Don't Fake Facebook: New California Law Aims to Curb Cyber Bullying
If you have a Facebook profile, you've probably noticed that the social networking site is not populated solely by profiles of ordinary people. In fact, you've probably found that Facebook is not limited to just people. In addition to profiles of famous actors, actresses, athletes, and entrepreneurs, Facebook also features profiles for sports teams, bands, pets, books, products, and movies.
Generally, a book or product will have a basic profile that is not managed by anyone. The profile is initially created when someone "likes" it, and is available to other users as well, but no one creates content for that profile. Sometimes, pages for sports teams or fan pages for television shows are run by someone associated with the organization behind that team or show. Often, a publicity person or assistant runs the public profile of a famous actor, athlete, or musician.
Some profiles of public figures are run by someone the figure does not know. When an authorized assistant runs a famous person's Facebook profile, or an authorized friend of a non-famous person is in charge of that person's profile, there are no problems with legality. Also, if the page is clearly a parody of the individual, it's probably legal as well.
Impersonating Others Can Lead to Legal Trouble
However, when an unauthorized individual creates a Facebook profile pretending to be someone else, this may be illegal. Some states have laws against such acts, as it is considered a form of identity theft or cyber bullying. In California, for example, a new law makes it a misdemeanor for someone to make a fake Facebook profile of a real person if the purpose of the fake profile is to harm, intimidate, threaten, or defraud. Conviction could result in up to a year in jail and a fine of $1,000.
Other states have similar laws which were passed as anti-cyber bullying statutes. Because of the ease of creating fake profiles, Facebook can be a simple way for those with bad intentions to victimize others. These laws aim to curb some of that behavior.
Some consumers may worry that laws like this violate their free speech rights, but the laws do carve out exceptions for classically protected forms of free speech such as parodies. It also remains legal to create a profile for a fake person, although Facebook has a policy against doing so and will sometimes take down profiles it discovers to be fake.