the yellow highlight is mine).

I removed the website link, but it was flagged and removed again. Great.

Next, I checked out the scam warnings and saw this (the yellow highlighted block below is mine):

I'm not asking for any financial or background/credit information through CL. I stated in the post that I will be asking for it later, but that's after a tour. In the context of the post, I should be fine, right?

I decided to deep into the bowls of craigslist.

It turns out, the "help" page isn't very helpful. There are some general FAQs (including one, btw, that gives instructions on adding HTML and links to a post. How does that align with their prohibited section? That must be for a different category?)

In fact, there is no way to get help from someone who works at Craigslist. On the help page is an option to "contact us" choosing that takes you to a list of issues, including "scams, spam, flagging." That gives an option called "My post was flagged off incorrectly"

But the only help is from the "flag help forum."

That's right. When you have an issue, the only solution is to ask the help forum.

So I did.

I shared my post's details asked what I needed to fix so I wouldn't be flagged and removed anymore. I felt like it was a genuine ask for help.

What happened next was a strange combination of guessing and belittling.

First, how is it that the only way of getting help is from a non-official set of people? All they did was start guessing things that maybe, might look wrong. And each post did it with a thick coat of "you should know better." Here's one of my early favorites:

Yeah, I am clueless, which is why I came to the forums for help. Apparently, I used the wrong word, I should have said "removed" not "flagged." I guess? I don't know. That's why I'm asking for help.

Or what about this one that's not even relevant to my question:

Not helpful, and kind of sad if that's been wrigleywannabe3rd's experience.

I clarified that including a link was an issue, and I was told there's also information I'm not entitled to.

I wrote back - because I couldn't help myself - that I am allowed to ask for this information in Oregon. And I clarified that I'm not asking for anyone to send me their information through CL, but instead by going through a standard application process. To which the reply was:

I know... which is why I'm on the forum asking for help.

The Epiphany

The next morning I got an idea of what I should do.

I found someone else's successful recent rental post and copied the format (using my info, obviously). I posted it, and it stayed up! I'm still unsure why my original post was flagged, other than there's a lot less information now.

I tried to be a nice guy and left one more note in the forum thanking everyone for chiming in. I shared the changes I made and thought we'd all leave on a happy note.

Or not.

Much to my surprise, the group looked up my post and decided to keep giving me further feedback.

Since the post was still up, I didn't feel the need to re-engage, but in all honesty, I felt like I made the changes they requested, and based it off a recently successful post. Why does my_generic_handle feel like it will be flagged again? That's a serious question since I never officially found out the problem. 

And my favorite comes from Jack80218:

Not only is this off-topic...

Not only does his suggestion not work for this 200 square foot box with ONLY outside walls, which he would know from looking at the pictures...

But he took the time to look up my wall heater's reference and quote the installation best practice...

While at the same time heavily implying that I did it knowing that the resident was the one paying for electricity.


I must say, I am not impressed by Craiglist's help forums. Perhaps it's me and the reasons ARE obvious and I'm blind to it because I want to keep doing things the way I used to. Perhaps I am being overly sensitive and the truth hurts. But maybe it's just sour grapes because the members did take the time to downvote all of my replies (why is that even a feature?).

The Revenge of The Facebook

In related news, I decided to try Facebook's Marketplace. Using the same post that was flagged on CL - I got many great responses within hours, and two applicants, both of whom were highly qualified within 10 hours (overnight, no less). So, thanks to Craigslist's opaque flagging and help systems, I found a viable alternative.

I wouldn't say Craigslist lost me as an evangelist, but my enthusiasm has been tempered.

To be clear, I'm fine with flagging and erring on the side of removing suspected spam. Keep the marketplace safe! But if you're going to remove my posts, I want to be able to figure out why (beyond "read the TOU"), and ideally without belittingly. Especially since I'm not participating for the fun of it, but using it as a business tool.

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