Facebook Trial by Comments


My friends on Facebook fall into several categories: family, close friends, friends of friends, and virtual friends. Virtual friends are like pen pals; we may never meet each other in real life, but we enjoy each other’s Facebook posts and company.

One of my virtual Facebook friends disappeared around the first of the year. I missed her coffee addiction, and her Southern sense of humor. It surprised me when I learned that she suspended her Facebook account with nary a word to her Facebook pals. As luck would have it, I had her e-mail address, so I sent her a quick note telling her that I missed her and hoped that everything was OK. She responded that her family was experiencing some serious problems and that she was taking a break from Facebook. Ouch! I let her know I cared and hoped we keep in touch. A few months later, she returned to Facebook, still in the throes of family dishevel but back to posting with humor and grace.

Shortly after her return, a Facebook police page showed up in my newsfeed. Facebook encouraged me to like the page and highlighted a story about a member of my friend’s family. Curiosity got the better of me, and I clicked on it. I wish I had curbed my curiosity.

The police Facebook page detailed the arrest of a family member of my friend. The defendant was charged with a criminal offense but had not yet faced judge or jury, at least not in a court of law. Facebook held court in the comment section under the police report.

A few comments were kind, and a few reminded others of those all-important words—”innocent until proven guilty.” However, the majority of the comments assassinated the defendant’s character by claiming that he was an awful person. Other comments suggested shooting him and/or cutting his nuts off. These comments went unmoderated by the police department

Trial by Facebook is beyond wrong; it is unconscionable for a police department to allow hateful and violent comments on their page. Moderating comments is key, and violent comments should not be tolerated. Keeping a community informed of crimes should stop short of allowing the community to play judge and jury.

Can you even imagine being part of this nightmare? The families’ overwhelming feelings of pain, shame, and anger? And then the police department allows the community to dissect their life on a Facebook page, hateful, violent comments included. And to what end? The vast majority of people who leave hateful comments move on to the next police report.

If only it was so easy for the families to move on.

Odd Loves Company.


* I realize that the details around this post are vague. In this case, who, what, when, and where don’t make any difference, and links would only provide traffic to the Facebook page. This post has been on my mind for several months. I tried to tell myself it wasn’t any of my business, but the fact that I couldn’t let it go told me differently. The use of social media must include accountability and responsibility, and we must always remember that what we post in the virtual world impacts someone in the real world. I have sent this post to the police department and the mayor of the community it happened in.


8 thoughts on “Facebook Trial by Comments

  1. I recently witnessed a lot of hateful comments on a Huff Post article a blogger friend wrote and it angered and saddened me . Just like the above incident people seem to think they can lose all sense of decency when they post on social media. In this case I think the police department was negligent in moderating comments. If a “business” is going to have a social media presence then they need to have it monitored. There is no excuse for people to spew hate and judgment and if it is there it needs to be deleted. I have been fortunate to never had any type of that stuff on my blog or Facebook to deal with. Thanks for writing this and sending it to the police dept involved.

    • Thanks Beth Ann. I know, I’m preaching to the choir :-D. I am sorry your friend experienced that. Some people really have no life. The delete button is just a click away and page moderators need to engage it. There is a big difference between disagreeing and being hateful.
      I’ve been fortunate too . I did have a Facebook friend that was pretty awful–She said mean things to my friends exactly twice—and then she was gone.

  2. Thanks for speaking up about this, KB. I had no idea that it was out there and, of course, agree that it is deplorable.

    We do all need to be responsible to what we think and say and do. I hear many railing again ‘political correctness’. But being ‘politically correct’ means not only using decorum in speech, but also always moving towards making the conversation useful — which smear and name calling never do.

    • Making the conversation useful. Thank you for adding that. I can see people wanting to follow the crime reports in their local community but I just don’t get spewing such hateful words.

  3. Adding to someone’s trouble just because you can type makes you the worst kind of low life. And I can’t understand why a police department sworn to serve and protect would not take action. My business does not have a social media presence (as my daughter calls it.) it would be easy enough to set up, I am told, but even a social dum dum knows that setting it is just the first step. I don’t want to spend the time or money to hire someone. But if I change my mind you can bet I will make sure someone maintains it. I am glad you sent this post on to the powers to be. What is for snack tomorrow?

    • Low life is right. My guess is the police department has not assigned anyone to moderate the page. They are “dum dum’s”.
      Tomorrow is Crème Brûlée Day. But it might be a little tricky to take to the office. May I suggest French Crullers. I bet you can find them at your doughnut shop.

  4. Good for you, KB! Since I don’t do Facebook — personally or professionally — I don’t have a dog in this fight; however, I’m always willing to offer an opinion. This seems beyond wrong to me, that a police department Facebook page would be entitled to slander a person’s character. You said the guy hadn’t even gone to trial yet. Even if he’s guilty, even if he’s a horrible person, somehow it just doesn’t seem right that he could be dragged over the coals this way. Journalists, for sure, can’t try and convict people in their stories.

    • I am not sure what the legal responsibility of the police department is -they only post the facts, much like a news story –but a news story that is open to comments from the public. I would hope there would be some legal accountability if it was pursued.
      On the other hand I am betting that the police department just lacks social media savvy. Perhaps, they don’t know about the importance of moderating their online presence. In that case they either need to hire someone or take down the page until they can hire someone.

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