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Once again, Facebook reporting algorithms facilitate harassment of pro-science advocates by antivaccine cranks

Nearly eleven years ago, back in April 2005, I opened my work e-mail (I was working at a different university back then) and saw an e-mail from someone whose name I had seen before, one Mr. William P. O’Neill. Opening the e-mail, I was shocked to find an e-mail to Orac; worse, the e-mail was cc’ed to my cancer center director, my division chief, and my chairman. In it, O’Neill outed me as Orac and was threatening to sue me over a post I did. Naturally, it was interspersed with accusations of my being a “pharma shill” and having lied about him. Now here’s the odd thing. This is the post that provoked Mr. O’Neill’s ire. All I did was point to Peter Bowditch’s website, specifically his 2004 Millenium Awards. Basically, he was pissed at me for approvingly citing his nemesis, who had taken great pleasure calling O’Neill the Gutless Anonymous Liar.

Thus ended my anonymity, a mere five months after my first blog post. Such is life as a blogger. Nowadays my pseudonym is more a nom de blog than any sort of protection against “outing,” as everyone knows who I am and anyone who doesn’t and can’t find out I consider too clueless to be worth dealing with. Since then, I’ve had more cranks take a run at me, either through “outing” me online or harassing me at work, than I care to remember. The most agita-inducing example occurred in 2010, when Jake Crosby accused me of an undisclosed conflict of interest with a pharmaceutical company, resulting in the antivaccine drones at Age of Autism sending complaints about this to my dean and the board of governors. Fortunately, nothing came of it, but I’ll never forget it.

I tell this story, which I’ve told several times before over the years, not so much because it’s so fascinating, but rather because it illustrates a fact of life that anyone who publicly criticizes cranks must realize. Not having evidence or science on their side, cranks, especially antivaccine cranks, attack the person. In particular, they go after what they perceive as their online critics’ weakest point: Their employers. I was reminded of this in a post on Skeptical Raptor by Dorit Rubinstein about a campaign of online harassment against Alison Hagood on Facebook. It includes all the same ugly, sorry tactics, including these actions:

  1. Started an online petition to Ms. Hagood’s employer requesting disciplinary action or termination.
  2. Repeatedly reported Allison to her school for her online activities, trying to get her fired.
  3. Posted her private address online.
  4. Emailed people she knows.
  5. Created a web site, the purpose of which is solely to harass Ms. Hagood.
  6. Repeatedly sent her insulting or threatening messages.

As I said, the same old tactics. Meanwhile, elsewhere, pro-vaccine advocates are subject to attacks on Twitter, in blogs, and on other social media. However, there is one new tactic that is more recent. Specifically, it’s about Facebook; specifically it’s about how antivaccinationists abuse Facebook’s reporting algorithms. I’ve written about this once before, when members of the Stop the Australian Vaccination Network were targeted by what was then called the Australian Vaccination Network for complaints against them on Facebook. Facebook, through its automated reporting algorithms, would then issue 12-hour, 24-hour, or even longer bans against pro-vaccine advocates.

Well, they’re at it again. Not the AVN this time, but another group of antivaccinationists, and they’re targeting Allison Hagood and others:

Last month, Facebook banned Ms. Hagood for 30 days, for posting an image that “violates community standards”. The image, with a caption Allison added, is shown below. This was her third ban in a row.

The original image, shared widely on Facebook by those who revile Ms. Hagood (shown above), is a photograph of Ms. Hagood’s green-tinted face photoshopped into a still of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz. The original caption reads, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!”…

For posting this image, Ms. Hagood was banned from Facebook for 30 days. It is likely, although impossible to prove, that the image was reported by the anti-vaccine activist who created the original image.

Dorit Reiss documents a Facebook conversation gloating about it on the Skeptical Raptor blog:

Anti-vaccine activist #1: Actually A hag’s (sic – the anti’s nickname for Allison) main account is about to come off a 30 day suspension, and I have just the comment to report that will extend it another 30 day
Anti-vaccine activist #2: [image of laughing squirrel with HAHAHA]
Anti-vaccine activist #3: Dahahahaa
Anti-vaccine activist #4: Go for it!
Anti-vaccine activist #5: Go for it!

