Facebook Did Not Address Hacking Attack on Popular Grief Support Page for Weeks, Moderators Say

A popular Facebook grief support page reclaimed control of its account Thursday after a hacking attack that page administrators say went unaddressed for seven weeks. The case is the latest knock on Facebook’s efforts to monitor content on its platform.

The moderators of the page, Grief the Unspoken, which has more than 500,000 followers, said earlier Thursday that an unidentified hacker first breached the account May 9.

The hacker posted a photo of a disfigured child, a video of a person being rescued from a burning vehicle, graphic images of medical conditions and other disturbing content, according to the page’s moderators, who removed most of the posts. On Monday, the moderators said, they lost control of the page altogether.

Grief the Unspoken, a page created in 2012 by Angie Cartwright, a self-help expert, was designed as a safe space for the bereaved to cope with the loss of a loved one or an illness.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell, the page’s manager and the author of the “Grief Diaries” book series, said in an interview Thursday that the five administrators of the page followed Facebook’s steps for reporting inappropriate content by clicking a link on each of the hacker’s posts.

The moderators reported the breach Wednesday to the F.B.I. Internet Crime Complaint Center, saying they considered it a cyberattack on a vulnerable population. They had even tagged Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and the chief executive of Facebook, on the social media platform.

“Triggering videos can be the last thread for someone who is emotionally fragile,” said Ms. Cheldelin Fell, who lives north of Seattle and is the founder of the International Grief Institute. “This hijacker is toying with the emotions of a vulnerable group of people. Facebook has to take action.”

A personal account of one of the page’s original administrators appeared to have been compromised, according to Facebook.

“As soon as we learned of this issue, we secured the page and restored access to the proper owners,” a Facebook spokeswoman wrote in an email Thursday night. “The previous reports we received about the page were related to inappropriate conduct. Once we became aware of the real problem, we fixed it.”

Ms. Cheldelin Fell later confirmed that access to the page had been restored.

Facebook has been increasingly criticized over its content filtering process and sphere of influence since the 2016 presidential election, when Russian agents used the platform to interfere in the election.

Some say the Silicon Valley behemoth is too powerful and should be broken up, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts and a candidate for president.

Facebook recommends several steps for page administrators to secure their accounts, such as enabling two-factor authentication and not accepting friend requests from users they don’t know. Two-factor authentication typically involves entering a code — often sent by text message — after logging in with a password.

The F.B.I. declined to comment on whether it was investigating the hacking attack.

Ms. Cheldelin Fell said Ms. Cartwright stepped away from managing the page about a year ago. Ms. Cartwright did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Efforts to reach the hacker, who had used different Facebook profile names to communicate with one of the page moderators, were unsuccessful.

Ms. Cheldelin Fell said the grief support page lost 30,000 followers since the first attack in May. After the attack, Grief the Unspoken directed followers to a new page it set up June 12.

“We went through all the right channels,” she said. “We tried different venues.”

Ms. Cheldelin Fell, who lost a family member in a car accident, said seeing a video of a person being rescued from the burning wreckage of a vehicle is upsetting. For others, she added, it could push them over the edge.

“Don’t allow people to continue to be traumatized,” she said.

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