Facebook Abuse: Is Blocking People Enough?

 In Social Media, Social Networking

I didn’t think it would happen to me… but it has. This past week on Facebook, I was the victim of a slew of abuse from a very aggressive Facebook member.

I had a gut feeling about this character some time ago when we first friended. In a way, I’ve only myself to blame for having any interactions at all. I’d stepped in a couple times in the past on Facebook Notes to placate and defend other victims of this person’s abuse.

Of course it occurred to me I should unfriend and block this bully. But, truth is, I was concerned about a possible backlash I might trigger. This person seems to have some psychological challenges causing erratic behavior. One minute they seem pleasant and helpful, the next minute they turned into an attacking pitbull.

Everything came to a head when I saw a Note the bully wrote with personal assaults on a fine young professional contact of mine, and I felt compelled to step in and show my support for the innocent person. Sure enough, the backlash I feared came with a vengeance. I immediately unfriended and blocked this harasser.

[To block someone, click on the Privacy link at the very top or bottom of any Facebook page, and enter the name of the person you want to block (see screen-shot). This pulls up the possible profiles, from which you can identify and select the individual to block. You can also write to abuse [at] facebook.com, and you can use the Report feature on Notes and Groups.]

Turns out this same person has been banned from several other sites (including Facebook a few times, apparently!) and blocked by at least two prominent bloggers that I personally know. Yikes! Something is clearly wrong with the security of Facebook’s system if a banned person can keep showing up like the bad penny.

Now, let me just say, I’m always of the opinion that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. I like to uplift, empower and praise people. I like to leave people feeling better about themselves after an interaction with me than before – whether in person, by email, on the phone, or my activities on Facebook.

Thing is, EVERYTHING on the internet could potentially be found by the public. By attacking other people, it says more about the attacker than it does their victims. And, every single time we write a blog post or a comment, or participate in activities in social networking sites – we not only reveal more of who we are and allow ourselves to be transparent, we may also leave ourselves vulnerable to having our postings used against us.

On that note, I’m eagerly awaiting Andy Beal’s new book Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online – due for publication on March 4, 2008.

My attacker is still out there spreading rubbish about me. And, I’m not sure that, inside Facebook, it’s possible (yet) to track postings about yourself from a person you’ve blocked. Blocking makes both parties practically invisible to each other. (I say practically, because I’m still seeing the occasional email in my Facebook Inbox from this harasser, in response to previous threads with multiple people).

Any suggestions? How can Facebook tighten up their system to prevent situations like this? Is it just a matter of Facebook members being vigilant about who they accept as friends? (After all, Mark Zuckerberg’s intent with Facebook is for members to stay connected with people they already know). Even so, there’s nothing to stop a “non-friend” from launching personal attacks. Ay-yi-yi… sure leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Caveat emptor.

Mari Smith

Forbes Top Social Media Power Influencer | Facebook Marketing Expert | Globe-trotting Speaker, Author | 'Mari like Ferrari' | Bubbly Scottish-Canadian!

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  • I’ve experienced this to a degree as well, although I hadn’t actually befriended the person on Facebook, they had a crack at me in a group, and followed to my blog.

    I’ve written about cyber bullying on my blog before, but the adult version is something that I hadn’t thought about.

    I agree with Charlie Robinson as well, this is something that FB can’t fix on its own!

    Just as offline community members need to participate in solving problems, online community members need to be a part of the solution as well.

  • By the way, I hope you’re able to learn from my experience and be very cautious with your own friending policy. There’s always the Ignore button when people you don’t know send you a Friend Request.

  • charlie robinson

    Hi Mari? it?s an interesting subject and one that I don?t think FB would be able to truly solve on their own. In life there are bullys. So I guess, in an online social networking service, there will be bullies. I think your article about keeping a friend policy is important however the public domain space/place that FB has with groups, fan pages (you can?t reject a fan) etc can make it a personal challenge. We are perhaps putting ourselves on display in a similar vein that celebrities deal with in the spotlight on a day to day basis. The paparazzi are looking for a dollar but crazy fans would be just plain scary.

    It?s an interesting question in regards to our society and when a person steps over the mark ? what really can we really do about them? What avenues do we have? Here in Australia there are defamation rules/laws that can be helpful. Perhaps blocking is not the answer if you need to ?watch? what the person says about you in order to make sure they don?t cross that line of defamation??? The whole ?watching? concept though spooks me ? a little how I was spooked when first joining Twitter. The concept of ?following? someone. I appreciate an understand these concepts now however it?s an interesting subject? and one that I think the whole social networking online world is still coming to grips with. As well as many of my every day friends.

    Keep the brain ticking for me? love these conversations. Love the interaction with you.

  • @Charlie – hey there, thanks for stopping by! Indeed, such a fascinating area that is so new and fresh to all of us. I really think the online world is simply a microcosm of the macro. There are wackos in the offline world, so when we’re talking millions and millions of users on one platform, they’re bound to show up here too. It’s the law of averages.

    But what appropriate action to take in the case of defamation is a whole other story. I did some research for this post and mostly came up with the fact cyber-bullying only describes kids. When it’s adults, it’s cyber-harassment or cyber-stalking. Ugh! Mostly, I think all we can do is to keep showing up with authenticity and in integrity. And know that we “can’t please all the people all the time!”

    BTW, I always enjoy my interaction with you! ūüôā I’ve met some amazing people around the world by “friending” complete strangers on Facebook and Twitter, so only connecting with people we already know isn’t something I can realistically do.

