Apparently, Facebook isn’t the only one to take the blame on fake accounts to catfish people on the platform.
The company is now pointing fingers at the Los Angeles Police Department demanding it stops setting up fake accounts to conduct surveillance on users.
This is based on a recent report by The Guardian alleging that a US police department was working with a tech firm to analyze user data in order to help resolve crimes.
However, the giant social media company is completely against the creation of fake accounts on its platform – especially in regards to “surveilling” users – something which the company is still being grilled for by different governmental bodies across the country and even overseas.
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Facebook opposes the creation of fake accounts mainly because it wants to create a safe environment where people can trust and hold one another accountable.
“Not only do LAPD instructional documents use Facebook as an explicit example in advising officers to set up fake social media accounts, but documents also indicate that LAPD policies simply allow officers to create fake accounts for ‘online investigative activity,” wrote Facebook’s vice president and deputy general counsel for civil rights Roy Austin in a letter outlining Facebook’s policies.
“While the legitimacy of such policies may be up to the LAPD, officers must abide by Facebook’s policies when creating accounts on our services. The Police Department should cease all activities on Facebook that involve the use of fake accounts, impersonation of others, and collection of data for surveillance purposes.”
In a document that was obtained via public record requests made by the non-profit organization – the Brennan Center of Justice found out that in 2019, the LAPD had been using Voyager Labs’ social media surveillance software to collect data from suspects’ social media networks, including their friends’ accounts.
Voyager Labs on the other hand had stated that its software is able to analyze a large number of data in order to help resolve crimes including as well as helping to discern users’ motives and beliefs.
The LAPD however believes that the software had been useful in investigating the activities of street gangs online as well as the system is crucial in helping its robbery and homicide division with the collection of evidence that can be used during an investigation.
A Pot calling the kettle black
Facebook continues to point its fingers at the police department stating that spying on users and impersonating legitimate users goes against its policies which is to help “connect and share with real people using authentic identities” – The keywords here include “Real” and “Authentic”.
On the other hand, a security specialist from Australia – Robert Potter believes that the usage of fake identity on the internet can be justified in situations where human rights activists or journalists are trying to protect their privacy online or for users in countries where there is internet censorship.
However, Facebook’s stance on the issue is quite surprising and some attribute this to a pot calling the kettle black.
The social media giant has been accused in the past for its sluggishness in taking action against misleading political ads, online scams, and even the negative effects of its platform on young individuals.
“It’s genuinely interesting to see that Facebook has become the nexus for so many problematic communications, from child trafficking and terrorism communications to Covid disinformation,” he told the BBC.
“Yet they seem to care more about the LAPD misusing their platform than sometimes they do about China or Russia.”
Despite its stance on authenticity, Facebook banned accounts of US academics researching political ads on its platform back in August.
In its own defence, Facebook stated that it banned the researchers due to the fact that they were using data-scaping browser tools which undermined its security.
The academics on the other hand argued that their work was very crucial to maintaining democracy as well as keeping the platform’s practices as open as possible.
“If you’re not cracking down across the board on malicious actors using your platform, you don’t have strong grounds to crack down on legitimate use of the platform,” said Mr. Potter, who built the Washington Post’s cyber-security operations centre and has advised the Australian government on cyber-security.
“You’re not special if you run a social media platform. If there’s not a rule saying you can’t have an undercover cop in a church, why should a social media platform be any different?”