A year later, they’re still at it. In fact, Allison’s been banned multiple times, including recently. Mostly it’s been Allison Hagood and Stacy Mintzer Herlihy, who co-authored a recent pro-vaccine book, Your Baby’s Best Shot: Why Vaccines Are Safe and Save Lives and seem to come in for particularly opprobrium from the antivaccine fringe. However, earlier this week, the man responsible for the Skeptical Raptor website fell into the sights of antivaxers. It’s useful to consider just how far they went to do this, too, and the way to do that is to look at a Facebook post one of my readers forwarded to me from an antivaccine group known as The Vaccine Resistance Movement (VRM). It’s a Facebook cesspit of the most radical, batshit radical antivaccinationists you’ll find. This is the post I was pointed to in that Facebook group (click to embiggen):

Yes, this is the sort of tactics that antivaccine loons use to harass and silence pro-science advocates on Facebook.
Yes, this is the sort of tactics that antivaccine loons use to harass and silence pro-science advocates on Facebook.

That last bit sounded very much like a threat.

So, yes, from this it appears that the above woman is behind at least one of these bogus complaints to Facebook. There are actually many more antivaccinationists harassing pro-science advocates on Facebook, but this is the one I saw in a public forum, thanks to one of my readers; so this is the one I’m naming and shaming.

Perhaps you are wondering what the “racial slur” that Skeptical Raptor allegedly made. Here’s what I meant when I was referring to just how far someone like Heather would go to find something to complain to Facebook about. What she found demonstrates not just her mendacity but Facebook’s cluelessness. I’m Facebook friends with Skeptical Raptor; so I know the story. While it’s a little more complicated than this, one thing that contributed to Raptor’s ban is a post of his from three years ago in which he referred to someone as “niggardly.” As anyone with any education knows, this word is not the N-word that is among the worst, if not the worst, of racial slurs, nor is it related to the N-word. Rather, it means, basically, stingy or cheap and has nothing to do with race or slurs. It turns out the Raptor used the word in a post in which he mocked someone who thought “niggardly” was a racist comment. Heather, clueless as she is, thought this word was related to the N-word. Even more cluelessly, Facebook accepted that explanation. Whether it happened at the level of its automatic algorithm or whether a real human approved the block, who knows? Facebook’s banning algorithms are the ultimate black box. They might as well be in the center of a black hole, given how impenetrable they are and how difficult it is to shine any light on them.

Because of idiocy like this, I don’t use the word “niggardly” anymore exactly because people these days are so clueless that they mistake the word for a racial slur. It’s a shame and I know it’s truly dumb, but unfortunately language has evolved and the stigma against the N-word is so strong that people hear something that sounds vaguely like it, and their brains shut down. There really is little point in fighting it any more. That battle was lost, and using that word risks getting bogged down explaining that it has nothing to do with the N-word and distracting from my message. Besides, my intentionally using the word as a protest isn’t going to change the way things are, and the way things are is that clueless wonders like this antivaccine warrior think the word is “hate speech,” and Facebook even more cluelessly agrees.

So let’s recap what we have here. We have a group of rabid antivaccine activists intentionally going through Facebook with a fine tooth comb to locate anything that they think they can report to Facebook that might get a temporary ban, and then they report it. It doesn’t matter how tenuous that “dirt” is. We have service (Facebook) with a system for dealing with hate speech and online harassment that is easily gamed to harass people, an observation that is ironic in the extreme, so much so that it would be amusing if it weren’t so destructive. Facebook’s reporting algorithm is now a tool of harassment, such that it can be used again and again to keep pro-science advocates banned and continually on their guard. Finally, Facebook’s double standard is so incredible that many complaints about things that should be complained about and should result in a ban result in no action. I personally have complained about harassing posts about myself and others, and each and every time I’ve received a notice that the post “does not violate Facebook community standards.” I’ve heard similar stories from several others.

Indeed, take a look at the comments after Dorit Reiss’ post. You’ll see that Allison Hagood has gotten another 30 day ban over, well, let her tell you:

I have just received my fourth 30-day ban for a post that in no way violates any community standards of any kind. The text:

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

That is fucking priceless. I am in love with Frau Heather’s irony right now.”

Referring to someone by their first name is not harassment, not bullying, not a personal attack. Laughing at someone’s idiocy is not harassment, not bullying, not a personal attack.

