Right-wing Trolls and Algorithms

Or: how a combination of a right-wing attack and facebook algorithms-going-horribly-wrong killed an important fact-checking blog (no, not this one). And, because of a mistake of facebook, my personal account as a side-effect.

Random Troll

Short version: End of June I logged into facebook, and received dozens of notifications. I supposedly posted a post containing hate speech on a page. Though I formally co-manage this page, I never contribute to it, and am only “emergency-admin”. So this was quite a nasty surprise.

The page represents a fact-checking blog, which actually researches intolerant statements and hatespeech made in (social) media and tries to counter them with facts and statistics. Both blog and page were targeted by right-wing trolls in the past, until now unsuccessful. The reports from last wednesday however resulted in a permanent ban of both the page and my personal account.

My account got disabled because facebooks algorithms wrongly contribute the reported post to my account. Algorithm Epic Fail no.1: disable the wrong account: I never posted anything on that page.
The content of the post actually is against hatespeech. The video posted, is made by german public television and still available all over facebook (see longer version below for details). Algorithm Epic Fail no. 2: not seeing the actual content of the post, but “deciding” on some key words (heck, it’s an algorithm..)

After several appeals to the facebook support, I got the message my account (and probably also the page) will be permanently disabled , and no matter what information I provide, it will never ever be reactivated. After another round of appeals, I am now “ineligible” to use facebook…

In short: an attack by right-wing trolls reporting an innocent video resulted in a permanent ban of a popular and effective fact-checking blog (and my personal account). Because facebooks algorithms can’t be wrong, can they?
It will probably never be re-activated. Unless my persistent clicking the “re-open case” button will result in an actual human being looking into it. Or, if somehow the masses rise and demand the page being re-instated (please do by the way).

Oh, for those friends who don’t have any other contact data and who want to keep in touch with the facebook account formerly known as Ka Ketelmug, the easiest way is to find me on my artist page: https://www.deviantart.com/twisted-kritters , on Twitter https://twitter.com/KKetelmug, or find someone who knows me who can give you some contact details, and we can keep in touch over Telegram for example.
In the future, you will find me on https://www.openbook.social/en/home as soon as it goes beta and I’m invited for it. Check it out. It will provide everything where facebook goes horribly wrong.

The long version and lots of background info

Some background on the blog

The page itself represents a fact-checking blog (www.grutjes.nl). Articles research for example statements against refugees made in (social) media, and provide facts and statistics to counter these statements. It is profoundly against fascism and hatespeech.
The facebook page is followed by 1.000s of people in the Netherlands, including journalists and politicians.

Unfortunately, to get any exposure, that blog needs social media. The makers of the blog tried all other methods, newsletters, css, and so on. But the best way to reach the people it was meant for, was unfortunately facebook. There is not a real alternative. Facebook has long ago monopolized social media. Heck, even google gave up.

That blog isn’t mines, I won’t take any credit for the wonderful work which is done there.
My whole responsibility on the facebook-page representing that blog was to be an admin-just-in-case. In case the other admins lost access to that page. Which wasn’t that unlikely, since the page is heavily targeted by right-wing trolls. Until recently, unsuccessful. I never contributed or posted on the page.

The so-called hatespeech post

So I’m pretty sure I did never post anything on that page.
Now, in the quick glance I got before my personal account got disabled, I saw the post which was reported concerned a small video which was uploaded to the site. One month earlier.

The video wasn’t made by the person who posted it. It was originally made by German public television and is against fascism and hatespeech.
The poster didn’t share the link, but downloaded it and reposted it with a dutch translation. That’s maybe why it seems to be a video made by the person who posted it.

The video is satire, and actually denounces hate speech. It is against fascism. Nothing in it is contrary to the facebook guidelines.
You can see it online everywhere on FB, for instance on the page of the German Public TV: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1255486597942613

If you like to watch it with English subtitles: https://youtu.be/zvgZtdmyKlI

The video was online for more than one month (posted end of May if I remember correctly). Only one month later, the page-admins received multiple notifications. Like.. DOZENS of notifications within a few hours

My guess is the notifications were a result of reports. I never ever got reported for anything on facebook, so I’m not that familiar with the whole procedure.
Because of the multiple notifications, an organized attack on the page seems very likely. The blog itself and everywhere it is represented on social media has been attacked heavily in the past, mostly by (according to the content of the messages) right-wing trolls.

