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Facebook Tells Law Enforcement to Quit Using Phony Accounts

by Dale Chappell

Facebook recently told law enforcement to stop using fake accounts as a ruse to bust people on its service. The social media giant also shut down several law enforcement accounts that violated its policy against phony accounts.

The fake accounts came to light in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Tennessee against the Memphis Police Department. The ACLU uncovered evidence that fake Facebook accounts were created to gather intelligence on activist groups. When Facebook was made aware of the fake accounts, it shut them down and issued a notice to Memphis police to stop creating fake accounts.

In a letter to Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings on September 19, 2018, Facebook requested the department to “cease all activities on Facebook that involve the use of fake accounts or impersonation of others.” Facebook reminded Rallings that its policy forbids users from misrepresenting their identity, misusing Facebook profiles, and impersonating others on its service—and that “Facebook has made clear that law enforcement authorities are subject to these policies.”

Memphis isn’t alone. The Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as police in Georgia, Nebraska, New York, and Ohio, also were found to be using the same tactics. Even prosecutors have endorsed the practice. 

At the 2016 Indiana Child Support Conference, a slide presentation told prosecutors that “police and federal law enforcement may create a fake Facebook profile as part of an investigation even though it violates the terms and policies of Facebook” in order to gather evidence in a case.

Facebook has since updated its policy banning fake accounts to be more clear that everyone— including law enforcement—must follow its policies, or their accounts will be deleted. 

Whether this will deter law enforcement from creating fake accounts is questionable, considering their blatant disregard for the rules in the past. 



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