Also, Allison’s posting of a link to Dorit Reiss’ article on harassment on Facebook was also reported as “hate speech.” Meanwhile, in the comments after her post, Heather is posting screenshots of Facebook confirming that the targets of her complaints had received temporary bans and gloating heartily. Obviously, my opinion of her is incredibly low. She is cowardly, vindictive, and, let’s be frank, a complete and total asshole. She is also welcome to comment here to defend herself if she wishes. Her first comment will go to moderation, but I’ll approve it, and after that she will be able to comment freely. Somehow, I doubt she’ll take me up on my offer, because she can’t function anywhere where she isn’t preaching to a friendly, approving crowd cheering her on for her dishonest use of the Facebook reporting system.

So, in the end, once again antivaccinationists have no science, only pseudoscience. They have no good evidence, only cherry picked data twisted into an unrecognizable pretzel in the service of supporting their pseudoscience. So they attack the person, facilitated by Facebook’s reporting algorithm. It’s truly despicable behavior and not at all disappointing for antivaccinationists. After all, it’s what they do; we don’t expect anything more honorable from them, and meanwhile, those who’ve aligned themselves with the antivaccine movement who try to portray themselves as nice and honorable guys (I’m talking to you, Dr. Jay Gordon) stay silent. What is disappointing is that one of the richest companies in the world, a company that revolutionized social media, is apparently incapable of preventing itself from being played for a sucker by antivaccine activists turning its tools intended to prevent and stop harassment into tools to harass.

Either that, or the people running Facebook just don’t care. After all, it’s not just antivaccine cranks who can game the system. In response to complaints, Facebook routinely deletes peaceful, anti-racist posts by activists, doling out 24-hour and 30-day bans the way it has to Stacy and Allison, while deciding after similar complaints against them that bigoted posts calling for preparing for violence against Muslims don’t violate Facebook’s community standards.

Truly, Facebook is broken, and its system designed to police community standards seems to indicate that community standards favor pseudoscience, bullying, racism, and harassment.

ADDENDUM: A little birdie told me that the administrators of VRM took down Heather’s post and sent me this (click to embiggen):

Heather's post removed

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

232 replies on “Once again, Facebook reporting algorithms facilitate harassment of pro-science advocates by antivaccine cranks”

one thing that contributed to Raptor’s ban is a post of his from three years ago

A post from 3 years ago?

That really is mendacious.

Also I would be willing to bet my left testicle that Heather is fully aware that niggardly is not racist.

This is why I don’t “do” social media. All it does is allowing all the bad things about real-life “leak into” your online life.- the very thing I come to the Internet to avoid. Me hanging around here in these comments on this blog is a rare glitch in my otherwise introverted self…

Also… who the heck is Oraq? Orac’s Middle-Eastern cousin mayhaps?

I just went over to Raptor’s blog and found this:

http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/antivaccine-activists-attack-allison-hagood-using-facebook/#more-8672

It reveales the extent of the harassment Mrs (Ms?) Hagood has endured in more detail, including rape and death threats – ON HER PHONE. To me, someone sending you a text message is far, faaaaar more “intimate” than an email or other online message and would freak me the hell out.

Err. I was wrong. It was on Facebook still – that message interface looks soooo much like the iOS texting interface…

Orac: “Not having evidence or science on their side, cranks, especially antivaccine cranks, attack the person.”

In a way this is an improvement. When I first started studying quackery many years ago they used to sue. Many lawyers had no problems taking on such clients. Fortunately the court system quickly began to rule against the quacks.

Thank you for this column.

This is the post that got me a three day suspension from Facebook:

For making the following statements a few years ago about a Neo Nazi anti-vaxer :

Heather makes some of the most vile statements I’ve ever seen posted anywhere outside of places like stormfront where the fucking Nazis gather. She should be grateful that Allison deigns to mock her. Were I charge of the universe, she would not be allowed to leave the house without her KKK robes and burning cross so as to warn the world about the kind of person she is.

This is the same woman I wrote up a few years ago on The Times of Israel:

http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/anti-semitic-hate-speech-antivaccine-cult/

She’s an unrepentant Nazi. She’s harassing my writing partner. She calls for the death of my kids. And Facebook takes her side and bans me.

@Stacy

I don’t see why Facebook should punish her. Countries that actually put people in jail for Holocaust Denial baffle me. I am of the opinion that there should be no limit to free speech, idiotic ideas should be put out there for all to see and laugh at – especially on Facebook where there is a blooming photo and name of the one making the argument.

