Don’t Get Fooled Again: Fake Identities, False Friends, and Online Safety in the Age of Social Media

by Craig Hartranft on May 13, 2018

in Internet & Social Media Safety, Op-Ed

Still Suspicious? Let Social Media Provider Investigate
If you are still concerned, you can inform the social media provider (here we’re talking about Facebook, but this also applies to Twitter, Instagram, et al) of the potential for identity misrepresentation or deception. Facebook, for one, makes this easy to do by putting a resource to contact them right on the questionable profile/page. Take the pressure and anxiety of yourself and let the social media provider police their own community. It’s their job, just as it is your job, as a member of the community, to exercise caution and vigilance. They will attempt to contact the party in question to determine the veracity of their identity and so their profile/page. If the social media provider is not satisfied that a profile/page/group is not legitimate, they will shut it down as a violation of Facebook’s Community Standards (see more below in the next section).

[NOTE: With the aforementioned tool, Facebook also informs you to contact local police, if you think that the profile/page is a potential imminent threat to you or others. This is most often used for such dangerous activity like online bullying, sexual harassment, spousal abuse, or terrorist threats, but can also be used to advise of past, present, or potential criminal behavior.]

Users Are Both Responsible and Accountable for Creating False Identities …
The people who created the unidentifiable account profile have created the problem themselves by not being forthcoming about their identity in the first place, as any legitimate social media entity should and is required to do. 
Even so, whether by omission or commission, this is also a violation of Facebook’s Community Standards. Facebook advises:

Authenticity is the cornerstone of our community. We believe that people are more accountable for their statements and actions when they use their authentic identities. That’s why we require people to connect on Facebook using the name they go by in everyday life. Our authenticity policies are intended to create a safe environment where people can trust and hold one another accountable.

The standards include, but are not limited to:

Misuse our profile products by:

  • creating inauthentic profiles
  • sharing an account with any other person

Impersonate others by:

  • using their images with the explicit aim to deceive people
  • creating a profile assuming the persona of or speaking for another person or entity
  • creating a Page assuming to be or speak for another person or entity for whom the user is not authorized to do so

Engage in inauthentic behavior, which includes creating, managing, or otherwise perpetuating:

  • Accounts that are fake
  • Accounts that have fake names

Having a name:

  • pretending to be anything or anyone

Facebook may suspend or delete the profile or page of the user or, in the worst case scenario, ban the user from Facebook. In most cases, Facebook will suspend the suspect profile or page, and then contact the account holder to verify its identity. The account holder then bears the burden of proof to the profile’s correct identity. In the most egregious cases of fake identity and false representation, Facebook will ban the account holder from Facebook, often permanently.

 … And You Are Permitted To Report Them Fear Of Retribution
The entity behind the profile or page is at fault if they do not properly identify themselves. However, you are permitted, and even encouraged, to investigate and report a suspicious account identity. By investigating and reporting the spurious account, you did the responsible action as a responsible member of the social media community. Whatever consequences that the account holder incurs is due to their own irresponsible actions,  and not due to your responsibility as a member of the social media community. 

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