Frequently Asked Questions

Meitar Moscovitz edited this page Nov 25, 2013 · 43 revisions

Before you report a new issue with the Predator Alert Tool for Facebook (PAT-FB), please ensure your question is not already addressed below. This FAQ is made up of the following sections:


What happens when I share information about somebody?

When you share information, your statement is permanently saved in the PAT-Facebook database, along with whatever visibility settings you selected for it. Depending on the settings you chose, a link to your statement may appear on the app Dashboards of some other PAT-Facebook users (such as people on your friend list, or other people who have shared information about the same person you did). It will also be possible for some people to find your statement in a search—but only people who your statement's visibility settings grants access.

PAT-Facebook users who are not included by your statement's visibility setting will never even be shown that your statement exists. Some of the users who can see your statement may be running the optional PAT-Facebook Alerts userscript. Any time the person your statement is about shows up in their Facebook feeds, a red box will appear around that person's name and profile picture.

How is PAT-Facebook different from other Predator Alert Tools?

PAT-Facebook's biggest difference is the amount of control it gives users over who sees what they share. This allows survivors of sexual violence to decide whether they want to talk about their experience publicly, only with their friends, or only with other survivors. It also means that information about predatory behavior in our communities spreads through existing relationships, where it can be understood in the context of those relationships and shared directly with the people to whom it matters most.

Previously released Predator Alert Tools (PAT-FetLife and PAT-OkCupid) always showed the same information to every user, whereas information shared with PAT-Facebook is only available to specified people. PAT-Facebook takes advantage of Facebook's ability to technologically augment our existing social relationships.

Why is it important for survivors to be able to talk to each other?

Abuse thrives on silence.

The overwhelming majority of sexual assaults are committed by a relatively small number of repeat offenders (see Lisak and Miller, 2002; McWhorter, 2009). One way these abusers get away with it again and again is by shaming their victims into believing that they are the only one to be victimized, that the rape was their fault, that they will not be believed if they speak up, etcetera. Often, that shame is reinforced by messages from popular culture about what "appropriate" sexual behavior from survivors looks like, and by excusing or by outright denying sexual violence when it does happen and acquitting the aggressor of any wrongdoing.

This kind of silencing is especially pernicious in the case of acquaintance rape, which makes up 95% of all sexual assault. When someone's consent is violated by a friend, relative, co-worker, date, or someone else known to them, it often takes the survivor months or even years to realize that what happened was rape.

Finally, the degree of trauma sustained by survivors of sexual abuse is influenced not only by the severity of the abuse itself, but by the kind of support or lack thereof a survivor receives afterwards.

The ability to talk with other survivors about one's experience, and especially about similar experiences with the same abuser, can immensely mitigate all of the above. It can help a survivor see their abuser's actions, and their community's response to those actions, as a pattern rather than as a situation they may feel personally responsible for. This validation and relief from shame also encourages sharing information with other potentially vulnerable individuals. Meaningful emotional support is also vital to survivors' healing and recovery process.

Is information verified in any way?

No. There is no approval or vetting process. Any and all information shared with PAT-Facebook is accepted to the database.

We do not believe that it is appropriate for an outside moderator, whether algorithmic or human, to make determinations about the veracity of other peoples' personal experiences. The purpose of PAT-Facebook is to give survivors a way to share information with each other. Some of this information may be misrepresentative, exaggerated, or simply false.

We trust our users' critical faculties and their superior understanding of their own social contexts to determine for themselves what information is valuable to them and what information they find untrustworthy.

Don't you think this tool could hurt some people?

Every technology has the potential to be used maliciously. By providing this tool to help connect survivors with each other, we may simultaneously be making it easier for some people to publicize harmful or insulting statements about others. The tool's ability to be misused in this way is not a good enough reason to keep it out of the hands of the people who can be helped or kept safe by it.

Where conflicts of interest arise, PAT-Facebook is grounded in an ethic of prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable. This means we prioritize the needs of survivors over the needs of people who might be falsely accused. It also means that when there is a conflict of interest between survivors, we will prioritize the needs of youth over the needs of adults, the needs of private individuals over the needs of public figures, and the needs of survivors who currently lack any support over the needs of survivors who have established support systems.

Right now, although this tool has the potential to do some harm, more survivors are harmed more often by the lack of tools like this one than they are by this tool's existence.


Who can I share information about?

You can share information about any person who has a Facebook profile. This includes users who have blocked you and users you have blocked. If you want to share information about someone with a fairly common name, we suggest looking up their Facebook user ID to make sure your statement gets attached to the correct person.

To learn more about how to search for and choose users to share information about, read the User Manual:Searching page.

What kinds of experiences can I share information about? How severe does it have to be?

You can share anything you think might be helpful to others or that you want to connect with others about. Think of using PAT-Facebook less like "filing a police report" and more like "leaving a bad review."

