Handling accusations of long-past misbehavior? Difficulty: Did I do it?
March 16, 2013 1:48 PM   Subscribe

In 2008, due to some personal problems, I closed out a Facebook account I was using at the time. I have since been accused of saying things via that Facebook account that I don't quite believe I would have said.

2008 was the worst year of my life up until that time. I lost my job of 24 years, endured family crises, and experienced major emotional upheaval culminating in my behaving inappropriately toward a person in a community group I was part of. This resulted in my being unwelcome at that group for a time.

Thank God, I have since gotten a new job, largely worked through the family issues, and gotten past the emotional upheaval. I was even welcomed back into the community group, specifically by the people I'd wronged, and so that was also nice.

Lately I've been informed that I said things during that time that I have a hard time believing of myself.

It was a highly emotional time for me, no doubt. One of the things I did was purge my Facebook friends list of all friends connected to the community group. My reason for this was to protect myself from constant reminders of the group, which I missed terribly during my time away. Shortly after that, I recognized that Facebook was triggering my emotional problems still, and I closed out that account.

A few years later, after I'd rejoined the community group, a friend in the group (who joined the group during/shortly after the time I went away for awhile) told me, "You said some bad things on Facebook and stuff. I thought you were nuts or something."

I said, "I'm sorry, I don't remember what I said -- I'm sorry if it was hurtful." It bothered me that I'd said things that I didn't remember. I'm usually pretty good at compartmentalizing these things and regardless of how much I was hurting back then, I would certainly have thought more than twice about leaking all over innocent people who weren't involved.

Another couple years passed. I'm still involved with the group and we were doing a project when that person mentioned again my supposed Facebook implosion. He said, "You said some hurtful things. They were really personal and hurtful and also kind of racist."

This was a red light for me. I am certainly not a racist and can't imagine myself indulging racist language in such a public forum. I now wonder exactly what happened. My friend can't remember what I said that was "racist." This has caused me to question just how hurtful I was in other areas, too.

So -- is there a way to see what I said on an old, closed out Facebook account from 2008? Absent that, what should I say to my friend? He really is a good friend and a kind person. It troubles me to think that this person would think I have a racist streak. How would you approach this issue, both in your own head and among friends from that time?

This fellow is the only person who has ever mentioned my behavior during this time. It only occurs in the context of talking of past projects that I was not involved in -- I might say "I was in the wilderness during that time" and a new discussion crops up.
posted by Infinity_8 to Human Relations (25 answers total)
Best answer: Did you delete your account, or just deactivate it? Deactivating is more common (it's what Facebook pushes you towards). If you just deactivated, you should be able to log back in and see your old posts.

If you genuinely deleted it, I'm pretty sure you're out of luck; I think that typically there's no way even for Facebook employees to access information that was deleted years ago.
posted by The Notorious B.F.G. at 2:13 PM on March 16, 2013

Best answer: I said, "I'm sorry, I don't remember what I said -- I'm sorry if it was hurtful."

That's all you need to say. Let it go.
posted by colin_l at 2:13 PM on March 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

I think your friend is shady.

He wasn't a part of this originally, but he keeps bringing it up? Plus, he accuses you of things no one else validates or remembers?

No. Just, no.

Look. It sounds like this person is playing on your insecurities and gaslighting you. Be very wary, because this is the type of person to fabricate stories about you and attempt to have you ostracized from this group in the future.

Even if you don't believe me and think this friend is the salt of the earth....

Good friends don't stir up shit, especially shit that is NONE of their business.

Maybe this person is just immature and not calculating, but they seemed determine to pick at this painful scar of yours. Be wary.
posted by jbenben at 2:14 PM on March 16, 2013 [32 favorites]

We all do and say things that we later regret. We do these things for whatever reason, - emotional crisis, colossal changes to our 'norm', too much alcohol, etc. - but mostly, we do these things because we are human. If your friends have accepted your apologies and forgiven you, then you need to accept that these things are in the past and move on with living in the present.