It is only when you start talking about the things they do ban it becomes an issue because it is obvious that there is a way to abuse the system to silence other people.

I don’t want to put her in jail. I don’t even want her suspended from Facebook. What I want is for Facebook to tell me I have the right to call her a Nazi without banning me. She is a Nazi. I want them to stop harassing my writing partner as well.

Facebook isn’t doing this. I’m baffled as to why.

I guess I was right to stay off of facebook despite multiple entreaties by people I know.
( Not my cup of tea: I frequently read one of my gentlemen’s page wherein the political commentary by others is often mind-shatteringly awful despite his extremely liberal/ socialistic position I can hear that on television if I so choose)..

HOWEVER watching woo-meistery, I’ve learned that some of the its thought leaders** want followers to make avid use of it to publicise / proselytise their agenda and product line- both of which are usually interdependent. Mikey brags about his ” 1.7 million” followers. Null claims ” 150 million” responses to prn.fm ( facebook et al). Anti-vax groups manage to scrounge up 15K to 30K ( except for Vaccine Machine which hovers around 50K).

Interestingly, one of the outlets near and dear to my heart**, TMR- which is now four years old- actually started amongst a group of facebook friends some of whom attended university together and others who were attracted by the bright and shining woo. Its inner circle uses their personal facebook to advise newcomers about how to treat their children’s symptoms. Supposedly, there is another social networking interface which they use as well to shield their inner workings from SB lurkers.

** sarcasm

It is just like YouTube and their stupid content ID-system – all automated, too. Seems to be these people have figured out how to Facebook’s autmated system against people they don’t like.

I once had an anti-GMO nutter go through my Facebook to attempt to prove that it was not the decade old profile that it actually is (his gist being that I was lying about not being a Monsanto shill). He managed to find out that the Facebook timeline started 9 years ago and took that as proof that I was lying. Only other thing he came back with was a video of me swimming one of my last national meet races as a collegiate athlete, because apparently that should be embarrassing to me.

My profile is now locked down about as tightly as it can be.

People be cray.

You know what’s NOT considered abuse by Facebook? Death threats!

From my good friend Melody Butler at Nurses Who Vaccinate

“Seems like Rosie enjoys sending threats to those she disagrees with. She’s been messaging the page with several threatening posts detailing how she plans to kill members of our organization. If anyone can provide information on Rosie we can pass on to authorities when we file our report it would be greatly appreciated.”

Thank you Orac for addressing this issue. Like Stacey mentioned above, comments that call for me to be killed and my brain ripped out apparently are acceptable to remain on Facebook despite attempts by many including myself to report them. There’s a whole collection I can send you if need be. Thankfully the poster is several thousands of miles away from me, but still, it’s always a nerve-wracking to have such threats directed to you at a personal level.

I am of the opinion that there should be no limit to free speech

There always will be limits. Shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater is not, and should not be, protected speech. Speech intended to incite violence is not, and should not be, protected speech. If any of the people who have posted rape or death threats against Ms. Hagood live in New Hampshire, they are in violation of RSA 631:4, which prohibits criminal threatening (and the act is a felony if a deadly weapon is involved in the threat). I assume other states have statutes along the lines of New Hampshire’s. Facebook has a serious problem if they are allowing the issuers of such threats to escape punishment.

I agree that prohibiting Holocaust denial is too much regulation, but a line needs to be drawn somewhere.

In principle, I agree with not limiting speech. I will point out, however, that the U.S. criticism of laws censoring Holocaust denial in Europe comes from a position of privilege. We are a two-party majoritarian electorate system where small, extreme parties can’t easily get a foothold in the legislature or executive, though they can have an influence – and we were removed from the direct impact of Nazi control of countries.

Countries where, through coalition government, small parties can have more direct role in policy making and where the Nazi scars were still fresh when these laws were passed are not in the same position.

The way to battle speech is, generally, more speech. But remember that it’s easier to do when the system has other built in controls against dangerous extremes getting power.

That’s not directly relevant to this problem, though. I don’t think anyone here was advocating for silencing Holocaust denial.

I think death threats (DEATH THREATS!) ought to be grounds for suspension from Facebook if not complete removal. I don’t think Allison and I should be punished for calling a Nazi a Nazi. I mean it’s not as if she’s denying it.

