Man with autism bullied in Facebook groups, family gets creative to have it deleted

An entire Facebook page was created just to make fun of, and bully a 21-year-old Metro Detroit young man with autism.

His family had to get creative to have the page taken down after the social media giant provided zero help.

"It’s very heartbreaking to watch them and to get made fun of, and as a family member it just breaks your heart to see it," said Jill Vandenabeele.

Vandenabeele’s 21-year-old nephew Gabe Franz was mocked on social media for nearly two months.

Gabe Franz has autism, is hearing impaired, and has other cognitive disabilities. It was that and a deep love of trains that made him the butt of jokes online.

"What they do is they mock these people," Jill said. "They'll literally befriend them on their Facebook page, and what they were doing was taking his posts, putting it in this group (page) and making fun of him.

"And obviously Gabe was very hurt, and he didn't understand why."

Jill soon learned there were two other similar pages mocking train enthusiasts with special needs. She, along with other friends and family members, reported the pages in hopes of getting Facebook to shut them down.

"It kept coming back, ‘It doesn’t break community standards,’" Jill said. "But one of their standards is harassment. And this is harassing people with special needs. Why aren’t they taking care of it."

It wasn’t until Jill reached out to the administrators of the group page mocking Gabe that she made headway.

"Two admins jumped off on Gabe’s page, and I was able to create an alias and jump on as admin and delete the page," she said. "I had to go through and start deleting every post, I deleted every member and blocked every member."

Jill shut down that page last Saturday and helped shut down a second mocking another young man with special needs on Thursday. The third page is still up and running.

Gabe, who’s still bouncing back from the tauntings, thanked his aunt and others for their efforts in a Facebook post this week.

Jill, who works with St. Clair County Community Mental Health says all of it should serve as another reminder that cyber-bullying is real and can have a devastating impact on those on the receiving end.

"The biggest message is parents watch what your kids are doing out there," she said. "My kids will be the first to tell you, that I will grab their phones at any given moment and start searching their contacts, or their social media."

Jill said a lot of the administrators on those Facebook pages were kids, and they were spooked once she reached out to them and threatened to tell their parents about what they were doing.

FOX 2 contacted Facebook for comment but did not hear back.