If someone cannot accept your apology, i.e., keeps bringing shit up, then it is time to part ways with that friend. It's not going to work for either of you. 2008 was a long time ago. If I had a friend who kept bringing up that thing I said five years ago when I was going through some shit, I would be done with that friend.
posted by AlliKat75 at 2:20 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

When you say you "closed out" that account, do you mean that you deactivated it, or that you permanently deleted it? You would have needed to actively contact Facebook to request to have your account permanently deleted (now they have a web form to make that request, but I believe in 2008 you had to e-mail them). If you just clicked a button, then your account was deactivated but not deleted.

If your account was deactivated rather than deleted, then you should be able to log back into it (which will reactivate it) and see the activity on the account. If you can't remember the password, you can request a new one. Here's Facebook's help page about it.

If you deactivated your account rather than deleting it, there is a possibility that it could have been hijacked by someone who somehow got hold of your password. If that happened, it may not have been anyone involved in the group at all -- it might just have been some random person trolling. However, if you can log back into your account with the same password, this didn't happen. If you request a new password and it gets sent to your e-mail (rather than someone else's), this didn't happen.

If you permanently deleted your account and can't get back in: From what you describe of your mental and emotional state at that time, it certainly sounds plausible that you really did say some hurtful things that you might not remember. Whether or not you intentionally said anything racist, this person may have interpreted a hurtful remark in that light.

Since he can't remember the exact remarks you made, it sounds like this is fading into the past. If you can't check your old account to see what exactly you said, I would simply apologize once again for the hurt you caused during that time, and tell him that you have learned and changed a lot since then (which it sounds like you have), that you regret saying anything hurtful, personal, or racist, and that you definitely won't be saying such things in the future.

If you can get into your old account and check what you said, I would recommend being very, very careful not to get defensive towards this person if it turns out you did say something hurtful, but that you don't consider racist. It sounds like the word "racism" is freaking you out. This is not a charge of being an inherently, permanently bad/evil person. Note that he didn't say "You are a racist" -- he said the things you said seemed kinda racist. It's possible that it could have been a misunderstanding, or it's possible that you really did say something that showed a prejudice you weren't/aren't aware you had.

Getting defensive about whether your remarks were "actually racist" might come off looking like you're trying to deny or minimize all of your actions at that time. Better to simply say something like "I'm sorry for what I said. I honestly didn't intend to say something racist, but apparently I did anyway. It was wrong and I won't do it again."
posted by snowmentality at 2:30 PM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Given how little contact it seems this person had with you then and now, I think this person is just deliberately being a shit-stirrer either because they're socially dense or because they're deliberately trying to emotionally harm you.

Basically, this person is not a good friend.
posted by heyjude at 2:31 PM on March 16, 2013

Best answer: "I'm not a racist, so how could I have said a racist thing?" isn't a productive reaction to your friend's accusation. Maybe your friend completely misunderstood an innocent or ambiguous remark. Maybe you said something inadvertently stereotyping or prejudiced against a group whose sensitive history you're not totally aware of. There is no person on earth that hasn't done this. I don't think you can be sure you didn't do this, especially when you were, as you say, "in the wilderness."

If your friend brings it up again, the appropriate response is, "I was in a serious crisis and it's totally possible I was coughing up all kinds of monsters as a result--that's part of the reason I closed my account. I don't remember the things I said but it horrifies me to think I said something as racist and cruel as you described. I hope you'll accept my apology. If you ever hear me saying anything like that again, please don't hesitate to call me out, because I never want to be that person again."
posted by milk white peacock at 2:32 PM on March 16, 2013 [18 favorites]

I'm firmly on the side of this person being a drama llama who wants to create controversy where there is none.

Maybe you did say that stuff, maybe you didn't, that's irrelevant now since A. it was a minor thing and B. it was so long ago

I don't really think you should care much about their personal opinion of you. Apologize for anything you might have said kinda passively, and change the subject.

They've already brought it up at least twice, if they keep bringing it up over and over they're definitely a shit stirrer, as others have said.

I really really really hate this kind of thing, and i've dealt with it before in the past. The people who do this never turn out to be good news, and this is very much representative behavior of what to expect from them in general.
posted by emptythought at 2:36 PM on March 16, 2013

I disagree with some of these comments because I think publicly making racist remarks is a very bad thing, not a minor thing, and people are right to have concerns about a person who made such remarks. I certainly would have serious reservations about someone who did such a thing. So I think the proper course is to at least say what milk white peacock elegantly proposed.
posted by Dansaman at 2:42 PM on March 16, 2013

Have you considered the possibility that this person is messing with you?

