An annual biker ride to raise money for wounded veterans has hit a bump on the road toward its 2015 event after Facebook – which has been the primary means of publicizing the ride since 2010 – altered the charity page without warning.
Thousands of veterans, service members, families and other “friends” of Boston’s Wounded Vet Run were converted to fans, which event founder and page creator Andrew Biggio said has interrupted and effectively broken many of the established connections.
"A few days ago I sent out invitations [through the page] for the 2015 event. I got 900 replies. All that’s vanished," said Biggio, 27, a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
A Facebook official who spoke with Military.com on background said content is sometimes lost when a page is converted from a “profile” page to some other format. In the case of the Boston’s Wounded Vet Run, it was changed to a community page.
The official said Facebook does not pro-actively review profiles and pages, but looks at them only if they are reporting. He acknowledged Facebook pulled and reviewed Boston’s Wounded Vet Run because someone reported it.
"So it was the victim of haters," Biggio said.
In an official statement released to Military.com, Facebook spokesman Andrew Souvall said:
"Every day, people, causes, organizations and others connect on Facebook. We ask that Profiles be used by individual people using their authentic names, while Pages are used by companies, organizations, public figures and causes."
Biggio said that when he created the page, probably in late 2010, he was not even aware there were different kinds of pages. While he was able to easily put out the word on events, schedule changes, promote conversations and attract riders and supporters, the page included a link to the actual fundraising site, TheyFoughtWeRide.
One thing that bothers him is that Facebook changed the format, jeopardizing his ties to potentially thousands of veterans and others, without any warning.
He learned of the change when he tried to log into the page several days ago, and instead got a message from Facebook stating it had been converted to a community page.
The Facebook official interviewed by Military.com said friends of the original page should all have been converted to fans – people who “Like” a page – and be able to get page updates that way.
But Biggio said it’s not working out that way.
"When I post it’s not going to as many people as before,” he said. “People are not seeing it, they’re not participating or posting or conversing on matters" as they did before.
Also, he said that he can no longer target specific friends or groups of friends for postings, as he could when Boston’s Wounded Vet Run functioned as a "profile."
The Facebook official told Military.com that the company will be changing its current policy of automatically converting pages when it is determined they are a problem.
Instead, Facebook will give advance warning when a page is not in compliance, giving the creator an opportunity to make changes to it or save any content they fear would be lost with a conversion.
Boston’s Wounded Vet Run has grown into the largest charity bike ride event in New England, according to BostonBiker.com, which has tracked and publicized motorcycle evens across the region for just over a decade.
In recent years Biggio has gone to Arizona, North Carolina and New York to help organize similar rides. After initially traveling on his own dime, staying at the homes of other veterans, he said the committee does allow him to be reimbursed for travel.
"Basically, as an avid motorcycle rider up here in the North Shore I started a charity ride for some guys coming home wounded from Iraq or Afghanistan," Biggio said.
From hundreds of riders in 2011 the event this past April drew more than 4,000 bikes and raised more than $100,000. Biggio said neither he nor anyone on the organizing committee receives any kind of pay or compensation, and that all the funds raised go to veterans who were selected based on need.
The 2014 ride was about 40 miles long and took some 90 minutes to complete as it wound through several towns, including Everett, Medford, Stoneham, Wakefield, Saugus, Lynn, Revere, and East Boston. Along the way it was escorted by city and town police, country sheriff’s officers, transit police and Massachusetts State Police.
The ride was led by three convertibles carrying wounded veterans or service members.
Biggio said the Facebook page as it originally functioned provided the charity a great deal of free advertising.
“Now it’s going to cost the organization because now we’re going to have to try to pay for advertizing to get all those people,” he said. “So now it’s taking money away from wounded veterans’ pockets.”
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.