Fake Social Media Accounts and The Law

Back in November 2017, Facebook admitted that up-to 270 million accounts were assumed to be fake accounts, which is around 3 percent of the total. Now, add on peoples duplicated accounts and that takes the number of arguably false Facebook accounts to an astonishing figure, that even Facebook can’t really say.

Facebook has tried for years to cut down on fake social media accounts by using sophisticated algorithms and security settings, but despite this, the number just keeps increasing. America appears to be one of the worst offenders when most of us would have expected Russia to be the main culprit.

The disclosure, first reported by Business Insider, lead to increased scrutiny of the social network as it is under pressure to reveal how fake news and politically charged advertising may have affected last year’s US election as well as democracy around the world.

A US senator claimed that Russian operatives had “set up shop” in Scotland in an attempt to foment support for a second independence referendum as part of a global campaign of disruption. Facebook has admitted that 126m users in the US saw adverts funded by Russia and another 20m on Instagram.

Forgetting about the large organisations opening all these fake accounts, what does it mean for those individuals that often open fake social media accounts around the world. Is it illegal?

Fake social media accounts could lead to criminal charges

Offenders who set up fake online accounts to take revenge on other people are to face tougher action under new measures set out by prosecutors. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said people who create phony profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter could face charges including harassment.

New draft guidelines published by the CPS set out how prosecutors should take tough action against anyone who attempts to humiliate or undermine someone else by publishing false information online. Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said:

“Online communication is developing at such a fast pace; new ways of targeting and abusing individuals online are constantly emerging. We are seeing more and more cases where social media is being used as a method to facilitate both existing and new offenses. Offenders can mistakenly think that by using false online profiles and creating websites under a false name their offenses are untraceable. Thankfully this is not the case and an online footprint will be left by the offender.”

A CPS spokesman said the guidelines cover the use of false online profiles and websites which are set up to publicize “false and damaging information.”

“For example, it may be a criminal offense if a profile is created under the name of the victim with fake information uploaded which, if believed, could damage their reputation and humiliate them,” the spokesman said.

“In some cases, the information could then be shared in such a way that it appears as though the victim has themselves made the statements. This may amount to an offense, such as grossly offensive communication or harassment.”

The draft guidelines are open for consultation for six weeks and are expected to be brought into force later this year. They also cover the way social media is used to publish “revenge pornography” by offenders who seek to embarrass former lovers.

“Revenge pornography is predominantly carried out online and is worryingly becoming a common tactic of revenge, often after the breakdown of a relationship,” the CPS spokesman said.

The guidelines also cover the use of the internet in domestic abuse cases. Prosecutors will be told to watch out for cases in which an offender has used GPS location-gathering data and spyware “to assert control over a victim”, and to ensure this type of evidence is collected for use in court.

Mrs. Saunders added:

“It is vital that prosecutors consider the bigger picture when looking at evidence and examine both the online and offline behavior pattern of the defendant. Online abuse is cowardly and can be deeply upsetting to the victim. Our guidelines are under constant review and continuously updated to ensure prosecutors have clear advice on new methods of committing crimes.”