I should say it now-

Stacy, Dorit, Allison and Melody-

I applaud the fine work you’re doing and I’m sure that many readers here feel much the same.

@Eric. Ah the old “shouting fire in a cinema”-thingy. That would imply that freedom of speech == freedom of consequences.

Which it is not. You should be free to shout “Fire!” in a cinema as long as you are prepared to face the possibility of punishment for causing a panic – that is not something free speech shields you from!

Heather?

You know what you’re really inspiring us to do? Speak up even louder in favor of vaccines. And write a second book. I am working a new sample chapter in between commenting here.

Thank you for covering the nearly 17 months of harassment I’ve been receiving. Most of that has been from this person and others, some involved with and encouraged by her, but there have been others who’ve contacted my employer and left me anonymous threatening voice mails at my office.

The involvement of this particular individual began when she posted, on a public Facebook book (now gone) designed to attack AVWoS, a shocking, anti-Semitic Holocaust denial screed in which she blamed WWII on “the Jews” and stated that Hitler never wanted war. I still have a screenshot of that, which I took at the time and posted elsewhere as an example of the strong thread of anti-Semitism that runs through the anti-vaccine movement.

Since that public posting of her public anti-Semitism, she has been relentless in harassing, cyberstalking, doxing, and threatening me. I wonder if her behavior is related not only to her conspiracy theories about vaccines (among other things – she seems to believe every conspiracy that exists) but also to her discomfort at the thought that someone she cares about may not respond well if they discover her anti-Semitism.

I appreciate that this issue is getting wider coverage.

Thank you Alison and Stacy and Micheal and Dorit and Melody for the work you are doing. Sorry it is making you the target of such nasty people, please be comforted that there are people of good will who abhor that they are trying to shut you up.

Facebook really needs to get a grip on the malicious use of there reportng systems. I was banned out right when someone maliciously reported me for not using my ‘real’ name. Now I know that they want you to use your ‘real’ name, but there are plenty of people who have a whole host of different but good reasons not to use their ‘real’ name. Furthermore in the UK it is perfectly legal to use any name you want as long as you are not doing so with the intent to commit crime. It seems to be impossible to reach a human to challege such decisions.

Thanks Lord Oraq (sic) for posting this article.

My patience with these whackaloons has slowly been disappearing. At first, I found them amusing, because it’s obvious, like Orac the Wizard has written, they lack evidence, so they go on the attack.

Facebook is a fun social place for me. I swear that most of my posts are about politics (Bernie bots are as annoying, but they don’t go anti-semitic or hate-filled, because well that would be ironic) and the Walking Dead. And metal. Sir Orac the Wise and I have had long chats about the merits of certain types of Goth Metal. Seriously. We should post those publicly.

Gloryhammer rules. No, that’s not a euphemism for Donald Trump’s…errrrrr….hands.

These jackasses aren’t going to scare me off of Facebook.Because I never would have known about Gloryhammer and zombie unicorns (yeah, trust me, it makes sense) if it weren’t for a conversation on Facebook. And no anti-vaxxer, anti-semitic dumbass is going to keep me from learning who’s next on the Walking Dead.

This type of behavior is why the Select committee looking into Planned Parenthood should not get the names of the researchers!

We appreciate your support, Jazzlet. Heather and her cohort of idiots will not silence our voices.

@Amethyst #20:

You should be free to shout “Fire!” in a cinema as long as you are prepared to face the possibility of punishment for causing a panic

And what if someone gets trampled to death in the panic? Would you still be comfortable with your choice?

The way to battle speech is, generally, more speech.

It is for exactly this reason that death threats should be (and are, in some states) prohibited. The intent of a death threat is to prevent the target from responding with more speech, whether by terrorizing her into not speaking up, or silencing her by force. When the authorities cannot act until after the latter has happened, this is not good for rational discussion of the issue–at that point it’s too late for the victim, and the rest of the public sphere doesn’t get to hear her views on the issue.

There is probably a clause in the Facebook TOS that specifies the venue for applicable law (presumably the California county in which Facebook’s corporate headquarters is located). Most software companies have such a clause in the license agreement. But there should still be ways of turning up the heat on Facebook. If California has a similar law to the New Hampshire statute I linked in post #16, report it to the California police. If the issuer or recipient of such a threat lives in a state with such a law, report it to the appropriate local authorities. Make Facebook’s lawyers explain to the police why Facebook’s willful failure (if it’s been duly reported to Facebook, then they can’t claim not to know) to take action against members issuing such threats does not constitute aiding and abetting.