Getting reported….

Ok, I’m not a heavy facebook user. I mostly use it to keep track of events which might interest me, a quick glance on how my friends are doing and every now and then, a timeline post because it’s dang easy to reach all your friends at once. Oh, and I had an extremely small page where I publish doodles I made. The most important reason to log in was when I made a new drawing, and wanted to upload it. If I hadn’t made anything, days could pass between logins.
And yes, I wasn’t on there with my real name. Who cares. Not me.. not my friends.

Aiming Algorithm

So, after the multiple notifications after I logged in for the first time in days, I firstly checked the page. Nope, indeed, nothing on that page showed any posts made by me or anything out of the ordinary. Checked when the video was published. Indeed, one month ago. Tried to contact the real admins of the page. Thought, maybe it’s indeed my account and it got hacked. But I could see in the information facebook keeps track of my logins (yes, of course they keep track, and yes, you can see from were you officially logged in), there was nothing weird there.

To be sure, I quickly changed my password and logged back in.
To be confronted with the message that page was at risk of getting unpublished.
Ok, at that moment I slightly panicked. It wasn’t my page, but I was the only one online. And facebook (wrongly) contributed the post to me. And there was an “appeal” button. Where I couldn’t provide additional info, but only that I think it was wrongly reported.

Before I could even finish the message about the whole stuff to the real admins, my account got disabled.  Strangely enough, the page was still there. And the video. So I thought, ok.. at least the appeal worked.
Until a few hours later, the page was taken offline. By that time, one of the admins was online. The one who actually made that post, and knew the background and the origin of the video

Facebook support.. right?

(Note, might be a long read, since this documents my fight against windmills, skip it to possible Alternatives and such if you’re not that interested in a personal story about hopeless fights)

The first thing this admin did, because I couldn’t log in anymore, was appeal to facebook to reconsider their decision.
He never ever heard anything about it ever.
People following the page appealed. To no avail.

Trying to appeal myself: but they want my ID!
When I tried to login, I saw the message my account was disabled. Because of hatespeech. There was a button where I could appeal. So I clicked it. But facebook not only wanted my name and email-address, but also my ID.


There is a reason I’m not anywhere on the big bad internet with my real name. No, not the fear of identity theft. But I will not provide any data seller with my personal data. If this means losing my personal account, sobeit. Very tough luck, but ah well

No Way…

But. What happened was different from “just” losing my personal account.
Losing my personal account was a side-effect of a successful attack of right-wing trolls on a fact-checking blog.
The appeals of other people, including the remaining admins of the page, didn’t work.

The only chance to get the page back, was if facebook admitted a mistake was made. Which normally is frikkin’ hard. Those algorithms can’t be wrong, right?

But. They are! So there’s a chance…

Those algorithms utterly and completely hit the wrong mark. They contributed the post to me. Which was very clearly and easily traceable a wrong decision.
So. There was this one chance. Appeal to facebook because of this very obvious mistake, and hope therefore they would scrutinize the rest of their decision.
But this would mean providing my real ID….
I had to think long and hard about it.

As one of the friends (yes analogue friends, I got quite a few of them) I discussed it with said: it’s the choice between pest and cholera. If I would do nothing, the right-wing trolls would have won, and the page dies (pest..). If I want to have a slight chance the page survives (cholera), I have to provide my ID. And as one of my friends said, your data are already all over the net. If you work, have a bank account, or pay rent, you are known. Even if google still gives zero results when you try to search for yourself.

Grinding my teeth

Grinding Teeth

So I decided to give it a try.
Even then, it would only be a slight chance. First problem I saw was of course the fake name. This turned out to be actually the easiest part. Few hours after I so unwillingly provided my ID, my account was changed to the name on that ID (no one knows me by that name, so actually it’s still quite safe 🙂 ).
But my account was still disabled. Yes, because of hatespeech. But at least I got a “support mail”, telling me they received my appeal and would report back to me. Unfortunately, since I’m so inexperienced with being reported, I didn’t see the mail also contained a link to a facebook support page, where I could have provided additional info immediately.
I only saw it after the weekend, so 5 days after the page got reported.
But I provided a nice, polite, little explanation why I thought my account and the page were wrongly disabled.