Regardless of whether he is or not, your best bet given the seriousness of what he is saying is to sincerely apologize and perhaps to ask for some clarification as to what you said that was offensive.
posted by gauche at 2:50 PM on March 16, 2013

I'm inclined to agree with those who are saying that your "friend" is trying to stir the pot. It's doubly suspicious because he's using a closed Facebook account as evidence - meaning he can't point to anything concrete that exists on the web right now.

Does "Friend" give concrete, specific examples of what you said that hurt his feelings? And why this might be an offensive thing to say? Or is he couching this in vague generalities - you "said some stuff" years ago that hurt his fee-fees, but he can't remember the words you used or the context, all he knows is that You Said A Vaguely Bad Thing and Waah.

I call major shenanigans on this guy if he can't point out a specific example. I also call major shenanigans on him if his only examples date back to 2008.

What are you getting out of this "friendship?" Does this person add anything to your life? He comes off as either a drama llama or a shit stirrer, which are not desirable qualities to have in friends.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:18 PM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Have you considered using the Wayback Machine?
posted by feral_goldfish at 3:45 PM on March 16, 2013

Really, I wouldn't worry about something you may or may not have said in 2008.

If what you said was so racist, don't you think, given your horror at this idea in 2013, people would have called you on it at the time? The fact this so-called friend can't come up with details makes me really doubt he knows what he's talking about.

Let it go, feel free. You don't need to feel guilty about stuff you don't remember. Isn't it hard enough dealing with stuff you do remember - that time you were mean to your sister, that time you said something that a friend may have misconstrued? Isn't that enough guilt to be going around with? You don't need to worry about extra.
posted by glasseyes at 4:01 PM on March 16, 2013

I disagree with some of these comments because I think publicly making racist remarks is a very bad thing, not a minor thing, and people are right to have concerns about a person who made such remarks.

This is true. Which is why if someone made such an outburst, his words would be seared in my mind, and I would never forget them.

This person strikes me as being somewhat of a shit-stirrer, possibly trying to get you riled up. But you cannot go wrong with milk white peacock's response. It's the best you can do. If this friend keeps pressing the point, then you know the problem lies with him, not you.
posted by deanc at 4:02 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd be tempted to ask "what specifically did I say that was racist/hurtful?"

I guess that would open a can of worms, they'd quote you as saying something you didn't remember saying, and you'd be none the wiser without proof like a screenshot or contemporaneous notes/mail and chat records.

So I'd shelve my temptation and do as milk white peacock suggests. We don't know one way or the other and this is not one of those things that can be settled like a trivia quiz. If your friend is acting in bad faith he'll be frustrated by the soft answer when he was hoping to open a can of worms about it all. It never feels like the soft answer will be a satisfying one, but time and time again I've seen Wile E. Coyote types run off a cliff in response to the Road Runner's soft answer. Our baser self tends to shout louder, but it also tends to be tactically wrong.

And hey, maybe this person actually is being sincere, in which case the olive branch will help.
posted by tel3path at 4:15 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is there someone else in the group who you trust and can pull aside to privately ask about this?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 4:30 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

So here's the thing: human memory is much, much more fallible than people realize. So it's totally possible that you said some really problematic stuff and forgot about it, and it's also equally poosible that this person has turned a memory of yoou being a little out of control into a more specific memory of you being racist. Both are entirely possible, and neither one makes either of you a bad person. It's 100% possible for this person to sincerely believe and remember that you said something racist, even if you didn't actually do so.

So what do you do? Well, you don't have a any specific information, so I think that the thing to do is apologize - it costs you nothing. Just say, "listen, if you don't remember specifically what I said then there's a limit to how far we can get talking about it, but that was a really difficult time for me, and it's entirely possible that I said something I didn't mean. I apologize if that's the case - I'm not in that place anymore, and I hope never to be there again."

