Facebook Tells Cops Its 'Real Name' Policy Applies To Law Enforcement Too
from the ignorance-of-the-policies-is-no-excuse dept
Facebook’s real name policy forbids fake profiles. Needless to say, this rule is broken all the time. Fake profiles are created every day. When they’re discovered, they’re shut down. People like breaking rules and a handful of moderators per millions of users can’t really keep up. We expect this kind of juvenile bullshit from average jerks like you and me, but shouldn’t we be expecting more from our public servants?
Of course we should. And Facebook — finally — is feeling the same way, as Dave Maass reports for the EFF.
This summer, the criminal justice news outlet The Appeal reported on an alarming detail revealed in a civil rights lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Tennessee against the Memphis Police Department. The lawsuit uncovered evidence that the police used what they referred to as a “Bob Smith” account to befriend and gather intelligence on activists. Following the report, EFF contacted Facebook, which deactivated that account. Facebook has since identified and deactivated six other fake accounts managed by Memphis police that were previously unknown.
In a letter to Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings dated Sept. 19, Facebook’s legal staff demands that the agency “cease all activities on Facebook that involve the use of fake accounts or impersonation of others.”
Fake Facebook accounts being used by law enforcement is nothing new, but we are hearing about it more frequently these days. Law enforcement officers should probably respect the rules put in place by service providers, but if they’re not going to, it’s up to service providers to enforce their terms of service.
No doubt being singled out for abusing Facebook policies will feel unfair to law enforcement personnel, who have used fake accounts to surreptitiously surveil Facebook users for the purposes of compiling criminal charges. There’s nothing illegal about it — at least as far as the courts can tell — so it’s really all about taking advantage of your host’s hospitality.
Facebook’s letter [PDF] basically just reiterates long-existing policies and asks the Memphis PD to knock it off. It’s unclear what the company will do if it suspects the MPD has ignored its “we see you” letter. It does appear the MPD has lost a few of its undercover accounts, as the letter states Facebook has “disabled the fake accounts [Facebook] identified” in its “investigation.”
If history is any indication, some words will be exchanged (in letter form) and then not much else will happen. Dave Maass notes the EFF brought the DEA’s use of fake profiles to the company’s attention four years ago. Some letter writing ensued then, but there’s nothing on the record indicating the DEA has ceased setting up fake profiles or that Facebook is proactively monitoring accounts for signs of fakery. Since neither side seems to be taking the fake profile issue seriously, fake accounts set up by law enforcement will continue to proliferate.
On the plus side, law enforcement can no longer pretend it’s unaware setting up fake profiles violates the terms of service. The company’s “Information for Law Enforcement Authorities” has been updated to make it clear there’s no law enforcement exception to the Facebook rules. But it’s likely the use of fake profiles will continue unabated. After all, you can’t catch scofflaws without breaking a few policies, right?