"Technique makes everything possible, but isn't able to undo this? It made me angry and combative, I wanted to see how far I could come."
Solange Jacobsen, project manager 'Jeugd en Online veiligheid' at Stichting Mijn Kind Online: "I heard of this case and called Freeks' mother. She told me nobody really helped them. They weren't able to tell their story and everybody reacted indifferent. The police didn't help, despite of the six pages they'd written together with a friend to show Freeks case concerned liber and slander. It was so complex to file a report to Facebook and Twitter, they didn't manage to get that done. They felt rushed, wanting to get everything of the Internet as soon as possible. I started to search on Google and it scared me to death. I found 8 pages of search results, full of Freeks' profile pictures, combined with grossly offensive texts. Reactions came from everywhere, from South America to Eastern Europe.
I directly told Linda removing all the photos from the Internet would be impossible. At the same time I felt the frustration she felt. It is so unfair how someone can just take your photos, build a web of lies around it and influence your whole life with that. The one and only 'real Freek' is unable to do anything. Technique makes everything possible, but can't undo things like this. It made me angry and combative, I wanted to see how far I could come.
Through Mijn Kind Online's network I contacted Google. First I wanted to disconnect Freeks real name from his German name and then block his German name as search term on Google. This way, fans searching for that term wouldn't get results. This idea was naïve, as it turned out this is not how it works. As a searching tool Google simply collects data from what happens on other platforms. I therefore decided to approach de three biggest suppliers of search results: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
I first tried the regular report procedures. I quickly understood why Linda found these so frustrating. It is complex and confusing. You have to translate your problem to one of the report options provided by the platform. To Linda it was clear: my son is bullied. However the options that led to a successful removal were 'copyright infringement' and 'my child's privacy is violated'. The manual to the reporting procedure is available only in English and not very user friendly. You need to provide a lot of information and take additional action to actually get the report filed. It's discouraging. Then there's the mention your data will be shown to third parties. It casts doubt: should I do it? Am I not making it worse?
KPN gave me the chance to talk directly to people working at Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. I could count on quick action and full cooperation. It was a relief when the accounts, pictures and movies were deleted rapidly. But it wasn't enough. Some accounts stayed online, because they didn't visibly violated any rules. We had to fi a new report, concerning 'copyright infringement'. Besides there were still other platforms with pictures of Freek and new accounts kept coming on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. We monitor that ourselves now: every time something new shows up, we report it.
When the police found a suspect in the Netherland, we were ofcourse very happy. That person knew very well what he was doing, because even when he heard it really hurts Freek, he kept on going. He referred people to the real Freek and told us he did this kind of stuff more often, with other names and photos.
Freeks parents are modern parents, that know that social media are part of our lives now. They thought it was good to make a Twitteraccount together with their child. It didn't occur to them people would be able to steal photos and use them for other purposes. You think it is safe, but in reality the whole world is watching. I understand that Freeks mom wants to change his name, so his so called fans can't look for him anymore. And so that he can develop his own identity at a new school, without being bullied."