I Might Have Reported You on Facebook, But They’ll Never Tell

Facebook has some nifty privacy and community safety tools that are far from perfect, but do let all of us play a role in keeping the online community safer. There are many things you can do to “protect” yourself from having to see content that you don’t like – you can unfollow someone but remain friends, you can hide posts, you can put people in restricted categories and you can always unfriend/block someone.

Reporting is a tool to address inappropriate content that someone else posts. Facebook decides if the content is a violation of their “Terms of Service” (TOS) so when you are in doubt, report. Maybe you are being too sensitive or overreacting. That’s why you can report and someone else makes the actual decision. Or you can not report. Either way, you aren’t doing anything wrong.

So I report things a lot. I report suicidal content. I report content that I perceive to violate the “terms of service” in regard to being sexist or homophobic or transphobic. I once reported a photo of an 11-year-old boy wearing a dress which showed some of his genitalia – his older brother posted that with the boy’s name to shame him. Nice, huh? I’ve reported lots of things. Sometimes, Facebook agrees with me and sometimes they don’t. I’ve also had my content removed and I’ve had “warnings” when I violated the TOS. It comes with the territory. While I’m sure I moan and groan about it, I don’t blame someone else for snitching on me.

One time in a workplace, I hung up a poster which a coworker perceived to be a depiction of a vulva, something she found uncomfortable. I took it down. She shouldn’t feel uncomfortable at work. I wasn’t reprimanded, just asked to take down the poster. I laughed with my coworkers at the irony that the office feminist was unintentionally creating an uncomfortable work environment. I apologized to them all because I was wrong. And it was fine.

I realize that some people reports things to be jerks, but the bigger issue is that if you are following the basic rules that you agreed to when you opened an account – your stuff won’t be taken down. Facebook doesn’t owe you any special exemption or privilege. You always have the option of setting up your own website and controlling your content. 

Please stop telling people you know who reported your stuff. That’s not true. And it contributes to a culture where we use social intimidation to control people. If someone reported you and it doesn’t seem fair, think about it – this is Facebook. It isn’t supposed t be fair. Life isn’t fair. Crappy stuff happens and sometimes figuring out whom to blame is not remotely helpful. Not everything is tied to someone’s agenda (gay or otherwise.) Sometimes making people feel like using reporting tools is a bad thing will cause come back to haunt them discourages reporting. 

We need reporting. We need rules and laws and social norms that protect vulnerable people AND we need people to enforce those things. We certainly don’t need people to quiver about being “outed” as someone who reports things.

This is the exasperating part – There is NO WAY to identify who reported your post/photo/page to Facebook. Facebook does not provide that information. I’ve seen all sorts of wild claims by angry people who’ve been reported – Facebook will tell them for a $10 fee, they figured it out using magical powers of deduction, they have a friend of a friend whose cousin works at Facebook, etc. I’ve watched FB groups decide that they get to set their own rules and go on a witch hunt for people who disagree.  This is irksome and clubhouse mentality. 

At best, you are making assumptions and at worst, you are spreading lies. Either way, you are intimidating people into turning a blind eye to rule breaking. And that, my friend, is bullying. You don’t know, you are just guessing. So at least be honest enough to say “I’m making a random guess based on no concrete facts” Sometimes people are jerks, but does it really make sense to spend your time figuring out something that’s impossible to determine? If you want a clue that someone isn’t treating you right, you won’t find it by guessing about Facebook reports. And all of that energy could be put toward something other thing that is possible to control. 

In 2006ish, I reported some neighbors to FourSquare for violating TOS because it was interfering with my ability to use the tool for a non-profit organization (long story.) They continue to retaliate against me because some mutual party told them it was me. They set up a fake venue at my house called “Hag Bag HQ Welcome to Whoreville All Dykes Welcome” – at my house. At my house. They pestered me for months and years on FourSquare and Facebook. They got someone involved who was charged with illegally purchasing a gun. They never miss an opportunity to taunt and harass me online. And most people say to me that I shouldn’t have reported them as if my doing so made all the rest of it okay. This is the sort of stuff the happens. Years of being stalked online over something so petty. Just because they can.

So I’m quite familiar with how much damage these types of bitchfest/grudge comments can cause.

Holding a grudge against someone because you think they reported you to Facebook is ridiculous. First of all, you don’t know anything for certain so that seems like a waste of your energy. Second, if your content was a violation of the TOS, that’s on you. If you don’t want to be reported, try to follow the basic rules. If you veer over a line and get reported – take it like an adult and modify your Facebook usage. Or vent about the rules, but don’t blame the messenger. If you are a true believer in your cause, start a petition to change the policy. Just don’t be petty about it.

Personally, I think it GREAT when you report content. You are part of the solution – the person who speaks up to say “what a minute …” instead of just turning away. You are the person who calls 911 instead of taking video with your phone. You are the person who tries to get the stray dog off the highway instead of just saying “poor little guy.” You are the person who calls 911, 311, and 211 when you think something is amiss. You are on the front lines picking up on situations where children are abused, elders are lying on the floor of their home with a broken hip and a neighbor is being smacked around by her boyfriend. You are the person who gets the abandoned lot cleared of needles, broken glass and other dangerous conditions, then helps plant a garden. You are the person who learns about the 14 year olds on the stroll in Pittsburgh and roll up your sleeves to help.

We need MORE people to file reports, not fewer. We need people to watch out for 11-year-old boys. We need people to respond when someone posts comments about potential self-harm. We need to say “my bad” when we break a rule and not blame someone else. And we need to NOT spread rumors and innuendo and gossip. Why on earth find more reasons to spread gossip? bullshit2

Facebook is never going to tell you who reported your content. So let’s stop tossing around this idea that we know who it is and stay focused on making this a better community for everyone. 

The next time someone tries to tell me they know who reported them, I’m going to lean in and whisper “Hashtag Bullshit.”

And then I’m going to let it go.

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