The next step, facebook admitting it made a mistake by contributing the post to me, would be the easiest I thought. Getting them so far to admit they made a mistake judging the post as hatespeech would be a lot harder probably. But, since my guess was a human being would look into the algorithm because of the wrongly contributed post, they might actually look into the post itself. And this was the only chance.

How wrong could I be.
Three Five appeals later, facebook still doesn’t even admit the “easy” mistake.
Which means I’m now actually grinding my teeth because I provided my ID.
Worse, the message I got, was that no matter what information I provide, they will not reactivate my account. Which means they will most probably also will not reactivate the page. The most recent message is that I am now “ineligible” to use fb. Whatever it means. It is however, still a standard message. Which means the verdict is still based on those failing algorithms.

No, they don’t admit their mistake

Far bigger than you

Ok, now I’m really pissed. They don’t even admit the “easy” mistake. Though it started as a fight out of principle and to keep the page, it now has become personal. This is between me and facebook algorithms. I hate it when people, or organisations, can’t simply say, oops, I’m so sorry, there was a mistake. But well, since algorithms are always right, I will probably lose this fight.

Note that this does not concern a temporary ban, for a few weeks or so. This is permanent. Lifetime.
Even if I had made that post, this is a frikkin’ harsh measure for a “first offence”. Which isn’t even an offence, since nothing in that video can be considered hatespeech, but ah well.
But still.. there is the “re-open case” button on the support page. Of course I clicked it. And I will keep clicking it when they keep refusing admit their mistake. They got me pissed off now. Which means I will turn pitbull.

In the hope some time a real human being will actually take a look at the case. Which is also a very small chance, since the real human beings at the support center are prolly overworked and underpaid, and prolly have “targets” to “solve” so many cases an hour. They will probably take the quick & dirty way out and provide the standard messages without really looking.
And no, there is of course no way to appeal to a higher court…

But until now, even though they relatively quickly reacted to my first appeals, the case is still open… Maybe they will never react again and the case will stay open forever.
Which would mean both page and my account are lost forever.

Now what..

Does anyone really need facebook?

Over a decade ago, I joined facebook. A friend moving to the other side of the planet invited me. Facebook was really small at that time. I never heard about it. It seemed like a low-profile alternative to My Space at that time. With cute little games of self-drawn zombies for casual gaming.
Of course, I never used my real name. Something like that wasn’t an issue, heck, it wasn’t even a question at that time. No one ever used their real name anywhere.

For years, I only logged in to contact this one friend. I noticed changes. The wall became a timeline. More and more people joined. Since my fake name referred to something my friends knew, they started finding me. Still, I hardly logged in.
Until the message boards and online calenders where I used to find my concerts and parties started getting thinner and thinner. At first, I thought the scene was dying. Until I figured out, shit, all the events are posted only on facebook, and nowhere else anymore.

This started a real facebook career for a few years. I joined groups to find the events, found old time friends and started posting myself. In the mean time, the message boards and online calenders completely died. Exchanging email-addresses became weird, people started asking for facebook accounts instead.

Seems no one really wants to be on facebook?

The last years however, my activity on social media went down again. I noticed the same trend with my friends.
It was taken over by trolls, and it seemed to provoke the worst out of people. Only in my small group of friends it still seemed to be ok. Another factor was facebook turning into a real data miner of the worst sort. Since I was there with a fake name, a very old account, and never did anything against their policy, I seemed quite “safe”. Though of course, especially after another wave of friends being forced to provide their real names, I kinda feared for my account. But at that time, it still was so easy to make a new one. Heck, in between I made an account for my old cat just to be able to say I was in a relationship with her.

