Meetups automatic fraud systems are out of control

TL;DR: Something that I did triggered Meetups fraud systems. My account is now restricted and Meetup says that they have no control over their automatic fraud systems. My best option is to create a new account.

For the last one and a half years I’ve been living in Bali. In many ways it is a very interesting place but there was basically no tech scene. So, I started a group on meetup.com to meet other IT people. And it’s been quite successful: we have a meetup every month, with 10 – 25 people attentind and usually two guest speakers.
As my time on Bali is coming to an end and I am looking for jobs at the next place, I decided to try meetup for that too. I joined a few groups in Singapore to get a feel for the scene, connect to people and maybe get some recommendations for good companies. I hadn’t even started in doing so when I got a message saying:

You’re not allowed to join groups in other countries.

Uh. Strange.
But that used to work, and many people also use meetup while travelling. After I contacted the support they replied with:

Meetup has built-in limits in place to cut down on the potential for site misuse and spam. Our filters block actions that mirror the behavior of typical spammers.

What?! Misuse and spam? Behavior of typical spammers?
How is joining a group already spamming? I didn’t even send out a single message.

OK. Probably the fraud systems noticed that many spammers first join a lot of groups and then send out message or spam the forums and they stop it at the first sign of that.
Well, that shouldn’t be a big problem. Just look at my account, verify I am not a spammer and remove the restrictions from my account. Or should it?
The reply continues saying:

As a security precaution, we sometimes limit the ability to edit an account’s location. In order to join Meetup Groups in another country, you’ll have to create a separate Meetup account once you arrive there.[…]As an alternative, you can send us an email when you’ve reached your new location. We can change your location for you then.[…]Unfortunately, you will not be able to join groups in other locations or contact members outside of your country.

Err, wait. Create a new account? Can you not unflag me, like you unflag an email that was falsely marked as spam?

The status so far is:

  • I can not change my location anymore.
  • I can not join meetups in different countries.
  • This is permanent.
  • I can not write private messages to people in different countries. Not even to the members of my own group! I have somebody that wants to talk at one of my events but I can not contact him directly. I have to write into the forum or write comments and hope that he will see them. This is f… annoying!
  • Their solution is to create a new account. Would Facebook or LinkedIn suggest that to any of their users? Sure, a meetup account has not the same amount of data and credibility attached to them as a Facebook or LinkedIn account does. But I am sure that you will get very different reactions if you approach somebody with a new and empty or with an established account. And I bet that it is not possible to manage two accounts with the mobile app.
  • Of course they can’t offer any explanations why I got flagged.

They go on:

To clarify, you are not listed as a spammer. However, our system automatically prevents actions that mimic those of typical spammers.

Right. I am not a spammer, I just behaved like one and now I am treated as one.
But the real WTF is:

Unfortunately, we are unable to manually override the security systems that we have in place.

Really?!
How can you put an automatic fraud detection system in place that works based on how likely a certain behavior is spam in contrast to how likely it is legit? The system uses probabilities. Does that not scream it is correct most of the time but sometimes it is wrong? How can you think: “Oh, we will never have to correct our machine learning system.”

Gmails spam filter (and everyone elses) doesn’t delete spam emails right away. They put them into a spam folder for review. False positive results are inevitable. Correcting these mistakes also will train the system and make it better.

I understand the need for fraud detection systems. All bigger sites need to take action against fraud at some point. And it can be tempting to make the systems more aggressive in order to solve the fraud problem completely. But I think everybody would be well advised to take a more careful approach to not ruin the site for the legit users. For example having a human review the people that are flagged as “maybe spammer”. That probably would have helped in my case. I doubt that most spam accounts have actively used meetup for several years and organise a group.
But you absolutely MUST HAVE a manual way to override the decisions taken by your automatic systems!

Meetup, please implement that f.. unflag button.
For no good reason you make my account almost unusable and offer no real help. I am so annoyed with you.

And I don’t want to wait another year for you to start[1].

[1] In May 2014 when I ran my first meetup I was late to my own meetup because the Android App shows a different starting time than the website. 1 hour later. I told them and we found out it has something to do with the different timezones in Indonesia and their App or server doesn’t take that into account. It is still not fixed. All groups in Bali are affected. Every now and then I get a message from somebody who missed one of my meetups because of this even though I put a note into the description of every meetup.

15 thoughts on “Meetups automatic fraud systems are out of control

    • Unfortunately not. The Meetup support could not help me at all. Their only solution is to create another account. Also it doesn’t seem that they are trying to fix it.

  1. Pingback: Ivan Pesin - Links: 17th May

  2. This is very weird. Im sorry to hear that. I can change my location anytime and i am a member of meetups in several countries because i globe trot a lot. I just never really post or message to people. Maybe you were sending to many messages with the same boilerplate language that caused you to be seen as a spammer. But my meetups are all on one account.

    Maybe you can make a new account and join all the meetups in those countries again. But dont change your locations. you just put “anywhere” and it should show groups all over pertaining to the topic you searched.

  3. I’ve just was hit by this. Let’s look at those who reported about this in Twitter:

    * https://twitter.com/search?q=%22You%27re%20not%20allowed%20to%20join%20groups%20in%20other%20countries%22&src=typd
    * https://twitter.com/search?q=%22You%27re%20not%20allowed%20to%20change%20your%20country%22&src=typd

    I’m not suggesting anything but it seems that there could be a corrwlation with geographical location. I guess if you’re from “1st world country” this issue wont appear at all. Just guessing.

  4. I’m facing the same situation. I’ve traveled 3 times this year to 3 different countries and now when I’ve relocated to another country, I can’t changed my location in the profile.
    It’s very annoy to create another account, can’t believe that Meetup’s engineers can’t find better ways to deal with this!

  5. Same here! It’s not my fault that I am moving aroung the world! What’s the problem with moving from Scotland to Russian and then to Japan? Again, it’s not my fault to spend only 2 months in each place. Maybe it’s somehow linked with the frequency of moving? Like, if you move too much you get blocked.

  6. Hi, Felix. I’m heaving same problem after moving to Thailand.

    > As an alternative, you can send us an email when you’ve reached your new location. We can change your location for you then.

    I wonder why this option haven’t worked for you? I think I’m going to request manual change from them.

    P.S. Was surprised to randomly find your post on the Internets :)

      • Hi Vladimir!
        Funny to see you here :-).

        I had them change my location to Singapore after I moved as well.
        The problem is I can’t join meetups in other countries than Singapore (when I travel). And I still can’t send messages to anyone – only to people located in Singapore (in theory if the restrictions are still the same, haven’t tried yet).

  7. I had a similar experience, some innocent action which completely unknown to me happened, I guess, to coincide with a probability of being a spammer regardless of the fact that I had never spammed anything. Could be something like relocating to another country for work, joining a meetup in a different whilst on holiday, who knows… just an instant deletion.This is the future. Machine learning algorithmns making decisions with any contact querying it dealt with via automatic machine replies and no possibility of contacting a human being. Kafkaesque.

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