Facebook’s New Social Safety Features Lets Users Confront Bullies, Ask Friends for Help

Facebook has added new functionality to its report buttons that let users notify Facebook of abusive, spammy or objectionable content. The report flow now includes options to message the perpetrator to ask them to stop, and message friends to ask for advice.

The social safety features should help reduce abuse on Facebook, especially that in the form of unwanted or defamatory photo tags that users don’t have the option to pre-approve or prevent. They will also reduce the number of reports that actually reach Facebook, since informing it of abuse is an unchecked option by default, and the flow highlights friend-to-friend resolution instead.

Report buttons on photos a user is tagged in and posts on their wall have already been updated with the social safety feature, and Facebook plans to roll out the additional options to report buttons on profiles, Groups, Pages, and Events soon. All of these changes impact the flow once users have already clicked “Report” , but don’t make the small or hidden links to the option any more easy to find on the site.

Facebook has recently made several moves in an effort to stem abuse and educate users about how to maintain their safety while using the site. Facebook prevents users who send unwanted friend requests from sending future requests, its new Comments Box social plugin integrates abuse reports into commenter credibility scores, and it worked with Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to remove anti-gay comments. It also created an official Facebook Safety Page, a Safety Help Center, a child-safety advisory board, and a Security Quiz to educate users.

However, many of these efforts focus on how users can protect themselves from strangers. The new social safety features address abuse from a users friends — a term that has become more loosely defined in recent years, and can encompass co-workers, friends of family, and people users play social games with. Younger users sometimes encounter bullying from classmates, while older users may be attacked by ex-lovers and their jealous new significant others.

Users can prevent certain friends from writing on their wall through their privacy settings, but the only way to prevent an abusive friend from tagging them in photos is to unfriend or block them. Users can detag photos but not forcibly remove them from Facebook, so the new option to message authors with a request to remove the content can help resolve issues surrounding unwanted tags.

Now when users go to report a post on their wall or a photo they’re tagged in, they’ll see “I don’t like this post/photo” and “This post/photo is harassing or bullying me” options. The “I don’t like this” option reveals the new option to send the content’s author a message asking them to remove it or not post similar content, along with traditional block and unfriend options. Facebook pre-populates the message, but users can edit it and add their own context.

The “harassing or bullying me” option reveals a note telling users to inform local authorities if they feel they’re in danger, a new option to “Get help from a trusted friend” and the standard option to block the bully. The “Get Help” option forwards a friend the photo along with the pre-populated but editable message “Hi, this person is bothering me online and I’m not sure how to respond. Can you please help?”

Notice that the “Report to Facebook” box is unchecked by default, meaning users are left to resolve issues on their own unless they explicitly request to notify Facebook. While the new features do empower users, the flow also helps Facebook keep support costs down by making sure that a submitted report is one of the less likely outcomes when users click the “Report” links on wall posts and photos.