Dear Prudence

Help! My Neighbor Berated Me Over a Message I Posted in Our Local Facebook Group.

The messages were a little weird.

Woman screaming angrily with a stop signal drawn over her.
Photo illustration my Slate. Photo by master1305/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Q. I Just Wanted to Give Away Some Pickled Onions: I use Facebook pretty much exclusively for a local hobby group, and recently had a weird interaction that flowed over to real life.

I posted a giveaway and “Ann” was one of the people who replied; I chose her randomly. In her message, Ann expressed some confusion about where I live (there are a few different cities in this area, and I’m nearest to one but have the address of another). It became apparent that she wouldn’t be willing to come get the giveaway. I told her that was fine, waited for her to respond to that message, and followed up with another person. After the item was picked up, I blocked Ann, which is not at all uncommon for me. The messages were a little weird—she wanted me to explain to her where I lived, even though I’d sent her my address and nobody has ever had problems getting to me, and then she wanted to tell me who to choose instead of her. But it got even more bizarre.

I’m a block first, ask questions later type person, so I didn’t consider blocking her to be a big deal. Plus, part of the group rules is that if someone has blocked you, mods aren’t going to interfere unless it messes with the workings of the whole group or something unfair/scammy happens. I truly didn’t think anything of it.

But then, yesterday, at the farmer’s market, a woman came up to me and asked me if I was “Beth” (my name). I have a job where occasionally people know me but I don’t know them, so I confirmed—big mistake. It turned out to be Ann, who then yelled at me in the middle of the farmers market. I’m not sure exactly what she said because I was so shocked, but it was something along the lines of “How dare you block me on Facebook! You are so rude! You shouldn’t be in [local hobby group] and you’re a bad person! I’m going to make sure you get kicked out of the group!” It was over pretty quickly and she disappeared; I didn’t have time to respond and what on earth would I have said anyway? A few kind and concerned strangers came over to check on me, to give you an idea of what the whole thing looked and sounded like.

Should I… do anything about this? I’m of two minds. The larger part of me of me thinks that I shouldn’t have blocked her, and since I escalated in the first place, it’s my all fault; I ought to do nothing and just be glad she’s blocked. But my spouse recommended messaging the mods of the group and telling them about the incident so that Ann would be spoken to and maybe removed, and I also think that might be a good idea—she accosted me in public and knows my address. Nothing has changed in the group and I don’t think it will, since screenshots would show that my interactions were entirely normal and polite. Should I do anything? This was weird, right?

A. While I’ll allow that blocking was likely read as an act of aggression by Ann and partially set this chain of events in motion, Ann’s response to a stranger is extreme. I simply cannot imagine approaching anyone in public and forming the words “How dare you block me on Facebook.” All things being equal, reporting this incident to the mods would result in a fair judgment and Ann’s removal.

But all things are not equal, particularly in the digital world and it’s likely the mods are just a couple of random people who didn’t ask to adjudicate altercations at farmers markets. Going to them might stir up more trouble than it’s worth, particularly since Ann already has a boundary issue. Instead, try reaching out to the mods and letting them know you had an offline interaction with a fellow member that turned sour and, for your own safety, you’d like to be alerted if anyone brings any concerns about you to them. But because you mentioned that Ann has your address, I think your priority should be ensuring the safety of your home, rather than the sanctity of the group. The mods can’t control Ann’s behavior, but they can let you know if they receive any complaints that would warrant you looping in an authority in the real world.

Classic Prudie

My husband, our three young children, and I recently went on a vacation with my in-laws. We provided the accommodations. My mother-in-law tries to act more like our children’s mother than a grandmother. She loves her grandchildren, but she is very interfering, judgmental, and disrespectful to me and my husband. On this recent visit, she brought a children’s book for our 5-year-old daughter that was missing the last two pages. The book was about a girl who visits her grandmother for the summer every year; my MIL wrote an ending with my daughter that said the girl’s parents died and she got to live with her grandmother forever. It was written like a happy ending!