This is just too good of a story to ignore:
In the annals of middle-school mischief, the Facebook page Let’s Start Drama deserves an entry. The creator of the page—no one knew her name, but everyone was sure she was a girl—had a diabolical knack for sowing conflict among students at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Middletown, Connecticut. “Drama Queen,” as I came to think of her in the months I spent reporting at the school to write a book about bullying, knew exactly how to use the Internet to rile her audience. She hovered over them in cyberspace like a bad fairy, with the power to needle kids into ending friendships and starting feuds and fistfights.
In contrast with some other social networks, like Twitter, Facebook requires its users to sign up with their real names. Drama Queen easily got around this rule, however, by setting up Let’s Start Drama with a specially created e-mail address that didn’t reveal her identity. Wrapped in her cloak of anonymity, she was free to pass along cruel gossip without personal consequences. She started by posting a few idle rumors, and when that gained her followers, she asked them to send her private messages relaying more gossip, promising not to disclose the source. Which girl had just lost her virginity? Which boy had asked a girl to sext him a nude photo? As Drama Queen posted the tantalizing tidbits she gathered, more kids signed up to follow her exploits—a real-life version of Gossip Girl. She soon had an audience of 500, many drawn from Woodrow Wilson’s 750 students, plus a smattering from the local high school and a nearby Catholic school.
Drama Queen was particularly ingenious at pitting kids against each other in contests of her own creation. She regularly posted photographs of two girls side by side, with the caption “WHOS PRETTIERRR?!” Below the pictures, commenters would heckle and vote. One such contest drew 109 comments over three days. When it became clear which contestant was losing, that girl wrote that she didn’t care: “nt even tryinqq to b funny or smart.” The rival who beat her answered, “juss mad you losss ok ppl voted me ! If you really loooked better they wouldve said you but THEY DIDNT sooo sucks for you.” This exchange nearly led to blows outside of school, other students told me. And they said a fight did break out between two boys who were featured on Let’s Start Drama, in dueling photos, above the caption “Who would win in a fight?” They reportedly ended up pummeling each other off school grounds one day after classes.
Melissa Robinson, who was a social worker for the Middletown Youth Services Bureau, quickly got wind of Let’s Start Drama because, she says, “it was causing tons of conflict.” Robinson worked out of an office at Woodrow Wilson with Justin Carbonella, the bureau’s director, trying to fill gaps in city services to help students stay out of trouble. Their connecting suite of small rooms served as a kind of oasis at the school: the two adults didn’t work for the principal, so they could arbitrate conflict without the threat of official discipline. I often saw kids stop by just to talk, and they had a lot to say about the aggression on Let’s Start Drama and the way it was spilling over into real life. “We’d go on Facebook to look at the page, and it was pretty egregious,” Carbonella told me. Surfing around on Facebook, they found more anonymous voting pages, with names like Middletown Hos, Middletown Trash Talk, and Middletown Too Real. Let’s Start Drama had the largest audience, but it had spawned about two dozen imitators.
Carbonella figured that all of these pages had to be breaking Facebook’s rules, and he was right. The site has built its brand by holding users to a relatively high standard of decency. “You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user,” Facebook requires people to pledge when they sign up. Users also agree not to fake their identities or to post content that is hateful or pornographic, or that contains nudity or graphic violence. In other words, Facebook does not style itself as the public square, where people can say anything they want, short of libel or slander. It’s much more like a mall, where private security guards can throw you out.
Carbonella followed Facebook’s procedure for filing a report, clicking through the screens that allow you to complain to the site about content that you think violates a rule. He clicked the bubbles to report bullying and fake identity. And then he waited. And waited. “It felt like putting a note in a bottle and throwing it into the ocean,” Carbonella said. “There was no way to know if anyone was out there on the other end. For me, this wasn’t a situation where I knew which student was involved and could easily give it to a school guidance counselor. It was completely anonymous, so we really needed Facebook to intervene.” But, to Carbonella’s frustration, Let’s Start Drama stayed up. He filed another report. Like the first one, it seemed to sink to the bottom of the ocean.
And for a description as to how they operate:
In an attempt to impose order on a frustratingly subjective universe, User Operations has developed one rule of thumb: if you complain to Facebook that you are being harassed or bullied, the site takes your word for it. “If the content is about you, and you’re not famous, we don’t try to decide whether it’s actually mean,” Willner said. “We just take it down.”
All other complaints, however, are treated as “third-party reports” that the teams have to do their best to referee. These include reports from parents saying their children are being bullied, or from advocates like Justin Carbonella.
After a quick search by Sullivan, the blurry photos I’d seen many times at the top of the Let’s Start Drama page appeared on the screen. Sullivan scrolled through some recent “Who’s hotter?” comparisons and clicked on the behind-the-scenes history of the page, which the Common Review Tool allowed him to call up. A window opened on the right side of the screen, showing that multiple reports had been made. Sullivan checked to see whether the reports had failed to indicate that Let’s Start Drama was administered by a fake user profile. But that wasn’t the problem: the bubbles had been clicked correctly. Yet next to this history was a note indicating that future reports about the content would be ignored.
We sat and stared at the screen.
Willner broke the silence. “Someone made a mistake,” he said. “This profile should have been disabled.” He leaned in and peered at the screen. “Actually, two different reps made the same mistake, two different times.”
There was another long pause. Sullivan clicked on Let’s Start Drama to delete it.
Very interesting report — I never heard any description of how the moderation at Facebook works. I had no clue that it was literally this superficial. However, one could imagine so as it is such a high volume website. Regardless, it would be nice if there was more action meant to properly moderate the site but at the end of the day this is a profit driven website.
It would also be smart to not particularly invest much time in these ridiculous websites but telling this to children is like trying to fill in the ocean with dirt. It should probably come down to good parenting on how children behave on the internet.