I joined Facebook in 2008. I had recently attended one of my mom’s annual family reunions, and heard so many of my relatives were on there. I thought I’d sign up in order to see what they’re up to.
Facebook has many positives for someone like me. I don’t spend much, if any, time out of my house (unless you count getting groceries and helping my dad with his bricklaying business). Facebook is a great way to meet people without having to be face to face. I may never actually these people in person, but I’d still consider them friends. (In fact, most of the people I’ve interviewed for my “One Faith, Many Paths” series are people I know from Facebook)
I’ve also joined a few autism groups on Facebook. Many of the people in these groups are so proud to be autistic that they even put the first two letters in the word “autism” in their username, either at the end or in the middle. These letters also stand for a movement on Facebook called Autism United, a group dedicated to a positive image for autism online. I was inspired to join in, so I inserted an AU into my username as well, right at the end.
Then came a problem. There are trolls on Facebook who are using fake names to set up accounts for their heinous activities. Facebook decided that everyone with a fake name was guilty of trolling, whether they did it or not. (I wouldn’t know the first thing about hacking someone else’s page, for the record.) This resulted in a new policy: fake names would no longer be allowed on Facebook. To Facebook, this included people with suffixes as well, like the AU that I had in my name. This despite suffixes being used often in names like Hank Williams Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (I think that’s how it’s spelled).
This new policy gave cyberbullies a new way to bully others. They sought out people like me who had “AU’ in their usernames and reported many of them. Eventually, I was reported and deleted. When your page gets deleted, you get no notice, not even an e-mail. So, when a bully reported me, I had no idea my page was deleted. All I knew was that my username and password no longer worked. I sent an e-mail to Facebook and got a confirmation code, so I thought that would help. No dice–they only work if your page is still up. After several tries, I finally realized what happened. I was now one of the victims. I had two options. First, I could send Facebook proof of my identification and wait 60 days. 60 DAYS! The second option was to get a new e-mail and create a whole new account. Waiting 60 days was out of the question. I did not want the bullies to think they won.
I had to start over completely on all my groups. I had to refriend everyone I friended. I wasted several hours I could’ve spent productively. For instance, I’ve been working on a novel and writing a new chapter once a week. (You can read excerpts from the novel here). I even had to restart the games I was playing (this was the one thing I refused to do). I also lost all of my pictures I had posted in my page, including several from my trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which had been on my “bucket list” for years.
Now, understand, there were others who were violated in this fashion. There is a petition going around Facebook to tell the executives there to change their policy back to the way it was so we can use the “AU” suffix again. The petition can be reached here) We cannot let the cyberbullies win. Autistics need a voice, especially with organizations like Autism Speaks painting a negative image of us in the media as burdens and psychopaths. Facebook should be a safe place for everyone, including autistics. I did not deserve to be targeted. I have not put the AU back in my username, but I have not given up. I just simply do not want history to repeat itself.