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The Case of the Filthy Fake Facebook Profile.
March 10, 2011 10:44 AM   Subscribe

The Facebook profile I could not get removed. Writer Susan Arnout Smith joined Facebook only to find she was already there, as a fake profile trolling for sex. Needless to say it was difficult to contact Facebook about the matter, and sometimes difficult to convince friends and colleagues it wasn't really her. Eventually though, she tracked down the perpetrators. Radio Netherlands interview here.
posted by JanetLand (45 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Arnout: "I tried the number listed in the front of the book. It no longer connected to Facebook. I called Palo Alto information. No listing."

Just try to contact FB "customer support" for anything. Go ahead! It's a barrel of monkeys, I tells ya.
posted by blucevalo at 10:46 AM on March 10, 2011


I'm sure their customer support lines work fine. The problem is all those pesky "users" that think that they are the customers.
posted by explosion at 10:48 AM on March 10, 2011 [47 favorites]


But wait--I thought only people who had "something to hide" had something to fear from the privacy-destroying Facebook.
posted by DU at 10:49 AM on March 10, 2011


The problem is all those pesky "users" that think that they are the customers.

My favorite business truism these days: "If you're not paying for a medium, you're not the customer, you're the product."
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:50 AM on March 10, 2011 [18 favorites]


My favorite business truism these days: "If you're not paying for a medium, you're not the customer, you're the product."

True about MetaFilter as well.
posted by zeikka at 10:56 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, the irony of this with MZ's comment about "you don't need privacy" is rich.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:57 AM on March 10, 2011


I didn't pay for this copy of Debian.
posted by DU at 11:01 AM on March 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yikes. What a nasty ordeal.
posted by nickyskye at 11:01 AM on March 10, 2011


PRODUCT!
posted by LoopyG at 11:02 AM on March 10, 2011


My favorite business truism these days:

Heh.
posted by cortex at 11:02 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


all the millions they're making and they can't hire anyone to take care of complaints like this - it's shameful
posted by pyramid termite at 11:02 AM on March 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


This happened to a good friend of mine. Someone opened a fake account under her real name that was cruel, disguisting and unbearably hurtful - a full on character attack in the worst way. Then they went to her real page and friended all the same people, so they would see it. Her career is very networking-oriented, and the whole situation was just so awful - it was like an unrelenting bully, who you can never identify.

The worst part, besides being truly unable to figure out who did it, was trying to figure out WHY they did it. It was definitely someone who knew her, someone who had some grudge or bitterness I suppose, but we couldn't for the life of us come up with what kind of a grown person would stoop to this level, nor anything she could have done to deserve it. It did a lot of psychic damage at a really difficult time and nothing could be done. I'm glad the author didn't have the same outcome. Facebook fakery is not a victimless crime.
posted by buzzkillington at 11:03 AM on March 10, 2011


If Facebook doesn't give her the help she wants, she should totally just close her account and leave.
posted by sourwookie at 11:05 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


My favorite business truism these days: "If you're not paying for a medium, you're not the customer, you're the product."

Good god I'm sick of hearing this. Based just on the relationship between subscribers/service/medium/advertisers, how is Facebook any different from teevee networks, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, search engines? Yeah, Facebook makes its money off of advertising dollars. So does CBS and The New York Times. That doesn't mean that these companies have an inside-out business model in which they have little to no reason to attempt competent customer (subscriber) service. It doesn't mean that it serves the economic interests of Facebook to be hostile to users because it views them as products on a shelf. If Facebook is hostile to users it's because Facebook doesn't care about users, not because of a New Social Media Business Model That Views People As Chattel.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:07 AM on March 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


Facebook is not prepared to address supernatural problems, such as nymphomaniac doppelgangers. For that you either need a priest or a gigolo.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:08 AM on March 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


how is Facebook any different from teevee networks, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, (some) search engines?