If someone sexually assaulted you and has been criminally convicted for it, that is certainly information you can share with PAT-Facebook, but if you were raped by someone you know and you don't feel safe talking to the police about it, that is information you can share, too. If you had an experience where your boundaries were violated but you're not sure if it "counts" as rape, you can share any information you want to about that experience. If you think you might've had sex with someone while you were drunk but you're not really sure what happened, you can share that. If something happened when you were a child that you don't have a clear memory of but you know it made you uncomfortable, you can write that in a PAT-Facebook statement.

If you have a friend who you think is generally a good guy and you don't want him to get in trouble or anything but sometimes he gets kinda grabby and you think other people should know, share that. If someone smacked your ass at a party without asking you first, share that. If your friend's partner constantly makes suggestive jokes and it clearly makes your friend uncomfortable, share that. If someone lied about their sexually transmitted infections (STD/STI) status to get you to have sex with them, share that. If your play partner ignored a safeword, share that. If you don't feel very safe being alone in a house with somebody but you can't put your finger on why and worry maybe you're being oversensitive, share that.

It might help to hear that someone else is feeling the same way. It's okay to share information about somebody even if you don't hate their guts or don't totally understand what happened. PAT-Facebook is just a(nother) place to talk.

Can I share information about an experience that happened to someone else?

Yes. You can share any information you want to using PAT-Facebook. This includes stories about things that have happened to your friends as well as to yourself. If you don't feel comfortable posting information from your own account but a friend is willing to post it for you, that is totally okay. If you heard something sketchy about a situation but don't know all the details, it's okay to post as much as you know.

PAT-Facebook is here for you. Use it to share whatever information you feel will be most helpful to other people in your social network.

Can I share information about something that happened online?

Yes. Again, you can share any information you want to using PAT-Facebook. For instance, if you're getting sexually aggressive hate mail (like rape threats) from people whose Facebook accounts you know or can track down, you can absolutely share this information with PAT-Facebook. If you feel comfortable doing so, consider including technical details such as links, screenshots, or copies of abusive e-mail or text messages for others to see.

Can I submit more than one statement about the same person?

Yes. You can submit as many separate statements as you want about as many people as you want. You might want to do this in order to talk about distinct incidents that happened at different times, or you might want to submit different statements with different visibility settings in order to protect your privacy.

Can I share my story anonymously?

Yes, you can remain anonymous to other users. However, you can not remain anonymous to Facebook. Unless you change the default settings when you share your story, the software will never tell anyone who you are; this system never outs you.

Nevertheless, please do keep in mind that even if you share anonymously, details you share about your experiences could be used to identify you. Put your own safety first.

To learn more about Predator Alert Tool for Facebook's privacy and identity-concealing options when you share your story, please read the User Manual:Decide Who Knows page.

Can I share my story if I don't have a Facebook account?

No. You must have a Facebook account to share a story. However, you do not need a Facebook account to read stories that are shared publicly.

Can I share information about myself?

Yes! You can share information about any person who has a Facebook profile, including yourself. Some reasons you might want to submit a statement about yourself include:

  • You want to take responsibility for a situation in which you violated somebody else's boundaries. This kind of openness can be a great asset to conversations about sexual violence in your community.
  • You were involved in a situation in which you think you may have violated someone's boundaries but you're not sure and want feedback from others in your social network. Include as many or as few details as you feel comfortable sharing about the experience.
  • You sometimes have trouble communicating about consent or intuiting boundaries. Perhaps you have a history of trauma, a disability, a mental health issue, or something about your upbringing that makes understanding other peoples' boundaries especially challenging, and you want people in your social network to be aware of this when interacting with you.
  • You feel you've been misrepresented in another statement and want to tell your side of the story.

We know it can be tempting to want to "set the record straight," but please keep in mind that the purpose of PAT-Facebook is to help survivors. When submitting a statement about yourself, try to focus on information about you that you think will be helpful to survivors of sexual violence in your community.

Can I remove information about myself from the database?

No. It is not possible to remove or edit a statement once it has been submitted to the database. There are several reasons for this.

  1. The majority of requests for the removal of information come from people who believe they have been misrepresented. We do not consider this sufficient justification for censoring the voices of survivors. We want users to feel confident that if they choose to share their stories, their words will not be silenced.
  2. It is not possible to remove information from the Internet. Facebook and other social networking sites often encourage a false sense of security about how much control users have over the data they share. We want to be transparent with users that any personal information they choose to post on PAT-Facebook has the potential to exist online indefinitely.
  3. It is our experience that anti-violence tools such as this one often receive a great deal of malicious spam from people who are unsupportive of survivors' right to speak about their experiences. When "griefers" choose to cyber-bully survivors in this way, we want their actions to remain on record, because the most effective response to bullying is to expose it to public view.

