A Bloomington Facebook group that was once used as a wholesome community message board has spiraled into a source of outrage, accusations and death threats since being taken over less than a year ago by a controversial administrator.
Members of the Facebook group Bloomington, IN - What’s Going On? have accused group administrator Sherri Losee, 61, of censoring discussions surrounding contentious topics such as Schooner Creek Farm, and protecting white supremacists and pedophiles.
The Facebook group was started in 2017 as a way for community members to talk about city happenings such as police cars swarming an area or a traffic jam, group creator Kathy Hertz, 55, said.
Hertz gave Losee control of the group, which is now more than 15,600 members strong, in June because Hertz said she was tired of constantly monitoring it.
Losee has since banned members for seemingly innocent acts such as using laughing face emoji reactions to posts and group members airing their grievances with group moderators on the page instead of private-messaging the management team. She also regularly takes down content she said she feels violate the group’s rules, which some members feel are vague and allow Losee to censor anything she disagrees with.
The Facebook group is a microcosm of the city. As citizens wrestle over what civility means, if it matters and whether white supremacists should be allowed at the farmers’ market, Bloomington, IN - What’s Going On? faces a similar reckoning: who is allowed a voice online and who decides?
Danielle Kilgo, an IU professor researching social media, said niche groups are a natural reaction to Facebook’s integration into people’s lives. People need somewhere to go for discussions specific to where they live.
However, she said she understands why people become frustrated with moderators and administrators who take down posts and discussions. That power dynamic only gets trickier in a community group.
“This is the guy that lives two streets down that you can go confront,” Kilgo said. “The connection and the tie is much closer.”
Over the course of reporting this story, someone created a Facebook account impersonating an Indiana Daily Student reporter and used it to harass members of the group.
Since Losee became the administrator, groups have sprung up to mock her, and her personal information has been leaked online. She’s received death threats toward herself and her children and grandkids, although she has no offspring.
When physical therapist Kelly Clark, 39, started offering pro bono services for people with chronic pain, she decided to promote her business in Bloomington, IN - What’s Going On?
After she tried to advertise her free services in December, her posts were taken down, and Losee threatened to ban her if she posted again. Losee said Clark was trying to take advantage of poor people with a business that was at best a get-rich-quick scheme. She said Clark planned to hit people with hidden fees and take advantage of them. The IDS found no evidence of hidden fees.
Losee banned discussion of Schooner Creek Farm, a business whose owners have ties to the white supremacist group American Identity Movement, for one week in August because group members said they wanted a break in a poll on the Facebook group.
She’s also accused of protecting members and moderators with questionable ties.
Multiple users have accused former group moderator Jeremy Ramstein of being a white supremacist because he used a racial slur to describe his religious beliefs on Facebook. Ramstein denied these allegations.
He also said in a now-deleted post that group members dug through his criminal history and harassed him about past charges. When discussing Ramstein and his past, Losee defended his use of the slur, repeatedly using it herself.
Losee was also criticized for refusing to ban a known sex offender from the group. She said the member had questionable content on his personal page “suggesting pedophilia,” but that didn’t mean he was a pedophile.
After learning the man had a criminal record and was a registered sex offender, she still refused to remove him. Another moderator later kicked the man out.
She argued the man’s posts in the group were fine and she couldn't punish him for actions he took outside the group. She said if she removed him, she would have to deeply research every member, and she couldn’t do that. Losee is also under no legal obligation to remove the sex offender from the group, however Facebook doesn't allow offenders to be on the social media platform.
Losee disputed the claims she moderates based on personal feelings, such as banning members and deleting posts. She pointed out posts that she said she vehemently disagrees with, such as white people claiming they’re the superior race or insults against people experiencing homelessness.
“I want so bad to take those down, but I don't because it's their opinion," Losee said. "As long as they're civil with it."
Despite what Losee says are her best efforts to manage the group, members are calling for a check on her power. In a now-deleted poll, more than 60% of voters asked her to step down as the administrator. Another Bloomington Facebook group, Bloomington Indiana Lost and Found Pets, has six administrators and one moderator.
A petition was created Jan. 28 requesting Losee either be removed or promote one or two moderators to administrator status.
Losee has since tried to improve her group. Bans are now decided by a majority vote of five moderators and two administrators. Rebecca G’zilla was promoted from a moderator to an administrator Feb. 17. Administrators and moderators have many of the same roles, except administrators can change group settings and promote members to the management team.
She’s also relegated some of her power to the group’s members. She posted a poll Feb. 18 asking if Sarah Dye, Schooner Creek Farm owner and member of the white nationalist group American Identity Movement, should be let into the Facebook group. Dye’s request to enter the group was denied in a 773-442 vote.
After taking a poll and seeing comments about her restrictive nature, she lifted the rule a rule that banned laughing and angry emojis.
Losee said she’s trying not to look at the comments or taunts anymore.
“I used to care, it just made me mad,” Losee said. “I don’t care anymore. I just have to let this go.”
CLARIFICATION: This article was updated to better reflect the nature of a threat Losee received