Facebook wants DEA to confirm it stopped using fake profiles impersonating others

Facebook sent a letter to the DEA to make sure the agency stopped using all fake profiles impersonating others. Elsewhere, a fake Facebook profile setup by a 7th grader resulted in a court ruling that parents may be responsible for what their kids post on Facebook.

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Facebook wants to make sure the Drug Enforcement Administration does not create any more fake Facebook accounts and that it has stopped using any it has created, declaring, “The DEA’s deceptive actions violate the terms and policies that govern the use of the Facebook service and undermine trust in the Facebook community.”

In a letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, Facebook chief security officer Joe Sullivan added, "We regard DEA's conduct to be a knowing and serious breach of Facebook's terms and policies."

Facebook said it does not dispute Sondra Arquiett’s allegations that the DEA setup a fake Facebook account to impersonate her and posted photos of her that were seized from her cellphone. DEA agent Timothy Sinnigen used the fake profile to interact with “dangerous individuals he was investigating.” Arquiett is suing DEA agent Sinnigen and the government for “violating her privacy and placing her in danger;” she’s seeking $250,000 in damages.

The Justice Department defended the DEA’s actions, saying the federal agent had a right to impersonate Arquiett without her knowledge. “Defendants admit that Plaintiff did not give express permission for the use of photographs contained on her phone on an undercover Facebook page, but state the Plaintiff implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cell phone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in an ongoing criminal investigations [sic].”

Facebook disagrees, claiming it is “deeply troubled by the DEA’s claims and legal position.” Facebook’s Sullivan maintains the DEA’s actions “threaten the integrity” of Facebook’s “safe, trusted environment” where people use their real names and says impersonating others “abuses that trust.” It asked for confirmation that the DEA has ceased using Facebook to impersonate others and “taken all necessary steps to prevent further unauthorized use of Facebook by the DEA and its agents.”

The Justice Department said it is reviewing "the incident at issue in this case." DOJ spokesman Brian Fallon also told the Associated Press, "That review is ongoing, but to our knowledge, this is not a widespread practice among our federal law enforcement agencies."

After pointing out four distinct Facebook TOS and Community Standards that the DEA agent violated by creating a fake account, Sullivan wrote, "Facebook has long made clear that law enforcement authorities are subject to these policies.” Regardless of who you are, including being law enforcement, creating a fake profile violates Facebook TOS.

In talking about fake accounts that impersonate others, Facebook said that “such deceptive actions are often used to further harmful conduct, such as trolling, hate speech, scams, bullying and even domestic violence.” An example of using a fake account for cyberbullying purposes recently marked “a legal precedent on the issue of parental responsibility over their children’s online activity.”

Parents may be liable for what their kids post on Facebook

In Georgia, after a seventh-grade boy setup a fake Facebook profile to bully another kid, an appellate court ruled that parents can be held liable for what their children post on Facebook. The Wall Street Journal reported that a seventh-grade boy setup a fake account pretending to be a girl and “used a ‘Fat Face’ app to make her look obese and posted profane and sexually explicit comments on the page depicting her as racist and promiscuous.”

When the girl found out, she told her parents, who told the school, which “punished the boy with two days of in-school suspension and alerted his parents, who grounded him for a week.” But the fake cyberbullying profile stayed up for 11 months until the girl’s parents convinced Facebook to deactivate the account. The girl and her parents then sued the boy and his parents.

The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that parents may be “negligent” for failing to delete the fake Facebook profile. “Parents may be held directly liable,” the court said (pdf), “for their own negligence in failing to supervise or control their child with regard to conduct which poses an unreasonable risk of harming others.” Attorney Marc Randazza suggested that the boy's parents should have argued that 47 U.S.C. § 230 provides immunity from such claims.

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