Getting abused online via Facebook, and Facebook’s complete lack of support

Language warning

Trigger warning: online harassment and abuse, death threats, online stalking

お久しぶり。 Long time no see.

It’s been a long time since I posted on this blog. I wish this post could be a happier update, talking about my new life in Kyoto, Japan. But something upsetting happened this week which I need to explain to anyone that’ll listen. It’s about the totally random online harassment I received last year via Facebook, and Facebook’s complete lack of support for me.

Background

I didn’t have a personal Facebook profile for many years. I haven’t liked Facebook for a long time. Its awful privacy policies, its virtual extortion of personal government ID data, its extremely creepy algorithms to identify me and the people I know, and yet extremely crappy algorithms that dictate my news feed; these reasons and more meant that I was very happy without a Facebook account.

But in 2014, when I decided to emigrate to Japan, I had friends who worried about how they’d keep in touch with me. (Apparently a blog, Skype, SMS, multiple chat apps, multiple emails, Twitter and just regular telephone calls weren’t enough – but that’s a different story.) So, as a compromise, I created a Facebook Page called Kyōto Bōken (which translates as “Kyoto Adventure”). Facebook Pages are different from regular accounts. They’re usually used by organisations or celebrities, and people with regular Facebook accounts can “Like” these pages.

Page accounts don’t have news feeds, so while my friends could read my posts, I couldn’t see their profiles or anything they posted on it. Which suited me just fine. In the past, I found that the news feed was a massive time suck, and having a Page account meant that I didn’t have to deal with that.

Kyōto Bōken had been live for about a year before the harassment started.

The Koshien app drama

In late July 2015, I received this comment on my Kyōto Bōken page:

Remove me from this page now!

I was confused to say the least. I can’t add anyone to my Facebook Page. I didn’t even advertise it. There were only about 20 people who “liked” the page and they were all my friends. Maybe someone shared my post to their own timeline and my page appeared on this person’s news feed? I explained this in a message to the person who sent it. He responded with:

Kyoto your site was hacked. Remove people who were added yourself or delete your page

Well, now I knew that I was dealing with someone who didn’t understand how Facebook works. I didn’t have a “site”, I had a Page on Facebook. I double-checked that it wasn’t hacked (I could log in and there wasn’t any vandalism on the page). I asked my friends if they had noticed any strange behaviour coming from my Page (they hadn’t). And like I mentioned before, I knew that I couldn’t post or comment on anyone’s account (only other Pages, which I hadn’t done). I can’t remove anyone because I didn’t add anyone! And I certainly wasn’t going to delete my Page just because he demanded it.

I tried explaining again, but his responses messages started getting nastier. And now there were other messages from other people asking or demanding to be removed from my Page.

Please delete me from your page

From koshien stadium please delete me from this

Please remove my name from the Koshien page!!!! I don’t even like sports!

Can you delete me..this..i not want it.

Delete me from that koshien crap i dont want to be apart of it!!!

I had no idea what was going on. My only hint was the word “Koshien” that kept appearing. Koshien is the name of a baseball stadium near Osaka. Actually, I had been to Koshien – and posted about it – just the day before the messages started. This was my post (before all the strange comments appeared):

the original post on Kyoto Boken about Koshien Stadium

I made a new post to my page explaining that I hadn’t hacked anyone, I hadn’t added people to my Page, that it was in fact impossible to do that. I was hoping that anyone making their way to my page to complain about would read it and understand. Well…

The online abuse

Here is a collection of responses I got to my post explaining that I wasn’t a hacker:

I too have been hacked by this person !! It’s been reported over & over. I live in the U,S,A & I think you do know mr. kyoto.

Get your piece of shit fucking app off my fucking Facebook you fucking cunt!

Probley cause you have blocked them all. Delete it and delete me from the stupid fucking thing which i didnt join!!

No it has not remove it you motherfucking chinch little bitch fuck you if you don’t you will be taking a dirt nap

Just in case you weren’t aware, “taking a dirt nap” is slang for dying. I had received a death threat and I still wasn’t even sure why.

Some people had figured out how to contact me via email and the Facebook Messenger app, so more comments came in:

Are you a fucking toddler? Do you seriously have nothing better to do with your life than to ad people to a meaningless facebook group? How very sad and pathetic. That being said, remove me from your pointless little group. And everyone else while you’re at it. You must be quite an insecure, insignificant little man to get your kicks out of doing something like this. I feel sadness for you and at the same time you make me want to laugh hysterically. Truely very sad for you, it must be awful to be you.

