Facebook Impersonation: Funny Prank or Serious Crime?

5 years ago

Someone I love is being impersonated on Facebook.

In order to limit further exposure, I’m going to call my friend Sally. An “impostor” has set up a Facebook account using Sally’s name and her personal photos. This impostor makes regular updates by posting pictures of Sally’s children (and other people in her life) and referring to them by their real names while making up false information about them. Other people with (assumedly) fake accounts comment on these posts as if they are having real conversations. It is bizarre, and quite frankly, made me feel sick to my stomach as soon as I learned about it last week. In fact, I have stayed almost completely offline (outside of my professional responsibilities) since then.

So how does something like this even come about…and why does Facebook allow it to continue? Those were the first furious questions that raced through my mind. Why is this happening to Sally when it has never happened to me, the person who has so freely shared information about her family on her blog for the past five years? While Sally does use Facebook & Instagram, all of her photos are set to private. So how did she even become a target?

The answer is this: Sally happens to be friends with the wife of a celebrity. And somehow, an obsessed fan was able to connect Sally to the couple through their online conversations. Not only that…but the impostor has created fake accounts for everyone in the celebrity wife’s circle of friends, posting false information with real stolen photos of them and their children. None of them are quite sure where all of the photos are coming from. None of them are happy about it. FYI…just because someone is friends with a celebrity does not make them fair game for illegal impersonation. Hell, celebrities shouldn’t be fair game either! But while most celebrities have come to accept obsessed fans as “the price you pay for fame,” Sally and her family never signed up for this on any level.

Facebook’s guidelines specifically state that “Fake profiles created to imitate real people (impostor accounts) are not allowed on Facebook.” You are supposed to be able to report imposter profiles so that they can be removed. However, one glitch in the system (Facebook, take note) is that if the impostor has you blocked from their page (as Sally is from the current page that imitates her), the report won’t work. How stupid is that??  While Sally and her friends have found other ways to report these profiles to Facebook, they are not deleted in a very timely manner. And every time one site is shut down another one pops up. I believe this is a serious flaw in the Facebook system. Quite frankly, it is doing a CRAPPY job of keeping impostors off the network. It would be nice if Facebook had a procedure in place for blocking the IP addresses of repeat offenders from creating new profiles. Especially since – from our end – it appears pretty obvious that the same person is involved with creating all of these fake accounts.

The impostor’s main Facebook and Twitter accounts – IF they are to be believed – say that she is a 13-year-old girl from New Jersey. Assuming this is accurate – or even close to accurate (say she is an older teenager somewhere in Iowa) – I would just like to ask her, as a parental figure, “What the F***?”  Back when I was a teenager, the funny thing to do with your friends was to make prank calls. We would dial a number we didn’t know and ask for a goofy name or make some other silly request, then giggle and hang up. It was annoying, but harmless – and definitely not personal. Am I supposed to believe that THIS type of twisted behavior is the modern day version of pranking someone for teenage kicks?? Stealing someone’s private photos and information and posting it all over the Internet is now an amusing game?? I can think of a lot of things to call this type of activity…harassment, stalking, defamation, breach of privacy, computer fraud...but an amusing prank is certainly not one of them.

And if it’s NOT a teenager who thinks she’s being funny…if it’s actually an older, lonely, psychotic person (male or female) who is truly stalking Sally and her celebrity friends…that both scares and pisses me off even more. And it makes me more upset that Facebook is not doing more to protect its users.

Should law enforcement get involved at this point? Yes. Will they? It is very likely. It’s not my place to write about that, but I would invite anyone with insight into the laws governing this type of activity to leave me a comment. I would be particularly interested in examples of similar cases that have been successfully prosecuted.

And then there’s how this affects me. For the past week and a half, I have been seriously questioning whether I want to keep blogging publicly about my family. I know for a fact that the impostor stole several of the photos from my blog, and have since removed every photo that included Sally or her family. Have I always known (at least in theory) that evil, crazy people exist and that someone might decide to steal my personal information at some point? I guess I have. But I have always rationed that there are soooo many mommy bloggers out there doing the same thing and I am such a small fish…why would anyone focus on my family? Now I just keep thinking…why not? What if someone did?

What if someone already has (vomit) and I don’t even know it?

I am so conflicted. I love writing for my own enjoyment. I love that occasionally other people read the things I write and let me know what they think. I love that I have made actual REAL LIFE friends as a direct result of my blog. I love that writing this blog led to me being more involved with social media…which indirectly led to my first children’s book publishing contract. I also love that my experience with social media outside of work has tremendously helped my professional career.

Maybe all of those things are evidence that the Adventures in Parenting blog has truly served its purpose at this point. Maybe it’s time to focus solely on my job from here on out – or to start a new blog that is totally anonymous. Because the thought that I could be putting my kids in any kind of danger truly makes me feel sick. Thanks a lot, Facebook impostor, for sucking all the fun out of social media.

Feel free to weigh in with your advice.

Kate Hayes
Twitter ID: @Bostonblogmom

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