Did Facebook out me to someone that had blocked me?
August 10, 2015 10:48 AM   Subscribe

I know this is a long shot, but maybe someone here knows exactly how Facebook blocking works. Necessary details under the fold.

Back when I identified as intergender and still went by my masculine name a person came into my life.

Data point that will be relevant later: this person posted some photos they took of me on Facebook and tagged me in them.

Things happened (including behavior on their part that could be described as obsessive) and we didn't want each other in our lives. The farther away the better, actually. I cut off contact, removed them from my Facebook, etc. Shortly after, looking at comments on a post made by a common friend I realized that they had blocked me. Good riddance. I kept them out of my mind.

Some time after that I accepted the reality that I'm trans, came out, transitioned, posted a coming out letter on Facebook to inform everybody who should know and didn't already, and then changed my name on Facebook.

The other day I went on FB to look for a photo my mom had tagged me in a few years ago, and I ran into those photos that this person I tagged me in. I don't know if I was able to see those photos before, after they blocked me, but I don't recall being able to, so it made me curious. I clicked on one of the photos, and there it was, their name in blue letters and next to a profile image instead of a gray square. I'm unblocked. They haven't attempted to contact me.

Possible explanations are:

- A common friend told them about my transition and they unblocked me to see the real me. Okram's razor would point to this, yet knowing our common friends I find it unlikely.

- They got over the reasons why they blocked me and unblocked me without knowing what they would see.

- They wanted to cyber stalk me and unblocked me without knowing what they would see.

- They actually cyber stalked me using a second Facebook account they think I don't know about and when they saw I transitioned they just unblocked me to check on me more often without having to switch accounts because they found the news interesting.

- When looking at old messages in their inbox, or those photos, or their blocked list Facebook showed them my new name, so they then unblocked me to either see who it was or to see why I changed my name (I did keep the same last name).

This is more a nuisance than a problem. I'm openly trans and don't post anything on Facebook that I would mind if it was made public, so my privacy settings are all set to public anyway. It's just that I kind of would have preferred this person to think I fell in a volcano in central america and not hear anything else about me. But still, they weren't in my mind last week, and they will be out of it by next week. This just made me curious.

I don't want to discuss the other possibilities, as they are, of course, possible and we have no way of knowing what actually happened.

I just want to satisfy my curiosity about whether it is possible or not that, despite having blocked me, Facebook showed them my new name.

Informed answers and educated guesses are preferred, maybe you know the inner workings of Facebook blocks because you work or used to work there, or maybe you blocked someone who changed the name on their account.
posted by Promethea to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have, over the 11 years I've had my facebook account, blocked a small handful of people, mostly early on. Several years after the blocking, while going through and fine-tuning some of the ever-changing privacy features on facebook, I noticed I still had those people blocked and had reached a point in my life where I 1) didn't care and 2) never interacted with them anymore anyway and 3) thought it would be weird if they happened to do a search for me and found out I had blocked them because it would send a signal that I did care. So I unblocked them. Basically: people who I care so little about that it's not worth keeping them blocked.

And that's a reason I don't see listed on your list of reasons: that you were unblocked by this person, perhaps some time ago, and it has absolutely nothing to do with you in particular.
posted by phunniemee at 10:57 AM on August 10, 2015 [11 favorites]

Your post doesn't indicate you actually blocked this person at any point, and if your profile is available to be viewed publicly, if they unblocked you, it's quite possible your presence could start populating their feed again through tags from mutual friends, albeit with your new name, and not your old.
posted by Karaage at 10:57 AM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

If they had blocked you, then on their list of blocked people you would be listed there. If they later looked at who they'd blocked, then they would see your account's current name.
posted by mikeh at 10:57 AM on August 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

When you unblock someone, you still have to refriend them to get access to any of their non-public content. However I think their block list would show your name and, if you did not create a new facebook account but just put your new name on the old account, they'd have access to your name.
posted by jessamyn at 10:57 AM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

My guess is the unblocking had nothing to do with your new identity. If you aren't friends and your profile is not public, what would unblocking do for this person? If you aren't friends, they still can't see anything other than what is public in your profile. It sounds like unblocking would simply restore their own tags on their own photos they had previously posted -- that isn't exactly revealing information. If your theory is correct and they wanted to know about your new name and identity, then they would've obviously heard about it from somewhere else anyway, since you were blocked on their Facebook account during your transition, according to you. I think you are way overthinking this.