One man took it upon himself to go through my past Kyōto Bōken posts and make this same comment on fully ten different photos:

Your a cunt

The repetition and bad grammar almost made it funny.

But it wasn’t really funny at all. I’m pretty sure it was the same man who went to the Japan Cheapo website where I sometimes write articles and started bombarding the site with more abusive comments. According to my editor, “he was blowing up JC and we just banned him from the site”.

I’m also pretty sure it was the same man who found this blog, and went back through my archive to post these comments:

A screenshot of abusive comments made on my blog

Notice that he came back to my blog 6 times over the space of 5 days to make these comments. It wasn’t just one explosion of abusive spluttering until he felt better. He was thinking about me for about a week, and came back to harass me again and again. For something I didn’t do. And while not as explicit as the death threat I received earlier, there are undoubtedly threats in these messages. On top of that, these messages started about a week after most of the commotion on Facebook had calmed down. Even after other people had moved on from the drama, this guy couldn’t.

As an aside, I used the recorded IP address to find out that he’s a customer of the Comcast ISP in the United States. I contacted Comcast to report the IP address for harassment. I didn’t feel very hopeful after the conversations I had with the staff, but the abusive comments stopped soon after, so maybe Comcast actually did tell him to knock it off.

Facebook’s response, or lack of it

I had reported a lot of the abusive messages sent to me. Facebook’s abuse reporting system is fairly easy, and with a few clicks, the report was made. But every single thing I reported received this response:

Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the comment you reported for harassment and found it doesn’t violate our Community Standards.

Every. Single. One. Not a single report I made was found to violate their “standards”. Not the death threat. Not the repeat posts with insults. Not the harassment via email or their Messenger app. Actually, one of my posts was reported by one of my harassers and was taken down by Facebook. Sure, I was swearing in that post, but why was my post taken down and not theirs? I certainly wasn’t threatening anyone.

Wounds reopened

All this abuse happened over a year ago, in July and August of 2015. I’ve been reminded of it a few times since then, like when I uncovered the blog comments that had been deleted but not yet purged, or when I went through my email archives and found most of the automated emails sent from Facebook sent at that time. Every time I was reminded of it, my mood plummeted. I’ve deleted quite a lot of the traces of what happened then. The things that I have left, and what I shared in this blog post, were only a portion of the whole.

This week, I was reminded again of this saga when an acquaintance of mine jokingly complained that I didn’t respond to his message on Facebook. He showed me the message he sent, and I noticed that the avatar for my account was not my current avatar. In fact, it was the avatar for my old, long-deleted account. My original thought was that Facebook didn’t completely delete my old account, but after investigating a bit more, I found out that it’s a fake account, set up to impersonate me.

There was only one post on the profile, dated August 2015 – the same time as the abuse listed above. It links my name to Kyōto Bōken. There doesn’t seem to be any other activity after that. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was set up by the same man who commented on my blog and Japan Cheapo. So actually, there were other forms of abuse that I didn’t even know about for over a year: online impersonation.

A screenshot of the imposter Facebook account

Again, Facebook’s reporting system is pretty easy – with a few clicks, I reported the account as an impostor yesterday. But later the same day, I received this response:

Thanks for letting us know about something you think may go against our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment.

In this case, we reviewed the profile you reported and found that it doesn’t go against our Community Standards

I was speechless when I read this. I immediately rated the response poorly and explained at length that it was clearly an impostor account, but beyond that, Facebook doesn’t allow any kind of appeal system. The ticket is closed, and there’s no obvious way to reopen it. I reported the profile again, but Facebook seemed to recognise it as a duplicate and hasn’t created a new ticket in my support inbox.

When I realised that I couldn’t report the account again, I found myself in tears. In a way, Facebook’s response was worse than finding out that one of last year’s abusers had created an impostor account. I’ve been combing through my email archives and writing this blog post ever since then. It’s 6 a.m. (I’ve been up all night) and I’ve written 2000 words in this post already. Because I want to make very clear: while that is indeed a photo of me, it is not my account. My photo wasn’t simply cropped like that in my old account. The original photo showed the elephant in the background more clearly. I am not from Sydney. I would not write a status update saying that I am the Kyōto Bōken blogger – I would have created links to the relevant pages. Furthermore, my name is incredibly unique. I’m the only Magda Stremeski in the world. (“Stremeski” is a simplified version of my original surname and was created by my father. No one else has it.) That account is clearly fake.