However, if you need to include more details, clarifications, updates, or changes to information you have previously shared, you will be able to add information to any statement you submitted.

What happens if I remove the app?

If you remove the app from your Facebook account, basically nothing changes. No information you shared with PAT-Facebook is removed. Other people can still see statements you shared with them, and they will still be able to share information about you.

What will change is that PAT-Facebook will no longer be able to send you any notifications. If you simply want PAT-Facebook not to send you notifications, you can disable notifications from PAT-Facebook by changing your Facebook app notification preferences.

Data visibility

Who can see stories I share?

That's up to you. You can choose to make the information you share public. You can also limit the visibility of the information you share to your Facebook friends only, to other people who have shared information about the same person, or only to people on your Facebook friend list who have also shared information about the same person. For a detailed explanation of these options, please read the User Manual:Decide Who Knows page.

Can I see stories about myself?

Maybe. It depends on the settings the person who wrote the story chose to use.

Can the person I'm sharing information about see what I post?

It's possible. Someone you share information about can see your statement if:

  • You share your statement publicly.
  • You share your statement with "friends only" and you are Facebook friends with them.
  • You share your statement with "other people who have shared" about that person, and that person has submitted a statement about themself using this same visibility option.

Also, anyone who has access to your post could potentially take a screenshot (or copy and paste its text) and forward it to the person it is about.

The best way to prevent your statement from being visible to somebody is to remove the person from your friend list and make the statement visible to "friends only."

If you do choose to share your statement with "other people who have shared," your statement will only be visible to the person it is about if they have also submitted a statement about themself. Self-reported statements can not be submitted anonymously, which means you will be able to see if they have done this. Keep in mind, however, that if the person submits a statement about themself after you have submitted yours, your statement will become visible to them.

Also remember that you can submit as many statements about a person as you wish. So, for example, if I wanted to share some information about Mark Zuckerberg but didn't want him to see it, I might write up one post with details set to "friends only" and another anonymous post to share with other survivors that simply says, "I have some information about Mark Zuckerberg. Please contact me privately." If Mark is not on my friend list, the first post won't be visibile to him. The second post might be visible to him, but in order to contact me he would have to click a link to request my identity. All identity requests come directly to me, so if I saw one from Mark or a friend of Mark's who I didn't trust, I could ignore it. But if I got an identity request from someone I did trust, I could send them a message with the information I want to share.

For more information about how to use PAT-Facebook's visibility options to connect with other survivors, please read the User Manual:Get Support page.

What data does PAT-Facebook keep about me when I connect the app to my Facebook profile?

PAT-Facebook records (that is, "writes down and remembers") your Facebook user ID number, and nothing else. While connected to your Facebook account, PAT-Facebook also has access to your friend list and the public information on your profile. You can remove the app at any time.

How secure is my data, really?

Like many other web services, we enforce HTTPS (that is, website encryption) on every request made to our servers. This means that the other people using the free Wi-Fi at the coffee shops you go to, for instance, cannot see information you share with PAT-Facebook. For those of you who are technical, here are the complete results of SSL Labs' SSL Test performed against our servers.

PAT-Facebook currently runs and stores data on servers provided by Heroku, Inc. We assume that employees of that company can access the information you share with PAT-Facebook. These servers are, in turn, running on hardware provided by Amazon, Inc. We therefore assume employees of that company can also access the information you share with PAT-Facebook. Moreover, even though we don't share your statements with Facebook, we assume that employees of Facebook may be able to make copies of information you share as you share it. Finally, PAT-Facebook's maintainer has access to all information shared with PAT-Facebook. Their name is maymay. They don't work for anyone.

If this sounds like a lot of people having access to your data, that's because it is. When making decisions about sharing personal information, you should be aware that this is how Web sites work. Like, almost every last one of them. For instance, if you use GMail, some Google employees can read all your email. Same deal with AOL, Hotmail, and so on. Employees of the companies whose services you use have access to the data you share with those services.

This seems like a good idea, but how can I trust PAT-Facebook's maintainers won't abuse their access?

Technically, you can't. That's also why we did everything we can to make sure you don't need to trust us; if you don't, you can choose someone else who you do trust. That's because this software has been released into the public domain. We put zero legal restrictions on what you can do with this software. Our goal is to lend as much technological power as we can to your efforts to resist a culture of sexual violence.

If you have the technological savvy to do so, you can copy this software wholesale, install it, and encourage your friends and community to use your installation instead of ours. If you don't have the technological savvy to do this yourself, ask your friendly neighborhood cypherpunk for help.

We don't need your trust to do the right thing. We just need a conscience. We made this thing because we found it hard to sleep at night knowing we could do this, but hadn't yet done it. Now, we have. And so can you.

Concerns about misuse

Won't this tool just encourage the spread of gossip?

