Facebook's Safety Centre Helps Users Report And Prevent Online Bullying

Facebook may be designed as a place for you to connect with family and friends, but it can also connect you with some atrocious bullies, especially if you do anything publicly. The company's new Safety Centre teaches users how to prevent and report abusers on the site. Facebook's previous Safety Centre is getting a big update today, though many users may not even know it exists. On it, you can find instructions on how to share posts privately or with a limited audience, secure your account with two-factor authentication and how to report abuse on the site. It isn't a perfect solution to the complex problem of online abuse, but it may help to check it over if you're not familiar with the tools Facebook has to offer.

Facebook Safety Centre [Facebook via The Consumerist]


    Thank you for bringing this up.

    The #1 thing I think most Lifehacker readers need to know about this is:

    Your enemies can abuse these mechanisms to do a social denial-of-service attack on you from which there is no recovery other than giving up to Facebook lots of ID (usually government ID) information.

    They do this by a process known as fakenaming someone -- which involves reporting someone posting under their real name, as posting under a fake name, setting in motion a Facebook process designed to protect the poor beleagured troll who reported you -- AND EVERYONE ELSE -- from ever having to see your name on Facebook ever again. ANYONE on all of Facebook can target a person this way, and unless you feel like giving up passport images, drivers license images, medical records, leases, bank statements, student IDs, and so on (these are literally all items Facebook suggests you can *UPLOAD* to prove your identity to some FB serf's satisfaction), YOU CANNOT GET BACK ON, and you lose ALL of your Facebook comments and profile contents including photos.

    In August, a FB friend who's quite the fundy christian posted a rant against Hillary Clinton. I replied that I thought they were both crooked (hey, your guy engages in dodgy business deals, forcing contractors to accept underpayments, among other things), and based on that, one had to make decisions based on other criteria. For example, your guy's financial management has protected his own finances at the expense of those of many other Americans who weren't paid when his companies went bust. Your guy has no government experience. Your guy still believes in trickle-down.

    Well, it turns out she has a lot of fundy-christian friends, because they all dog-piled on me. And she even replied, 'Whaddya care, you can't even vote," resulting in my replying that she just betrayed the insular attitude of so many Americans, who don't realise that America exists in the larger context of the world, and don't realise that it is indeed possible to live in another country, or even be a citizen of some other country, and STILL have an American passport and STILL be eligible to vote.

    Within less than 24 hours, when I tried to get to Facebook, I was greeted with a page telling me I'd been reported for using a fake name, and I had to issue to Facebook now the name I wanted to use on Facebook which they assumed was not my own (since someone swore to them it was fake, it must be fake, right?), and telling me I had to upload to them government ID with a photo matching my FB page proving that that's who I was, and telling me I'd be losing all of the content connected to my real name that I could no longer use because it was obviously (according to some random friend of a Facebook friend) fake.

    "WTF?" is probably what you are thinking. "WTF?" is certainly what I thought. I'd been on Facebook with that name for 7 years. It was attached to a matching first initial + lastname gmail account that had existed for 9+ years, since I'd joined Google when it was in beta.

    Part of the catch here is that as an immigrant I do have a foreign name with alternate spellings. The spelling I choose to use online is different from the legal spelling of the name, because it exchanges and omits characters that aren't represented in the 26 alphabetic letters that are guaranteed to be accepted by every web form on the planet, whereas my legal spelling includes special characters that -- honestly -- serve the purpose of being a SQL injection vulnerability test. I got tired of dealing with that in the mid-2000's and haven't spelled my name with those foreign characters since then. My written signature omits them, my census was filled out without them, my corporate email address that is my full name omits them because they broke one of our internal systems that uses email address as one's sign on ID, etc.

    Now FB *claims* you don't have to use your full legal name on their site, *BUT* they insist you must use your common name that you go by. And you prove that the common name you go by IS that common name by providing a preponderance of evidence of documents showing that common name and your photo. For most people that's difficult to do. My state library researcher card? It's got a barcode, not a name. My RSL card? Again, a barcode. Employee ID? I've only got a blank white card key. My lease, bank statement, utility bills, etc. -- hell if I'm going to tell an Internet advertising company where I live and with whom I do business, OR make an electronic copy of my passport photo for them by uploading my passport to their site. They say you can knock out some identifying information like your passport number or bank account number, but that's still a hell of a privacy violation that "normal" Facebook users not targeted by a cyber-bully have to endure.

    To make it even better, there is NO penalty to a cyber-bully (even one who's almost definitely been on Facebook years less than the person they're reporting) when they fakename someone, AND the victim cannot find out the identity of their bully to charge THEM with violation of Facebook's anti-bullying policy.

    It turns out that lots of cyber-bullies know this trick and it's used to silence people online with whom they disagree. The US non-conventional-sexuality community has gotten targeted by it a lot. Feminists in the mid-east and India have been targeted by it. Even a NY lawyer was targeted after an online comment in which he supported Israel. It's been covered extensively in the press, and the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) even posted about how innocent people are being bullied and silenced by trolls using fakenaming as a weapon against those with whom they disagree.

    Basically, it's one of the last bastions of the rude, crude bunch, because Facebook *ALLOWS* it to be. Instead of assuming a cyber-bully is telling the truth, the cyber-bully should be required to post proof that they know this person has a different name, before Facebook takes any action. However, Facebook refuses to enact that policy change. And that gives every random creep on Facebook the opportunity to disrupt the lives of innocent victims.

    I'm in process of challenging this to the Office of the Australian Privacy Commissioner.

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