5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know are “Illegal” on Facebook

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Facebook has an ever-changing list of guidelines, restrictions and policies that are almost impossible to keep up with. Not only are these rules scattered throughout Facebook’s site under different names, but they can be confusing and long-winded. Add to that the reality that most people don’t even know that these policies exist and you end up with a lot of people on the wrong side of the Facebook “law” when it comes to their profile or business Pages.

Business Pages on Facebook have their own set of guidelines which you can read here, yet I continually see countless Facebook Pages posting illegal images, running illegal contests or just doing things that aren’t welcomed by Facebook. So what happens when users break Facebook law? Pages can be shut down. It doesn’t happen all that often, as far as we know, but it is a possibility and potentially a huge hassle.

To prevent your Facebook Page from getting shut down, don’t break these 5 rules.

***UPDATED:  This got changed in the past week to no longer exist.

The Rule: A cover photo cannot contain more than 20 percent text.

Where you can find it: Facebook Page Guidelines – Article III section – B

The Facebook cover photo is one of the places I most often see policy violations. Facebook recently changed their rules about text and cover photos: calls to action are now allowed but overall the image can only contain 20 percent text. I’ve noticed that many businesses aren’t aware of the new guidelines and I’ve also noticed that lots of businesses are breaking the 20 percent text rule. If you need some help thinking of ways to leverage these new rules, check out this article. There are plenty of great tools out there that will help you determine whether your cover photo is within the 20 percent text rule, but this one is my favorite.

The Rule: Promotions on Facebook must be administered within Apps on Facebook.com, either on a Canvas Page or a Page App.

Where you can find it: Facebook Page Guidelines – Article III- section E- clause i

In layman’s terms this rule means that you need to use a third-party application in order to run a promotion on Facebook. Many businesses on Facebook like to ignore this rule by running promotions that consist of posting a photo and saying “share this to be entered to win” or “comment on this post for a chance to win.”

If you’re planning to run a promotion on Facebook, do it the right way. Third-party platforms exist to make it easier for businesses to have custom Facebook apps. Most third-party software providers already comply with the majority of Facebook’s guidelines so when you’re building an app you don’t need to worry about the little details. This article from Jon Loomer provides a comprehensive list of Facebook application platforms available.

The Rule: You must not use Facebook features or functionality as a promotions registration or entry

Where it can be found: Facebook Page Guidelines – Article III – section E- clause iv

This rule piggybacks on the last rule by stating that a business cannot use Facebook’s features — such as Liking, commenting, sharing, or uploading a photo — as a means of automatic entry into a contest. Basically, you can’t say “Do this and you are entered!” You still need to have the user submit an entry and agree to some basic terms. You can of course suggest that the user share something, upload a pic or leave a comment, but it can’t be a requirement.

One thing that you are allowed to do is require that users Like your Page or Check in to your Place in order to enter. The Like or Check-in is the exception to the rule, but again, it can’t automatically enter anyone into your promotion. The Like or Check-in simply allows them to continue to the entry form.

If you want to require people to Like your Page in order to participate, try creating a custom app that is fan-gated. When users see your app but haven’t Liked your Page yet, the app should encourage them to do so to proceed to the entry form. After they enter, feel free to ask them to share your contest with their friends (but don’t force them to).

The Rule: You must not notify winners through Facebook

Where it can be found: Facebook Page Guidelines – Article III – section E- clause v

It seems natural that when you’re running a Facebook contest, you pick a winner and then announce the winner’s name on Facebook. The problem is, according to Facebook’s guidelines, you’re not supposed to use Facebook as the initial means of contacting a winner. This includes Facebook messages, chat or posts on profiles, Timelines or Pages.

The best way to notify a winner is via email. If you’ve used a third party application to run your contest you’ve most likely collected some data, including email addresses, from your entrants. As long as you’ve notified your winner outside of Facebook, you can then announce the winner to your audience on your Timeline or in your app.

The Rule: If you collect information from users, you will: obtain their consent, make it clear you (and not Facebook) are the one collecting their information, and post a privacy policy explaining what information you collect and how you will use it.