You came out as trans and now you have a new name on Facebook. You should simply assume that everyone in the world is going to know about it. Facebook is not a private place. And if you didn't want this person to be able to have tags of you, you should've blocked them or changed your tag permissions. Going forward, you may wish to prevent automatic tags by requiring approval of any tags of you -- that's what I do specifically to avoid being associated with embarrassing photos!
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:20 AM on August 10, 2015

Phuniemee, you're right, that's also possible. I just mentioned a few possibilities because of MeFi's tendency to answer questions that weren't asked. Maybe I shouldn't have done that. I just meant to ask about that one possibility on the title, because technology and curiosity. It was triggered by this person in particular but it's not about them.

To others, please read before answering. I'm not concerned about my privacy or them having tags on me. My profile is public. Tags was just how I found out they had unblocked me.
posted by Promethea at 11:27 AM on August 10, 2015

May I suggest an experiment to answer the one question that you've got?

1.) Make a throw away email address.
2.) Switch over to some kind of private browsing and use that to make a fake facebook profile under the name of John Smith (or the like).
3.) Have the John Smith profile friend you, and then friend John Smith back. Take a random picture, upload it to your main profile and tag John Smith.
4.) Block John Smith on your main profile.
5.) Look at what happened to your tagged picture.
6.) Change John Smith's name/gender.
7.) Look at what happened to your tagged picture again. Search for John Smith/Jane Smith (can you see them?)

Maybe, to avoid bringing the wrath of Facebook's Terms of Service bots on your head, you might want to make TWO fake profiles and run the experiment between them (always in private browsing mode, or on some computer that you don't use). But basically, this is something that you can figure out for yourself (even though I think the most likely answer is that they decided to unblock you for no reason).
posted by sparklemotion at 11:35 AM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Facebook's support center says that blocking is "reciprocal" which isn't quite accurate to how people think about reciprocity compared to how their feature actually works. My understanding (as a longtime facebook user and a sometimes facebook educator) is this

1. If someone who was a former friend blocks you on facebook, they can unblock you later and will have access to whatever content of yours is public. They will not, however, be your friend anymore.
2. If you block someone on facebook any of your public content will not be available to them until you unblock them.
3. If you unfriend someone on facebook but do not block them, they can still see any of your public content.

So in answer to your specific question "Did Facebook out me to someone that had blocked me?" the answer is more or less no. You changed your name on an existing account and that information was available on the block list of the person who had originally blocked you because it was otherwise public. If you had blocked this person, that information (the name change) would not have been available to them.
posted by jessamyn at 11:59 AM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

My best guess is that they happened to look at their list of "blocked" people one day while updating their privacy settings, saw your new name there, and thought "Hm, I don't recognize that name! They must be on my blocked list by mistake!" And unblocked you. This is especially likely if you have a relatively common last name (though possible either way).
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:00 PM on August 10, 2015 [10 favorites]

- A common friend told them about my transition and they unblocked me to see the real me. Okram's razor would point to this, yet knowing our common friends I find it unlikely.

If your posts are set to "public," that means that any time a friend likes or comments on your posts, that like or comment can show up in all of their friends' feeds. (This is a reason I often avoid commenting on or liking public posts.) If you have your posts set to "friends only," then that like or comment can still show up in all of your mutual friends' feeds.

If you have mutual Facebook friends, that's likely what triggered this person to see your new name -- it likely popped up on their own wall as "Mutual friend like a public post by Promethea," and they clicked on that link on their own feed and found your new name.

Why they unblocked you at that point is something they'd have to answer. But them blocking you wouldn't have prevented them from seeing your public content.
posted by jaguar at 12:45 PM on August 10, 2015

[One comment deleted; answers really need to address the specifics of the question rather than talk about Facebook or FB privacy more generally. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 12:56 AM on August 11, 2015

I just want to satisfy my curiosity about whether it is possible or not that, despite having blocked me, Facebook showed them my new name.

Yes. Facebook blocks are associated with accounts, not specific names. Given that you merely changed the name on your account instead of opening a new account, your new name would then be on their block list.

My guess is that they were reviewing their block list, saw a name they didn't recognize, and unblocked it because they didn't know why they'd blocked some seemingly random stranger.

It's just that I kind of would have preferred this person to think I fell in a volcano in central america and not hear anything else about me.

Block them from your end.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:01 AM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

When you block or are blocked by someone you can still see comments they left on your Facebook (but not anyone else's) with the account's current name and picture.
posted by intensitymultiply at 9:52 PM on August 14, 2015

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