That should be enough. If he brings it up again after that, he's being a dick.
posted by Ragged Richard at 6:05 PM on March 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have a hard time believing the OP wrote racist FB posts when absolutely no one else in this group remembers anything like that from the OP.

In fact, if the OP had written stuff like this, it is far more likely that other group members would remember it, and that the OP would not have been invited back into the group afterwards.
posted by jbenben at 6:14 PM on March 16, 2013

Jbenben, we don't know that no one else in the group remembers the remarks. We only know that no one else has confronted OP about them. It sounds like the only friend who did confront OP wasn't personally acquainted with him/her when the remarks were made, but could be reporting what they heard secondhand from other group members, which would account for the vagueness.
posted by milk white peacock at 6:42 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the only further place you should take this is to acknowledge what this person believes about you and frame this as moving on. "I can't change what you think about anything I may have said back then, but it was a long time ago, and please judge me by my actions henceforth" more or less. If there is any more bringing this up, that is not a person worth your attention.
posted by dhartung at 6:47 PM on March 16, 2013

If your account was deleted, I doubt it. If it was deactivated, I am pretty sure Facebook offers a way to download all the data associated with your account.

This is all very vague and sketchy and I am curious about the other sides of this story, but it sounds like this guy should drop it. It's not serving much of a purpose now, unless he is still upset about it and not willing to forgive, in which case he should just make that clear instead of being passive-aggressive about it. Maybe you can say, "I'm sorry for anything I said that was hurtful. I have really tried to make amends and to move on from my past behavior. If I need to apologize for anything that I failed to already or if I need to undo anymore past wrongs, please let me know. Otherwise, I'd really like it if we could just move on instead of dredging up the past over and over. I can't change the past, I can only keep trying to be a better person going forward." Feel free to make it clear you are not a racist person, assuming you aren't, if that'll make you feel better.

You can't argue about something you said in 2008 and you shouldn't. And you shouldn't worry about it -- it sounds like you already understand what sort of behavior you engaged in. I'm not sure why you are hanging onto this accusation of racism when, purely reading between the lines, it sounds like you did some plenty shitty stuff anyway. The theme here really is moving on. You have moved on (or are trying to) and that guy needs to as well.

Good luck!
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:46 PM on March 16, 2013

...who joined the group during/shortly after the time, I went away for awhile...

This person's behavior is grossly inappropriate. They weren't directly involved,
which makes whatever transpired none of their business.

You have reconciled the events of that now long-ago time with those who matter.
It isn't this person's place to dredge up that past and challenge you with it.

This person has attempted to insinuate a place in your community where
they have none. They've started throwing shit to see what sticks. Don't let it.
This person doesn't have a thing on you, and they never will.

Put this person in their place and remind them to mind their manners; the past
is not a topic you will discuss with this person and they are not to mention it again.
posted by Pudhoho at 7:50 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Many, many thanks to all who responded. I'm just going to let the matter lie unless he (or anybody) brings it up, then start an open dialogue right then and there in the spirit of "I have nothing to hide and I care enough to want to know what went down if it's still bothering y'all." My place in the group has not been questioned by anybody since those days, and even this possible shit-stirrer guy acknowledges (at least publicly) my rightful place and we have worked together quite colegially except for these outbreaks.

You're all best responses!
posted by Infinity_8 at 7:10 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it that in an attempt to be "one of the old timers" of the group in their own mind, they're appropriating the shared experience, imagining things from what they heard second-hand. Like, yeah guys, remember that time? Wow, sure was hurtful, those things you said, amirite?

It could be the in-joke effect, only with a bad experience instead of a good/funny one. Everyone wants to be part of the in-crowd.

If it was me, I'd not bring it up until they did, but then make them substantiate their claim a bit. "Racist things? What do you remember me saying?" It's likely going to either turn out to be "Well, I don't remember exactly" (answer: why are you bringing it up then?) or "Well, what I heard is..." (so, you weren't involved, then? So why are you bringing it up?) I'd probably also explicitly say, That's a time I'd prefer to forget, if you don't mind, so unless you have some kind of point you're trying to make with it...? All right then.
posted by ctmf at 9:30 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It may be the "friend" whose memory is bad, not you.
posted by Idcoytco at 10:31 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

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