Social Network

It also seemed none of my friends wants to stay on facebook.
But the artists, musicians and writers need the exposure. Even though facebook makes it harder for them to get that exposure without paying for it. And consumers like me stay with those artists. And our friends. By now, message boards, pages like livegigs and email more or less have died completely as a means of communication. Alternatives to facebook were started over and over again. But if the network doesn’t move as a whole, it doesn’t work. The only other medium seems to be Twitter (and yes, this works actually quite good for artists), but not everyone (private or artist) is on there, and active…

So even when waves of data scandals or forced real names occurred, and people left, they came back. Unwillingly. But they came back.
Worse, facebook took over other, until then considered safe, social media such as whatsapp. I remember multiple friends roaring..


Facebook now has a monopoly. It provides an “all-in-one” solution to which people have gotten used. It can do with our data what it wants. It can change its algorithms trying to force artists and other pages to pay for exposure.

Other social platforms

Yes, there seem to be alternatives. But either they are as bad or even worse than facebook (the chinese or russian clone of facebook – shudder), they are owned by facebook (instagram, whatsapp), or they don’t provide the (for me) important features: events, a chat function, and the possibility to post only for your friends.
But most important, the alternatives lack the network. I checked the bigger alternatives (even if they didn’t provide all the features I would like) and even my biggest bands are not represented on them. Let alone the smaller ones, or the local organizers of parties and gigs.
The only hope I have now is a new initiative, for now called Open Book. The name will probably change, since even it is only just about going beta, facebook already send its lawyers. They obviously see this alternative, which offers everything where facebook goes wrong, such as protecting your data, giving you control over what you post, transparency, and so on, as a real threat. Check it out 🙂 https://www.openbook.social/en/home

Or give it another try?

In the past, when another wave of real names occurred, I of course thought about what I would if facebook tried to force me to use my real name. Well, if it had been only that, I would prolly have thought, fuck that shit. Pretty bad, losing more than a decade of posts and messages, but ah well. And luckily, I’m an internet paranoid, so I never ever linked my account with anything I do on the internet. Heck, all my online activities are nicely fenced off from each other. So losing my account means just that. So, make a new account, start all over again. I downloaded a backup about a year ago, so I can find my friends again and the parties and gigs I’m interested in. Worst what happens is a clean start, and lose a year of messages or posts (which, since I wasn’t THAT active, wasn’t that much).

Now what?

But making an account for your cat isn’t that easy anymore.
Directly after the ban I succeeded twice in making a new account, to quickly message my most important friends about what happened. But then got kicked out, and could only log in those new accounts if I provided a mobile number. Ok. Pity. Not gonna give facebook a number I actually use. So postpone making a new account till I have a throw-away number. And/or a fake ID or something (those kids get them somewhere…).
I don’t even really know if, when my account will be forever and permanently banned, I’m actually allowed to make a second account. Since you’re officially only allowed to have one. But does this still count if your original one is permanently banned?

The chances to get away with a fake name are getting very small. Another reason I so regret giving facebook my ID is that this most definitively reduces the chances to get an account which wouldn’t be at risk anymore. Since I can’t give the same ID twice.

If you have an old extra account, cuddle it, and keep track of the login-data (I lost the data for my cat’s account). It might become precious.

Since the chances that facebook will pay its customer service, or actually give them enough time to check if algorithms might be wrong, is close to zero. Its policy of (temporarily or permanently) banning people has become stricter, without the means to check if there’s a real reason for a report. And there are many bored trolls just looking for an opportunity to report.
Heck, I liked a page of a photographer in the fetish scene. The only way you see his pics is if you like or visit his page. If you find or follow him, you know what you will see. He got reported and banned on a regular basis. People indeed troll fetish sites just to be able to report…

So the chances for any of us to get banned or even completely lose our accounts are increasing. Facebook obviously doesn’t care, we’re prolly just a minority.

Let’s get the hell out of there. Together.. I know the chances are small..

The best way to “solve” this is of course to move away all together. Fuck fb. But where to? See above alternatives.
Or, we go back to the pre-facebook years. Start up our message boards, forums, chatrooms and online calenders again. Some survived, such as the local squatting calender in Berlin. But they are rare.
We can do without facebook. Heck, I can do without facebook. Without it  since the end of June, don’t really know what I’m missing, so.. errmm… It’s like not having a smart phone with 100s of apps. No clue what I’m missing.

Note: all drawings by author: https://www.deviantart.com/twisted-kritters

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