Well, Facebook is collecting personal data. But you probably shouldn't be using those other things either.
posted by DU at 11:10 AM on March 10, 2011


Good god I'm sick of hearing this. Based just on the relationship between subscribers/service/medium/advertisers, how is Facebook any different from teevee networks, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, search engines?

You are not the customer of any of those others, either. That's the point. The difference is that you don't give your personal information to the TV.
posted by The World Famous at 11:16 AM on March 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yeah, Facebook makes its money off of advertising dollars. So does CBS and The New York Times. That doesn't mean that these companies have an inside-out business model in which they have little to no reason to attempt competent customer (subscriber) service.
Are you sure about that?
posted by adamrice at 11:17 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's entirely possible for a company's business model to be more complicated than two buckets labeled CUSTOMERS and PRODUCTS, is my point, and I think it's naively cynical to assume otherwise. It is presumably in Facebook's economic interest to maintain a minimum level of satisfaction from the userbase, because if the userbase goes down, advertising revenue goes down. I think that that relationship is enough of a complication to discredit the notion that Facebook users are merely signing up to become products to be sold.

But in any case that isn't what this thread is about, so I'll stop now.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:28 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a horrible story, and even though I am no longer on FB, it affects my life.

I know at least one person who is a care taker (a mother) for a mentally ill adult (her dauther) who is suicidal. Some people have put up pictures of this person with a tombstone and RIP and images to provoke. FB will do nothing to take it down (good luck trying to contact those phone numbers, emails, etc.). The average person could probably handle this, but someone who is mentally ill, maybe not.

I have to admit that I found a fake fan club for me (don’t ask). But seriously, I work with clients who sometimes google me first and guess what pops up as number 2? I also can’t find a functioning number for FB.

At this point, I would contribute money to lawsuits against that company. Most companies have a point of contact. They seriously can’t afford a phone?

This story was far worse in terms of the repercussions. I wish in the states that there would be consequences for this (as the author mentions, in parts of Europe, this is against the law and there are consequences).
posted by Wolfster at 11:45 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


The thing about this interesting story is that none of its elements is that much of a surprise.

Sure, the web is an authoritative, totemic edifice... but it's also a graffiti wall.

And once you've got access to the wall, the spraypaint supply is limitless.

As for Facebook... well, it's Facebook.

Contempt for the user (or even non-user, in this case) is part of its brand. (This is something of a tangent, but in all seriousness, masochism does seem to be an element of its appeal: "Look at how busy I am! Look at how in demand I am. See how much I have to put up with... and wow I feel lucky to be here!" It's not unlike the mentality you find inside a popular dance club or bar, where the inconvenience is itself a convenience-- a mark of exclusivity and success.)

To be honest, Facebook's technical and UI prowess notwithstanding, I'm still surprised that no heavily-backed competitors have burst forth to take it on, and really really surprised that there haven't been a bunch of astroturfed, persistent popular lobbying efforts against Big Facebook's War on Privacy.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:45 AM on March 10, 2011


a New Social Media Business Model That Views People As Chattel

Wait, was there at some point an old capitalist business model that didn't view people as chattel?
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:48 AM on March 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


I was most impressed with her decision not to reveal the kids names and location. Struck me as a way more mature decision than I would have made and one that was much more thought out than I would have made.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:58 AM on March 10, 2011


This strikes me as the sort of thing where a call to the cops or a lawyer would be a very good idea.

Her explanation that the cops couldn't help her because she wasn't being stalked seems incredibly thin. She was the victim of harassment and identity theft.

I find it incredibly difficult to believe that the police would hang up on a caller who said "Somebody has stolen my identity and is using it to sell prostitution services." Similarly, her attorney-nephew's nonchalance in the matter was somewhat disquieting. Why didn't he serve Facebook with a C&D letter? Did he offer her any advice, apart from "wait it out?" Facebook are arrogant, but not arrogant enough to ignore a legal threat resolving around an issue that could have been fixed by the correct people in less than a minute.