What makes Facebook’s response even more infuriating and frustrating is that my own account was at one point suspended until I provided Facebook with a government-approved photo ID. I highly doubt the impostor account provided any kind of ID. And yet Facebook still can’t see that account for the fake it is?

The final straw

This response from Facebook has renewed my loathing for that company. Its “community standards” are weak if they don’t include forbidding death threats. Its appeal system is non-existent. Its process of identifying impostor accounts is awful.

So I’m boycotting Facebook. I’m deleting my account, my Kyōto Bōken page, and also my WhatsApp and Instagram accounts. I no longer wish to have anything to do with Facebook. Unfortunately, I know that they’ll still keep track of me, and they’ll still have a large amount of information about me. But I’m never going to actively use their products again. It’ll take a while to back up all my data and permanently delete the accounts, but I expect to be done by the end of next week.

To the friends who wonder how they’ll keep in touch with me, I say: get out of that Facebook walled garden and go see the rest of the internet. I suspect this blog might get a bit more active, for starters.

So what actually was this Koshien app?

The first answer to this question is: it doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t have had to suffer that abuse.

But I think it’s worth answering this question to point out that it would have been an even more hellish situation if the person targeted wasn’t tech savvy like me.

Not all the comments I received were abusive. Some asked for help politely, and thankfully a few people explained the problem better:

I haven’t got a clue who runs the Koshien app. But the problem is it has somehow been forcefully added to the mobile facebook apps of a lot of people in the same way we have apps like instagram whether we like it or not. I included a screenshot. People are upset because they cannot remove it like other apps. Hope that helps you understand what is happening.

The screenshot mentioned is gone now, but it looked just like any other Facebook app, like a game or Instagram.

A few lovely people were trying to defend me:

I can’t say for sure. But it looks like this guy has just tagged that page… much like you might tag a friend in your personal status update which results in your status appearing on that friends wall too. I think this man has tagged the page resulting in his blog post therefore showing up on the Koshien page as well. That does not necessarily mean the app is his at all.

I didn’t have access to this app. I couldn’t see for myself what was going on. So when I asked another person to describe what they saw when they clicked the app, they responded:

Thank you for your prompt reply and I can see you are getting abuse however I have this koshien icon appear on my side panel in Facebook it sits above trending when I press it Isee pic of stadium at very top says live events and obviously everything is n Chinese the other evening was trying to get live streaming of Celtic v qurabag game I clicked button and I think it said linking to Facebook truly am not sure I didn’t get the game it was only next day noticed the green button I have contacted Facebook but all they say is they don’t support this channel! I don’t know if there is anything you can do but thankyou for trying

So what I gathered is that this app trawled Facebook for any mentions of Koshien. Being a Japanese stadium, the vast majority of posts were in Japanese. But I happened to make a post about Koshien in English. This was used by the app and was either visible in the app or forced into people’s news feeds – I’m not sure. Since I had probably made the only English post visible in this app, the abusers honed in on my Kyōto Bōken Page and accused me of…well, all sorts of things.

Once I grasped the situation a bit better, I tried explaining to the people affected. After a while, I stopped hearing anything about it. I’m not sure if it’s because Facebook acted on complaints about the app, or if people figured out how to remove it.

This app was clearly malicious. It was either installed when the user clicked a suspicious link, like the sports livestream mentioned, or perhaps they had installed an app earlier that had been repurposed. There are thousands upon thousands of apps developed for Facebook that do all sorts of superficial things: maybe they allow people to change their avatars for a cause, or are games, or perhaps they are required to enter competitions. And because I’m tech savvy and a former IT professional, I know that these apps are bought and sold on a daily basis, so an app that may have started as a ribbon campaign ended up being sold to someone who wanted to use it maliciously. But the people affected by this app were clearly not aware that such things could happen.

The takeaway here is to think twice before giving permission to any app on Facebook (or just about anywhere). And if you don’t use an app any more, then revoke its permissions.

I also recommend ditching Facebook, but unfortunately I don’t think many people will listen to me.

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