  • charlie robinson

    Its interesting not much has been done re cyber-bully adults… I guess we should take on board from that that most are “adults” and act accordingly. A good thing!! And as you say re the numbers who are online, the fact that we’ve only really experienced one or two is probably good stats? But I’d prefer none!!

    Anyway, for me personally I network with, essentially people who are, strangers through work and we hook up become friends – so I carry this risk level through to online. You are one of my favourite finds through online ( :> ). I get such a happy vibe from you. Its great (plus I learn a bludy lot!!!).

    There are others that have made me go “hmmm”. Your post just reminds me to be careful of the ones that have made me go “hmmm”. Thanks again xc

  • Hi Mari… I read the whole story and did what was best, ‘unfriended’ immediately, and without regret. I had in fact considered the possibility even before that.
    It is an unfortunate fact that online as well as in real life we always run the risk of becoming targets of unhealthy behaviors and usually the best thing to do is to simply ignore the offending party (after giving it one or two chances, no more, and being very careful about backlash, as you did).
    I am reading a series of very interesting articles (in French) on reputation management, and it’s a complex concept. I think that Facebook will have to tackle it when they become a grown-up site. Bullies are damaging enough among children, but adult bullies can be even more destructive and this has to be taken care of.
    Have a great weekend!

  • Devin c holloway

    Mari, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

    Without feedback, sometimes it’s difficult to become self-aware, and hopefully, when people are exposed to this well written piece they’ll reflect upon their actions and ask the tough questions like how their actions affect others. I think, in the long-run, the unfortunate experiences that prompted this post will actually promote more good than bad. Again, thank you for sharing. ūüôā

  • @Allan – I checked out your blog posts on bullying. Thanks for the heads up and link to http://www.besafeonline.org/ – seems a major challenge w/kids… but not sure how to handle as adults. Sheesh. I’m disappointed at the lack of action on Facebook’s part so far, to be honest.

    @Nadine – right, reputation management is a major topic now more than ever.

    @Devin – thanks for your kind comments. I totally agree – third party feedback is very important. Seems this bully is ‘uncontributable to’ though. I, too, believe we can diffuse the situation and translate it into something that helps make positive changes.

  • Willa Potgieter-Huang

    So we should always be transparent and kind no matter what .. Mari you have my thumbs up!

  • I’ve hardly been on Facebook at all in the past few weeks, so I don’t know what happened. But from a recent note I was tagged, I can guess who you’re talking about.

    I’m sorry to hear about this, Mari. I know what it’s like to have your character unjustly attacked.

  • @Willa – for sure on the kind part… and transparency is a matter of choice and degree. For me, there’s a blurry line between my personal and professional lives because I’m self-employed and specialize in the world of relationships. But, I also have a private life and choose to draw the line there. ūüôā

    @Michael – good to see you here. I think taking a Facebook vacation is a good thing, actually! It’s a fabulous platform, but sure zaps energy when stuff like this happens!

  • Hi Mari – one thing people can do is report a posting to Facebook if they feel it’s against the Facebook Terms of Service (TOS)…

    I’m not sure how many it takes for FB to take it seriously, but I would expect they give priority to posts which trigger reports from several different people.

    As for bullying there’s at least these 2 bullets in their TOS (as of Nov 15 2007) which are related to bullying but possibly others too:

    * upload, post, transmit, share, store or otherwise make available any content that we deem to be harmful, threatening, unlawful, defamatory, infringing, abusive, inflammatory, harassing, vulgar, obscene, fraudulent, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable;

    * intimidate or harass another;

    Hope that helps.

  • Why do they block so many accounts that are actually used?!

  • @Mike – see my other comment http://whyfacebook.com/2007/12/13/whats-your-friending-policy/#comment-70

    Basically, Facebook blocking is for breach of TOS.

  • OMG, now I’m seeing rubbish by this same crackpot in the Twitter stream. Someone please DO something!!!

  • azin

    Hi, I was searching about abuse on facebook, and I saw your article, I m dealing with the same situation. The abuser is using my identity, and trying to be me on facebook. He was using my old facebook account, spreading rubbish about me and sending my friends an unauthorized picture of me. Therefore, I terminated my account. But, now he has made a new account with my name and my picture. Seriously, I dont know how to stop this sick person. He has made his decision to ruin me. I wrote to yahoo that I ve been impersonated. I m still waiting for their response.

  • Stella

    I think we may be being harrassed by the same person, it sounds very similar to what i am going through on FB at the moment.

    Please can you email me? I’d like to have a better chat about his with you.

  • Ian

    I have had a similar problem after I criticised a nasty racist comment in a group. I blocked an individual who messaged me but they have spread malicious posts about me on the group discussion board. This was very recently and Facebook haven’t acted yet although I reported abuse.

  • Ralf Reid Troester

    Who can help me ACCOUNT ABUSE,.. has nothing to do with poker, but somebody has been writing a message to one of my friends over my account, how is that possible without having my password.
    How can I find out and who has an address from FACEBOOK where I can report my problem to find out who did it ????

    Thank you for your support !!!!!

  • Adrian Dunevein

    Hi Mari;

    So sorry to hear you had to deal with this airhead. Unfortunately. Why a person would waste an ongoing relationship with a widely read page such as yours is beyond me.

    Adrian Dunevein’s last blog post.. Jan 21, Health Insurance Sales Leads – How you can create your own

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  • angela

    would you know why I have been blocked from sending messages for a week. I run a few sites on facebook and cannot reply to messages I receive. I don’t see where I have done anything wrong. it says I have sent too many friends requests, but I only send them when they ask. thank you

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