by Roxanne Tellier
A little over a week ago, I was browsing through some posts on a Facebook group page. Some of the comments were interesting, but there was one peculiar troll who was obviously looking for a fight, strewing crazy conspiracy theories along the thread like poisoned bread crumbs.
He was adamant that the planet is just 5000 years old, that masks are murder, and that there is no virus. I should have simply let him rave, but I took the bait, and foolishly put a few site links in the post. The barrage of insults began. “You need to get your old crust ass moving alone down your pathetic life and go suck your buttons dick maybe he will give you a cabinet job.” “You’re a diaper wearing stupid idiot.” And then … “You seem to be the one reporting me like the crybaby you are.”
I said that I wondered what it felt like to walk around with a big L on one’s forehead – and then the penny dropped. He’d reported me for bullying.
And I was about to get … 30 days in the hole.
Thirty days, because suspension days are compounded by multiple offenses. Two months ago, in a conversation with a friend about trump lawyer, Sidney Powell, who had defended her seditious remarks about the ‘stolen’ election by saying that no reasonable person would believe her lies, I quoted Shakespeare’s “First, kill all the lawyers.”
And got a week in solitary for the offense of not following community standards.
There IS an appeal process, but Facebook also explains, ad nauseum, that their moderators are far too busy, because of the pandemic, to handle all the requests for justice. Also, regardless of whether your appeal is granted or even acknowledged, and the offense pardoned or not, your Facebook history is still stained by the charge. Each successive charge escalates the amount of time the user is suspended from the services of Facebook.
At some point, and I honestly don’t know when, but it was definitely after Mark Zuckerberg snowed – sorry, I mean ‘spoke’ to Congress last year, and defended Facebook’s business practices concerning the spread of false information, the call went out to the site’s internal censors and security guards already in place; it was time to get tough.
Well, not with their advertisers, or the people they wanted to see re-elected. Those people were sacrosanct.
But the average user, those who may have snickered at some anti-establishment cartoons, or ‘shared’ a photo of a nursing mother … those people were now firmly in Facebook’s crosshairs.
And just like with the ‘real’ police, or the IRS, there would be a tightening of restrictions, and hundreds of charges and sanctions imposed – on the lowest hanging fruit. Facebook would not be going after the trolls, the rabble rousers, the political parties, or the criminals. They were after your mother and grandmother. By not targeting the protected Big Fish, and instead scooping up all the little fishies in their net, the site censors could soon point, with truth, to large numbers of people and offenses that had been tagged, suspended, or deleted, with almost no blowback on themselves.
Nearly every one I know has a story of getting sidelined for 24 hours or more for silly offenses, even for sharing a photo they posted as far back as nine years previous. The fallout from Zuck’s Congressional appearance included instituting new filters that searched back, apparently through the entire history of the site, for certain key words or triggers to purge.
(Filters have been around since the early days of bulletin board systems – it’s Internet 101 stuff that could have, and should have, been woven into the fabric of Facebook’s social messaging from its debut.)
If you notice the three little dots to the right of posts on Facebook, you’ll find, way down at the bottom of the options, this choice.
“Find support or report post.”
By adding this option, the site also added the ability for internal policing of it’s users by other users. Anyone with a grudge against another user, or a wish to silence others, could simply report a message as harassment or bullying. Since the definition of bullying is pretty loosie goosy, the mere act of reporting immediately defines the words as being aggressive in the reporter’s opinion. And if someone decided that everything you said offended them, they could bombard you with accusations that would keep you off the platform for months on end.
Very Big Brother of them.
Back in 2015, Jon Ronson published So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, a book that explained what to do if you got ‘caught’ doing something frowned upon in polite society. At the time, the odds of being someone caught in an international scandal seemed about as likely as winning a lottery.
But in truth, as we’ve seen in the last several years, ‘the internet is forever,’ and things we say or do under current circumstances, or in our past, may find re-entry into our future, by chance or by malice.
Magazines like Forbes, that focus on career mobility, have been warning for ages about how easy it is to get tripped up by our past posts. Your online presence can be a negative, and wreak havoc on your professional life. Online posts can flare up into huge news, Twitter feuds can call attention to faux pas moments, and corporations can find themselves in the middle of a social media disaster, brought about by those with a talent for internet deep diving.
If you happen to be in the middle of a life change, job searching, or just looking to move on with your life, you may want to take a sandblaster to your social media, to get your profiles squeaky clean.
Luckily, there are some apps out there to do just that. You can find info on SimpleWash right on Facebook. SimpleWash purports to be able to scrub your Facebook and/or Twitter content squeaky clean, by scanning all of the content on your Facebook profile – including comments by other people on photos or posts – to locate key words you may want removed. The app will flag things like allusions to drugs, alcohol, profanities, even negative comments you may have made about a company you’re targeting for a job interview.
I’m sure there are similar apps available for every computer platform – keeping your social media profile bland and clean is necessary to secure employment in many professions.
So what exactly can you do, if you need to do a little damage control on your social media brand?
First off, you might want to check on just who can see your posts, tweets or photos. If you wake up the morning after the night before to discover photographic proof of your indiscretions, you’ll want to get an idea of exactly how viral that message or tweet has become. What pops up in our news feeds is largely determined by those with whom we engage the most. If you haven’t interacted with many of your work friends in the last few months, it’s unlikely they’d come across your post. However, you may never know who all saw the ‘evidence’ unless it’s been liked, shared or has been commented upon.
While the Internet IS forever, delete the offending post or photo as soon as possible. If you are social media friends with others who were in on the ‘crime,’ check their accounts for incriminating posts or photos, and ask them to delete or untag your presence. If what you’ve done is really egregious, you may want to delete your entire account, and start over anew. But if someone has taken a screen shot of your offense, even account deletion may not really scrub off the stain.
If that’s the case, and you’re found out, there’s only one thing left to do. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for any office gossip that might allude to your errors, and then apologize to anyone who is offended by your post. Take full responsibility for your actions (WITHOUT using the expression, “If I offended someone … “) and assure your friends and/or work superiors that you intend to use better judgment in the future.
Life will go on, even though it might be uncomfortable for a while. You’ll be looking over your shoulder for a bit, and you’ll find yourself self-censoring more than you might have in the past, but life will go on, and you’ll soon find yourself back in your normal swing of posting your thoughts to your friends and followers, sadder but wiser for the experience.
Personal security experts always advise that it’s best to be aware of your privacy settings on your social media accounts, and monitor what’s posted on your pages to prevent unwanted retweets or shares.
If you’re intent on turning over a new social leaf, it might also be wise to comb through your past posts to monitor for things that could smudge your social brand. Delete those duck-faced selfies, along with any nasty comments you may have made about others, after a couple of bevvies. Nobody needs to be reminded that they can go all Mean Girl after a hard day and a few adult beverages.
And lastly – and this may seem weird, but you just never know – Google yourself on a regular basis. Even if you’ve never been the subject of a newspaper article, or had a Wiki page dedicated to you, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for false or unflattering comments you might find attached to your name.
We are all works in process. Our society is a work in progress. Social Media is both a blessing and a curse, allowing us to connect to each other for good – or for ill.
Post wisely. All the Big Brothers are watching.