Instead of using her free legal counsel or pushing to get help from the police, she talked to a priest, and then tracked down (and stalked) the people who might have been responsible, and contacted a school official to attempt to resolve the matter, who was somehow able to do so in a matter of hours by contacting Facebook directly. How? She never followed up, so we don't know. She didn't even make an attempt to figure out if the kids who friended the fake profile were actually complicit in its creation, or were just a group of horny teenagers looking for hot women on Facebook. (After all, if they knew the profile was fake, why would they even bother friending it?)

I mean....this woman's a journalist and a writer. Her reluctance to follow up with any of her sources, or to do even the most basic level of research is baffling to behold.

Basically, I'm saying that this story seems reminiscent of The Social Network. True on some basic level, but embellished and obfuscated to the point where it's impossible to draw any detailed or accurate conclusions about what actually happened.

(And, yes, I understand that this was a sensitive and emotional ordeal for her...but she did document and write about the entire affair on a high-traffic website, so I don't really buy that as an excuse for sloppy journailsm.)
posted by schmod at 11:58 AM on March 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


shakespeherian:
I think it's entirely possible for a company's business model to be more complicated than two buckets labeled CUSTOMERS and PRODUCTS, is my point, and I think it's naively cynical to assume otherwise.


Exactly. You have to groom the product to be submissive to the constant erosion of privacy, so there's Customer, Groomer, Product.

Well, not really. There's the chance that the service is valuable despite the fact you're the commodity in an exchange of money. For all the cases terrible user service, personal information hidden only if you know what you're doing, and that sort of thing, people find forgotten friends and lost family members through the site. Parties are organized, pictures are shared and events remembered fondly between people who are thousands of miles apart.

I think the truism is better put this way: if you're not paying for it, someone is (and you still might be paying for it, but not directly).

And that doesn't mean you should only use services you pay for, or that such services won't be using your information for further gains. Be cautious about where you enter your information, the internet is not a safe playground full of free information.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:13 PM on March 10, 2011


At this point, I would contribute money to lawsuits against that company. Most companies have a point of contact. They seriously can’t afford a phone?

I'm guessing they are very talkative in 2 cases:
1) You want to buy advertising
2) You look up their records in the State of Incorporation and you serve the registered agent with a lawsuit. They may take notice and work with you if you send an 'intention to sue' letter.

The upside to a lawsuit - you may be able to get 'em to be on the hook for deleting the crap once it re-shows up.

The less talkative version - they get a request from a court case to turn over the login and other information....odds are they'll want to charge you a fee to dig up the records.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:16 PM on March 10, 2011


So they're like Microsoft? You can never talk to a person at Microsoft either. In a way I understand, FB and MS are first point of contact for people who have no idea how computers work, so they would have to field a lot of really idiotic questions. On the other hand, whenever I've had a systems admin issue with a MS product, it's been frustrating to know that they *do* have working support numbers in other countries, where the law requires them.
posted by subdee at 12:44 PM on March 10, 2011


Facebook is not prepared to address supernatural problems, such as nymphomaniac doppelgangers. For that you either need a priest or a gigolo.

Well, I am an ordained minister in the ULC and both easy and very single.

Would that work?
posted by Samizdata at 1:32 PM on March 10, 2011


And, FWIW, I ran into an old girlfriend from high school on FB (one of my two great regrets of relationship ball-dropping), and we have been having a wonderful time rediscovering each other.
posted by Samizdata at 1:41 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


This isn't an issue of her using a free service that she is unsatisfied with. It's an issue of people providing a space for identity thefts to use the identities of others and offering no accountability for how that could affect those whose identities get used in this manner.

Now whether or not facebook SHOULD address all the shitty things it's users do is kind of up in the air to me. Should facebook care if users are using facebook to prey on under age girls? To make homicide threats to people?

I'm going to side on , yes, ideally they should have a response for that, however how is that supposed to work? Obviously the police should handle anything crime related but to what extent should facebook be taking requests that there is a facebook profile worth investigating? And should identity theft of this type be handled by the police? Is it even a crime?