In principle, I agree with not limiting speech. I will point out, however, that the U.S. criticism of laws censoring Holocaust denial in Europe comes from a position of privilege. We are a two-party majoritarian electorate system where small, extreme parties can’t easily get a foothold in the legislature or executive, though they can have an influence – and we were removed from the direct impact of Nazi control of countries.

Countries where, through coalition government, small parties can have more direct role in policy making and where the Nazi scars were still fresh when these laws were passed are not in the same position.

I used to write about these issues a lot back in the day because my “gateway” to skepticism was refuting the lies of Holocaust deniers. If you search the term “David Irving” you’ll see that I’m opposed to the criminalization of Holocaust denial and was quite vocal ten years ago that David Irving should not be charged in Austria with Holocaust denial, much less imprisoned for it.

As for the position of privilege, I pointed out ten years ago that I totally understood the purpose of these laws in the immediate aftermath of World War II and could agree how necessary they were then. Here’s the problem. When I wrote those posts about David Irving, it was over 60 years after the war; today it’s more than 70 years after the war. It’s thus been close to three generations since Hitler shot himself in his bunker and the allies came across the camps as they advanced into Germany. There comes a time when the training wheels have to come off. It’s not unreasonable to ask: When is that time? One would think that three generations would be long enough. After all, the youngest members of the generation that was old enough to actually fight in the war are now in their late 80s.

The issue is really Facebook’s double standards. I am suspended for calling a woman a Nazi when she praises Hitler. Someone threatens Melody with death or pm’s me “c-world with fugly baby rot in hell,” and we are told they are not violating any standards.

There’s not even anyone you can complain to at the organization. I’ve tried and gotten nowhere. If Facebook is going to act as our de facto public square, officials at the company need to do a better job of policing it.

Heather Ann Murray strikes me as the sort who used to draw glasses, unibrows, buckteeth and devil horns on people’s yearbook pictures. Possibly scrawled comments in bathroom stalls, too.

How can I help? Is there any way the pro-vaccination readers can help? If I send information to Facebook will they read it?

Pro-vaccination information needs to be on the web. Is there anything your readers can help keep it there?

I’ve commented about this on FB but I’ll put it here, also. FB doesn’t support the injured, only the injurees.

My cousin has children dying of a neurological (rare) disease, genetically caused. She loves her children dearly and posts pictures of them regularly. One person took some of her pictures and posted them in his/her account, with foul language on them. She properly PM’d the person to remove them. They refused so my cousin tried to report them. First FB replied the picture didn’t violate the TOS (!) – there’s no real way to say the person took a personal picture and photoshopped it. When my cousin protested again, the creep reported her for harassment and she was locked out for 24 hours. I tried to protest, and the creep took one of my pictures and also put foul language on it. FB did nothing about that, either, “it doesn’t violate the TOS”. I should have been breastfeeding. Maybe THAT would have done it…

Anyway, several of my friends and my cousin’s friends posted and reported. Some got 24 hour suspensions for the report, most got “doesn’t violate TOS” messages. My cousin and I ended up blocking the person and locking down our sites more.

FB is seriously screwed up when people can do things like this with impunity, and those who try to protest are those punished.
We know Mark Zuckerburg is pro vaccine. Now let’s see if he is pro science.

Facebook’s policy regarding what is acceptable and what is not, really blows my mind. Personally, I don’t have an account, but I’ve heard enough on other media from my friends, who tried for example to report a page promoting violence against women or using Nazi imagery to threaten immigrants and refugees. However, since the text wasn’t in English, getting someone to react was usually a long and difficult process. And not always successful, either.

Anyway, I would like to thank here all the people who have to withstand such nasty attacks for their support of science.

Anyone else thinking that Facebook employees dealing with reports and handing out suspensions might be anti-vaxxers themselves? That would explain nicely why one side gets banned on a regular basis while anti-vax crowd continue their harassment spree.