Where it can be found: Statement of Rights and Responsibilities – Article 5 – Section 7

My company, ShortStack, is a third-party application and our users ask us just about every day why our app requests access to Facebook profiles. If you’re a business and you’re using a Facebook app to collect data from your users, it’s your responsibility to tell your users what information you’re collecting and exactly how that information will be used. If you’re transparent and honest with your users about what you plan on doing with their information you’re likely to receive more engagement on your data collection app.

The (Unspoken) Rule: Don’t break local, state, national or international laws

Some states/regions have their own rules and guidelines for a business that is giving away any prize, including prizes won via Facebook contests. Check with your region’s business agencies to ensure that you’re abiding by local, state and international laws.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the rules and guidelines on Facebook for Pages, but these are the rules I see businesses break most often. Although it can be time consuming and tedious to make sure your Facebook Page and apps comply with all of Facebook’s rules and guidelines, it’s worth it to stay up to date with Facebook’s policies.

Here is a list of the policies and guidelines I recommend familiarizing yourself with:





Jim Belosic
Jim Belosic is the CEO of ShortStack, a self-service custom app design tool used to create apps for Facebook Pages, websites and mobile web browsing.... Read Full Bio
Jim Belosic
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  • Clare Evans

    Great post Jim, some really interesting points.

    It’s amazing the number of brands and high profile companies that are still running those ‘like and share’ style competitions and notify winners through Facebook. It is certainly worth reading through and keeping up to date with their terms of service as they change their minds so often!

    It’s just not worth the risk of having a high profile brand page taken down after you’ve spent so long creating an engaged audience.

    • Sahil

      Very unique and informative post! One more interesting thing about Facebook’s new “Promoted Page Likes” ads is that the profile must be genuine and complete, Having a proper business Location mapped on the Facebook page is important before the campaign can be started. These things ad more weight to the ads and make them more genuine.

  • keyword removed

    Thanks Jim for Sharing some awesome and most importantly things.

  • Mike Jensen

    I believe the 20% text rule for cover photos has changed and is no longer being enforced by Facebook. But still a good article, and I always feel like a wet blanket when other colleagues have “great” ideas about a contest that requires “likes” or “shares” to win, because so many other sites do this. I’d also advocate FB getting rid of the 20% text rule on ads, very limiting and ultimately means lost $ for FB.

  • Natalie

    I thought that Facebook just recently revoked the “no more than 20% text” rule for the cover photo…is that rule still in place?

  • Jenna Manula

    Great Article!

    However, I wanted to inform you that Facebook’s 20 percent text rule for cover photo’s was lifted on July 1st, 2013. Therefore, a cover photo can now contain more than 20 percent text.

  • Piotr

    Your information is out-of-date. There is no 20% rule anymore. Here is the current version of “Facebook Page Guidelines – Article III section – B” you refer to:
    “B. Cover
    All covers are public. This means that anyone who visits your Page will be able to see your cover. Covers can’t be deceptive, misleading, or infringe on anyone else’s copyright. You may not encourage people to upload your cover to their personal timelines.”

  • Álex Pimienta

    I read somewhere that the 20% text on cover photo rule was about to be dismissed. I can’t remember where I read that though.

  • edgins1

    Thank you for letting me know these 5 illegal things on facebook, keep us posted.

  • Abhineet Shukla

    This Facebook guideline is a good thing to write Jim! A few points seems updated recently by Facebook as compared to what is written here. BUt still it will enlighten people to know more about what is not allowed on Facebook, what’s illegal here, and what things will lead you to get banned on Facebook. Personally for me, things like having not more than 20% text in cover page was a surprise too!

  • Charles Crawford

    Hi Jim,

    This is such a great article. Thank you very much for sharing some tips and please keep us updated about this thing.


  • Kristina

    Thanks for sharing this information! Looks like even simple tshirt giveaways for triva contests are a no- no according to the guidelines.

    • Jim Belosic

      Hi Kristina,

      They definitely aren’t a no-no they just need to be done using a third-party platform. T-shirt giveaways and trivia contests are great things to run on Facebook, just use an app to run your contest and you’ll be good to go! Thanks for your comment.