My main point though is for those complaining that she should recognize that she gets what she pays for--- are missing the point that she is not upset with her use of facebook-- but what facebook has allowed it's users to do without offering any interference.

If you want to debate her on that, fine--- but this is like someone complaining that the restaurant nearby has been dumping excess soup in the parking lot next to her lawn and it smells--- and then telling her she shouldn't complain because she hasn't paid for any soup.

Ok that was a pretty bad anology but perhaps the point came through ?LOL
posted by xarnop at 1:43 PM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is wild. A naughty, fake profile exists for eight months without ever affecting her life in any perceptible way, and once she learns of it, over the course of a month she quickly spirals into dysfunction, no longer sleeping or writing, unable to follow conversations. She consults the police, her nephew who is an attorney, a priest. Then she goes into obsessive investigative journalist mode, researching the 22 friends of the profile as though she were trying to track down the Zodiac Killer. She wants all of these kids (whom she simply assumes must be responsible) hurt, scared and suffering, wants them to pay for stealing a chunk of her soul. "I could take the schools apart, the lives of the kids apart," she claims, considering filing a lawsuit in an undisclosed foreign country. Instead, she contacts the schools (plural: the profile is apparently a part of a conspiracy); they write Facebook; the profile comes down. Sue Smith can dream again.

Don't mistake me: identity theft sucks, and she has my sympathy. This sort of thing is a new phenomenon, and people don't always know how to react. But part of me is more freaked out by the real person who loses their mind over a fake profile with 22 friends in another country than the fake identity she feared would ruin her reputation (a stock photo and a bad cut-and-paste job + ideas about sex originating from religious high school on the other side of the world).

It seems to me that if this happens you give Facebook 24 hours or a week to get rid of it, and then you talk to a lawyer, who should be able to get the profile taken down within another few days for a few hundred bucks. It's less theatrical and you won't get a Salon.com article out of it, but at least you would be able to sleep and not have some made-for-TV Heart of Darkness-style breakdown.
posted by millions at 2:02 PM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


at least you would be able to sleep and not have some made-for-TV Heart of Darkness-style breakdown.

I laughed out loud at the notion that Conrad's Heart of Darkness was made for TV.
posted by The World Famous at 2:05 PM on March 10, 2011


A friend of mine who is a scientist from another country and has a very unique name, even in her country, was stalked and harassed by an info tech employee at her university. Because of his position he somehow had access to her work email, among other things. The police got involved, he was convicted, did some time in jail, and is now out on parole.

At some point he set up a Facebook account in her name and when her friends started showing up he wrote them vicious stuff about her. She tried to close the FB account without success. Phone numbers led nowhere, emails were ignored. Even the local police seem incapable of getting through to FB.
posted by mareli at 2:16 PM on March 10, 2011


I laughed out loud at the notion that Conrad's Heart of Darkness was made for TV.

Incredibly, the overreaction evident in the article walks that line of incongruity. Arbitrary teenage maliciousness elevated to the level of a soul-scarring, harrowing journey. Part of me wants to copy excerpts to illustrate, but I do in fact feel bad for the author, and I don't want to wade further into bad taste.
posted by millions at 2:30 PM on March 10, 2011


So they're like Microsoft? You can never talk to a person at Microsoft either....whenever I've had a systems admin issue with a MS product, it's been frustrating to know that they *do* have working support numbers in other countries, where the law requires them.

Microsoft happily offers phone support in the US. It's even free in some cases. When it isn't, the per-incident charges range from around $59 for most consumer software issues to $515 for an after-hours server software issue. You can also straight up pay $210/hr for open-ended telephone support. Alternatively you can buy a support contract.
posted by jedicus at 2:42 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Exterminate all the brutes fake Facebook profiles.
posted by adipocere at 2:57 PM on March 10, 2011


The principal wrote: We then alerted Facebook and the page has been removed.

The wording was vague. How did they get it down? I did not know. Maybe in their country, there was a support number that worked faster; maybe the principal of a school has more pull than a writer. I only know that when I looked for the profile, it wasn't there anymore. Finally.


