Facebook profits from threats, harassment & defamation, why can’t the victims? 

In part one I wrote about the ways that the right uses social media to threaten, harass and defame people. In part two I want to look at how to get accountability for those threatening and attacking people online. Historically, I have shown multiple groups how to organize negative financial consequences for those engaging in violent rhetoric in right wing media. (Reminder, *I* successfully beat Disney/ABC/KSFO in a copyright case.)

One way I did that was look at who made a company money & what costs a company money then used that understanding to show companies that what they thought was an asset, can be a liability, unless they took action.

I believe that there should be criminal and civil accountability for those threatening and attacking people online and punishment for the wealthy individuals and organizations behind it that are connected with and profit from specific threats, harassment and defamation campaigns. Let me show you one example of how it could be done.

Right now my editor at Crooks and Liars, Karoli, is facing a suspension of her personal Facebook account. She was phished and hacked. The hacker inserted offensive words and images in her account. She reported it right away. but she can’t get Facebook to act.


The Facebook algorithm caught the offensive words and images. If it WAS reviewed the outsourced review by contractors they didn’t know that she was a “high profile individual” connected to Crooks and Liars. What she needed was a human at Facebook to recognize this connection, understand that this was an organized attack and do something about it.

Based on the excellent reporting by Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman at Buzzfeed News, we know that Facebook has a process to help “high profile individuals” so when they are reported by people, they will “cross check” or “XCheck,” them to determine what is happening that an AI would miss.

I happen to think that Karoli is a “high profile individual” but how do I get to a human at Facebook and convince them of that?

I suppose I could call Sheryl Sandberg and say, “Hey Sheryl, Karoli’s page was removed by your AI when she was phished during an organized campaign of harassment. I’d like to get it restored, but I’d also like the entire Crooks and Liars’ staff to be on your human reviewed “cross check” list, because the attackers won’t just stop with her. ”

She’s probably say, “Spocko? You are a crook and a liar? Cross check? What?” [Security! Trace this call!]

If I got to complete the call she might tell a human at Facebook to review Karoli’s case & restore her page. For most people that would be enough. But frankly I want to more. I want to see accountability for those threatening and attacking her online. Because as I wrote the other day, accepting threats on social media should not be part of anyone’s job.

But who should we contact so that there are negative consequences for the people doing the harassing? Who will pursue the people who organized and funded the harassing? Will they pay a price for their use of these phishers using these specific vile accusations on an individual’s page?

Karoli mostly posts cute doggy pics, like this.

We have this assumption that if the people are caught and punished severely enough in the legal system, they will change their behavior. But if there are no negative legal consequences, why would anyone bother to change their behavior?

I’ve found that there are some concrete steps you can take to defend yourself and others from online harassment. Like:

These are all great, but what I am interested in are cases where people won civil suits against harassers, organizers and the funders.

PEN America lists a case against the publisher of The Daily Stormer where they were ordered to pay $14 million and another one against an individual who was ordered to pay $6.45 million in damages.

In part one of my piece I noted that major journalism organizations should be filing civil suits against the organizers of people who are harassing and threatening others. So many of these resources I listed are directed toward helping the individual, but this an rare individual problem. It’s a collective problem that needs a larger collective response.  

For example, the type of attack that Senator Lana Theis chose to use against Senator Mallory McMurrow the other day is similar to the type attack that was directed at Karoli and Ketanji Brown Jackson. Recently Jane Mayer did a piece identifying who is behind these attacks and used these specific words and phrases to defame.

I’m not saying that American Accountability Foundation is behind the attacks on Karoli and Crooks and Liars, but what a lot of people don’t know is that FACEBOOK likely knows EXACTLY who is behind the attack.

Let’s get this investigations started!

Because of my background in tech and computer security, I know something about what a company like Facebook knows about attacks on their users and who are the attackers.
(If you would like to read what they admit to knowing, here are two interesting article from them, How Does Facebook Investigate Cyber Threats and Information Operations? and Removing Bad Actors on Facebook)

I would like to get a criminal investigation started about this attack on Karoli. We always hear how hard it is to prove a criminal conspiracy, you have to show intent and have hard evidence. But if we can’t prove a criminal case, I’d like to file a civil case. “But Spocko,” you ask, “What good is a civil case if the defendants are a bunch of broke randos? ” That’s where the mountains of data that Facebook’ gathers can be used to prove it was an organized campaign and to connect the perpetrators to the funders.

People ARE harmed by organized harassment and defamation campaigns. Death threats via social media are serious. Big Journalism entities like The Washington Post and PBS should be pushing for more serious consequences for the perpetrators and funders of this harassment and these threats, but are reluctant to do so. Small journalism entities don’t have the resources to do so.

The owners of the social media platforms HAVE tools and the evidence to prove the cases, but they don’t get involved further unless law enforcement is asking for it. Law enforcement needs the appropriate laws to use and the DAs will to use them. We can push for law enforcement and prosecutors to get more aggressive in these cases. We can remind others on the left that pushing for negative legal consequences to the people harassing others online doesn’t mean we are against free speech.

After my massive post talking about the issues behind harassment and threats online, for part two I wanted to give you an example of a journalist being harassed online. I gave some ideas about what I think should be done, but I’ve learned that telling people, “You know what you should do?” is often met with, “Yeah, but…” or “I already tried that and it didn’t work.” So I understand that my desire for criminal and civil action might not happen, for many reasons. I have already shown how to organize negative financial consequences for those engaging in violent rhetoric, but I recognize that the legal system, though not perfect, has a major role to play in how we as a civilized country seek justice.

UPDATE: Karoli’s account was restored, but she is still in Facebook jail for offenses *she* didn’t commit. But no word from humans at Facebook that C&L editors and contributors are now part of the “cross check” list. This is important because targeted phishing is still coming at us. If she doesn’t hear from them this week I’m going to have to call Sheryl!

I’m glad her account is back, but I REALLY want to see accountability for those who are threatening and attacking her online and punishment for the wealthy individuals and organizations behind it that are connected with this specific type of defamation campaign.

Cross posted at Digby’s Hullabaloo Humans of Facebook, please restore @Karoli’s account @spockosbrain

Comments are closed.