We wouldn't call information about peoples' experiences with sexual violence "gossip." That being said, don't knock the Rumor Mill. Gossip is often devalued as a "feminine" form of communication, but it has historically been one of the most effective tools that vulnerable populations have to keep ourselves informed and safe.

In fact, encouraging the spread of gossip is part of PAT-Facebook's design. We want to encourage more open conversations about sexual violence, coercion, and consent in our communities. This requires creating an environment in which people feel like it's okay to communicate imperfectly. It means acknowledging that, yes, our conversations about sexual violence will sometimes include misinformation, exaggerations, messiness, mistakes, blurry memories, and even outright lies—and that this is better than not talking about it at all.

What can I do if I've been falsely accused?

There are no "accusations" on PAT-Facebook, false or otherwise. PAT-Facebook is a technology that collects and shares information about peoples' experiences and beliefs. It is not an authority to which one can report or an enforcement mechanism of any kind.

There are no direct consequences to being tagged in a PAT-Facebook statement. If there are enforcement mechanisms in place in your community to prevent sexual violence—such as laws, accountability processes, social shaming, etc.—you may be subject to those.

If someone has shared information through PAT-Facebook that you feel misrepresents you, try talking about it publicly, perhaps by addressing the situation on your Facebook wall or submitting a statement about yourself to PAT-Facebook. You could also ask your friends for emotional support or for help understanding why someone shared information about you that you believe is false. Treat misinformation about yourself that you see on PAT-Facebook the same way you would treat misinformation about yourself that you overheard at a party.

People have probably talked about you before in ways that you did not like. What did you do then? The solution to speech you disagree with is not silencing but more speech. We suggest you use your words.

But what about the legal consequences? I could go to jail!

If we lived in the kind of world where a person could be convicted of sexual assault just because someone mentioned it on Facebook, there would be no need for a tool like this.

This seems like vigilante justice. Rape victims should report it to the police, not to the Internet.

PAT-Facebook is not intended as an alternative to the criminal justice system. Whether or not a person who has experienced sexual violence chooses to file a police report is entirely up to them.

The purpose of PAT-Facebook is to give survivors an opportunity to share information about their experiences and seek support by connecting with other survivors. If a user has reported an assault to the police or obtained a criminal conviction, that would be fantastic information for them to share with PAT-Facebook.

However, most rapes go unreported and the majority of sexual boundary violations are not even "reportable," but talking about these experiences can still be valuable to friends and other survivors. PAT-Facebook welcomes participation by all people whose lives have been touched by sexual violence, regardless of whether or not they have chosen to involve the police in their recovery process.

Could this tool be used for cyberbullying?

Unfortunately, yes. The nature of abuse is such that any technology designed to prevent it will eventually be repurposed by abusers. As anyone who has worked in violence prevention knows, abuse mutates faster than the avian flu. There is no magic bullet, no technological or social solution that will permanently stop it. The best we can hope for is to keep building new tools as quickly as abusers can co-opt the old ones, and try to stay one step ahead. (This, by the way, is why violence prevention needs more hackers.)

Bullying is not a problem that is solvable by writing a computer program. E-mail, telephones, a pen and paper, and even Facebook itself have all been used to bully people. While PAT-Facebook has the potential to be used by some people to harass, it also has the potential to do a great deal of good. That being said, PAT-Facebook has several built-in features that make it more difficult for cyberbullies to exploit.

  1. First, while bullies may be able to post malicious messages somewhat anonymously, there is no way to send any messages privately. Best practice for preventing bullying is to make sure the bully's behavior is seen by others. All PAT-Facebook posts have at least some degree of public visibility and most can be accessed by concerned friends, teachers, parents, and others.

  2. Second, one classic tactic cyberbullies use is posting harmful messages where their target can see them and then deleting those messages to remove the evidence. Posts submitted to PAT-Facebook cannot be removed, which creates a permanent data trail exposing bullies in the case that any bullying does occur.

  3. Finally, PAT-Facebook does not notify a user when a post is shared about them. In fact, users who want to opt in to push notifications about themselves must go to considerable trouble to do so. In short, if cyberbullies do make malicious posts about another user, that user does not have to see those posts or even know that they exist unless they choose to search for them.

You know Facebook is just going to take this down, right?

Yeah, probably. That's one reason we've been writing such fantastic and comprehensive documentation. ;) PAT-Facebook is a good tool, but what's more important is that it's a good idea.

We want people to know that information-sharing applications supporting survivors of sexual violence like this are possible, that they are technologically easy to implement, and that there's no good excuse for not building them into every social network on the Internet.

That's also why we encourage copying. There are no legal restrictions on what you are allowed to do with this software. We claim no ownership, copyright, or intellectual property rights to this program.

Aren't you concerned about being sued for libel?

Nope. None of us have any money.

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