So, it sounds like it was "removable," but she wasn't very successful getting it removed herself.

It seems like Facebook likely has a generally poor response time for these claims, but it also sounds like she probably didn't submit the claim in the best possible way.

Relevant Facebook link.

"I need to report an impostor profile.

If someone has created an account to impersonate or imitate you, please go to the impostor profile and click "Report/block this person" at the bottom of the left column. Check the "Report this Person" box, choose "Fake Profile" as the reason, and add "Impersonating me or someone else" as the report type. Be sure to add a valid web address (URL) leading to the real profile so that we can review the information."

Major flaw there, of course, is that advice only works for Facebook users. If you are a non-Facebook user (not the case with Ms. Smith) trying to remove a fake profile, then what?

I wanted the kids who had done this to understand so completely the impact of their behavior

I'm still curious what exactly the "impact" was. It doesn't sound like much. I'm sure she has a legitimate claim, but what damages would you award her?

I mean....this woman's a journalist and a writer. Her reluctance to follow up with any of her sources, or to do even the most basic level of research is baffling to behold.

I agree. I'm wondering if my lack of sympathy is due mostly to the sloppy presentation and bad information. It's like talking to my mother-in-law about the Internet, i.e. there are a lot of things in there that don't make any sense.

Also, I think the kids picked her because her name is so common. Susan Smith? Not the murdering mom? ...
posted by mrgrimm at 3:04 PM on March 10, 2011


THAT's where I heard it. I will now always attribute it to blue_beetle (using his real name if away from Mefi) and maybe even buy a crappy shirt (crappy because of CafePress, not him)
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:14 PM on March 10, 2011


My favorite business truism these days: "If you're not paying for a medium, you're not the customer, you're the product." True about MetaFilter as well.

So I guess you're saying those of us who were members before the fee are the product and the rest of you paid $5 for the privilege of chatting with us? I'm flattered.
posted by straight at 4:40 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I guess you're saying those of us who were members before the fee are the product and the rest of you paid $5 for the privilege of chatting with us? I'm flattered.

Even if you use an ad blocker, and notwithstanding the small, unobtrusive size of the ads and Matt's undisputable awesomeness as a site-owner, companies are paying green money to put their ads on the front page so that even the special pre-$5 MeFites might see them.
posted by The World Famous at 4:47 PM on March 10, 2011


You are not the customer of any of those others, either. That's the point. The difference is that you don't give your personal information to the TV.

The fuck you say? Your tee vee watches you as you watch it, man. It knows you better than *you* know you. Take my word for it, friend-o, Dan Rather has all of your personal information on his desk right now. Yeah man, he knows the shit out of you.
posted by NoMich at 5:29 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Take my word for it, friend-o, Dan Rather has all of your personal information on his desk right now. Yeah man, he knows the shit out of you.

True. But that's because I've been sending him creepy love letters for years telling him everything about myself.

And the Kinect is spying on me.
posted by The World Famous at 5:30 PM on March 10, 2011


Compare and contrast the case of Chinese dissident Michael Anti.
posted by mhum at 5:41 PM on March 10, 2011


If you are a non-Facebook user (not the case with Ms. Smith) trying to remove a fake profile, then what?

Then you take 2 minutes to create a Facebook account with a throwaway email address, and then close it when you're done taking down the imposter.

What I find funny is that FB will almost immediately take down a photo that gets reported as having pornography - without even looking at the photo, as I've had friends get reported for fully clothed, not even remotely sexual photos (and one friend had a photo of a TOASTER get reported and removed as containing nudity), but they take weeks, and sometimes longer, to take down imposter profiles. It's quite silly, really.
posted by antifuse at 9:03 AM on March 11, 2011


Your tee vee watches you as you watch it, man. It knows you better than *you* know you. Take my word for it, friend-o, Dan Rather has all of your personal information on his desk right now.

Metropia
posted by mrgrimm at 9:18 AM on March 11, 2011


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