I don’t really support laws prohibiting holocaust denial even in countries with a history, so am not really going to defend that. The battle there should be one of speech. And I think Orac makes an excellent point about the passage of time. On issues that are not holocaust denial statutes, however, I still think European countries have more justification to take measure like prohibiting certain political parties and penalizing certain kinds of hate speech – because their political systems are more vulnerable to direct effects of such actions, and even with the passage of time, the history is there.

The concept of militant or defensive democracy – a democracy that can use limits on speech to protect itself – is tricky, but not without basis.

Those stories are so upsetting. I’m really sorry, MI Dawn. Automated or person, that goes far beyond speech and there is no excuse for letting it – or what Melody was subjected to – stand.

I sometimes wonder if crap like this is going to drive Facebook (or somebody like them) to produce Strong AI in order to have a means of outflanking whackaloons from exploiting their reporting systems. The reason these algorithms even exist is because Facebook doesn’t have the manpower to deal with 1.5 billion bitchy whiners and they are always searching for more efficient ways to fill the deficit. Sorry for the off-topic; my commiserations for Allison et al. Fight the good fight.

I’m a plaintiff’s attorney and science groupie in Colorado. This article outlines a number of actions that would likely be actionable in court – intentional interference with contractual relations pops right to mind, privacy violations, etc. Have scientists fought back by taking these harassers to court?

Orac, Raptor, Dorit and Melody

Please go to a page on Facebook called ‘The Internet Offends Me’, send them a quick message. If any help can be provided regarding the harassment you’ve been receiving, it is there.

Heather admitted to me yesterday that her and her serpents deliberately targeted 10 people to report and “literally laughed thier asses off” when they found out they were all banned. This is not the result of using an algorithm – this is double standards and someone in facebook is facilitating this vile harassment.

My vote goes to “…or the people running Facebook just don’t care.”

Should we give her some of her own medicine? And other anti-vaxxers as well. Scour trough comments over comments and report everything even remotely problematic, to shred her with bans and the like.

Erik @ 41 – I do not have the financial resources to pursue legal action. I have already spent a couple thousand dollars on legal fees getting my attorney involved in the harassment at work, merely to have legal representation to interact with my employment system to ensure that the system understood what was happening and why, and how to protect my First Amendment rights.

Death and rape threats? Damn it, report the to the POLICE – they can get Facebook to do the right thing for a change, but more importantly, the whackjob antivaxers can be charged for that sort of crap. Log it, screen shot it, print it – bring in the reams of print outs to file the complaints – Police like it when you bring loads of evidence to back up your complaint and threatening people electronically can damn well get you jail time over here in Oz.

@Orac,

I’ve been on auto-moderate here at RI for about 1-year because of my consistent and effective posts related to the hazards of natural rubber latex in vaccine packaging?

I’d rather be banned for 30-days at RI than have a life-time sentence of auto-moderate.

ClaudeL @42 – I did that several days ago, during the brief window when my account was not suspended. I haven’t heard back.

“My vote goes to “…or the people running Facebook just don’t care.””

They very likely do care though perhaps not in the way in which you imagine.

There is legal safety in an algorithmic response. Once a human touches an issue such as this and applies human “judgement” they risk a loss of immunity from legal liability under the Communications Decency Act. You’ll find the same sort of thing with Google/YouTube bogus copyright complaints and similar disputes on many other sites.

Of course FB could respond to the issue by improving their algorithms, but only if they can do so in a broad, non-discriminatory fashion. Or if they feel a significant legal or political backlash on this particular issue.

Otherwise, they may see this as not much of a problem. After all, they are a business. If they lose customers or have their reputation tarnished they may become motivated. But if the complainers keep clamoring to get back into FB their business is perfectly safe. The conflict can even increase traffic and revenue.

If I were Heather, I really don’t think I’d want the world to know that I was a Nazi who is harassing pro-vaccine advocates. Is she under the impression that her campaign here wasn’t going to be noticed? Maybe she runs in the kind of circles where the KKK hood is some of a badge of honor but for most normal people, it doesn’t look good.

There has to be some way to let Mark Zuckerburg know that his site is being to fight against a cause he supports. When we were looking for someone to write a foreword to our book, I went to contact a few people including Melinda Gates. Maybe someone should let her know what’s going on and she can try and catch his ear?

I’d rather be banned for 30-days at RI than have a life-time sentence of auto-moderate.

Oh please please, it would be like Christmas!!!1!

The FaceBook reporting algorithm is clearly still a work in progress. I once reported some soft-core porn (mostly because it’s extra not coll when you go photoshopping other people’s faces on porn) and I was told that it was not in violation of community standards, which is absurd.

That said, I know a few people and I’ll see if I can get them to tell me more about it, and how much it is discussed internally (although not the specifics of that discussion).

I have a feeling that as this election season goes on the ban-as-tool-of-harassment will be used more and more.

The attempted edits to Allison’s W—dia page by 72.228.93.219 (ironically, in Syracuse)* are sadly amusing, not least because this person keeps trying to reinstate them.

* If only it were Rochester, abode of whatever passes for Christina Waldman’s law practice.

rs @53:
“There is legal safety in an algorithmic response.”

Agreed. Beyond that, Facebook could never afford to hire enough people to have a human look at every single thing. With the better part of a billion users you would need a couple of million people just to keep up.

What they should have is an algorithm that identifies accounts that are regularly placed on a ban to see 1) if the ban request always comes from the same person or group and 2) if the ban is actually justified.

If person A always submits complaints about person B, but person B doesn’t submit an equal number of complaints, then it might be worth having a human look at. Or if Person C is responsible for the banning of 80 people, that might also be a flag.

The issue is that the people who would be looking at this stuff would probably have to have extra training, making them even harder to come by.

Narad @359 – I have a name to put with that person/IP address. He also has posted defamatory statements in public, claiming that he believes I am working myself and my “followers” up to actual violence against anti-vaccine advocates, and kidnapping of their children. He references me by full name, and provides information on my employer so people can contact them to complain and demand that I be fired.

Those public posts have been deeded not a violation of community standards.

There has to be some way to let Mark Zuckerburg know that his site is being to fight against a cause he supports.

Twatter?

…my consistent and effective posts…

This is half true, which is a high point for MjD.

I’d rather be banned for 30-days at RI than have a life-time sentence of auto-moderate.

Be very careful what you ask for.

Once a human touches an issue such as this and applies human “judgement” they risk a loss of immunity from legal liability under the Communications Decency Act.

I’d have to look for actual cases, but my memory is that the Section 230 protection is plenty broad regarding moderation of comments.

Should we give her some of her own medicine? And other anti-vaxxers as well. Scour trough comments over comments and report everything even remotely problematic, to shred her with bans and the like.

No.

Why not give her a taste of her own medicine? She deserves to be watched closely at the very least, especially given her campaign of harassment. I blocked Lowell Hubbs and got him suspended after he got me a 24 hr suspension for calling him out on his multiple DUI’s.

Another thing to do is see we can go after some more major media like Time / the Washington Post or NY Times.

“I’d have to look for actual cases, but my memory is that the Section 230 protection is plenty broad regarding moderation of comments.”

Agreed. Perhaps I was too vague, but then so are the courts at times. Moderation is a vague term, as is what is considered inappropriate content. For a company it’s always safer to keep humans out of the loop in these matters so they can be seen to be as neutral as possible. Even when humans do intervene their communication about decisions is crafted to obfuscate who or what is making the decision.

Thanks, Dorit. It just reinforced my knowledge that some people haven’t advanced mentally or socially beyond a very immature age, but that there are a lot of good people out there, even strangers, who will act on an atrocity to help out.

I have also suffered from both a 24 hour ban & also an “age-check” on my FaceBook account….I’m not sure exactly how they are gaming the system, but they certainly have gotten rather good at inflicting various amounts of pain on their targets.

I disagree with looking for comments to report. Even more with spurious reporting. These kinds of tactics are for those with nothing else (and nothing better to do). If there is real harassment we need to find other tactics to stop it.

We need to work to fix the system, not waste time swatting gnats.

It would be nice if say, a Forbes or Huffington Post, did a piece on this….

Then how do we fix the system? Surely Zuckerburg would be horrified if he actually knew what that his own site was being used to harass pro-vaccine activists. How do we get in touch with someone there and demand change?

I posted once about Swann’s garbage story he posted on local cbs, and received about fifty conspiracy nutjob replies in my email. Obviously that only served to have me keep vaccinating those little disease incubators as per schedule. Although I use my middle finger more now to guide my needle.

It’s more like — the consistent [garbage] posts by desktop jockey that is mjd. If there was a silence user post option in this forum, it’d be a just a little slice of heaven. I dream big some days, I know.

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