Fake Social Media Accounts Incite Police Investigations

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Facebook has been your ‘real identity’ online for years now. Google+ links all your accounts back to your real name and shut down pseudonym accounts for a while. These developments can have serious implications if someone is reported missing or if a public figure is impersonated.

In Moulins, France, a woman reported that a two-year-old boy was missing after his apparent great-aunt reported that she thought he was kidnapped. The town’s authorities went as far as sending divers into a nearby lake to search for the child. The problem with all of this is that neither this child, nor his parents, actually existed.

“The team [of detectives] has since discovered that the woman’s teenage daughter and a cousin — both minors — helped her to set up a false account using pictures taken from other users on the site,” wrote Kashmira Gander for the Independent.

According to Eric Mazaud, the public prosecutor involved in the case, the investigation has since turned from a kidnapping inquiry to one of reporting an imaginary crime. The motives remain unknown, but this isn’t the only case that has authorities chasing after users behind false accounts.

Local police raided the home of Peoria, Ill. resident Jon Daniel, searching for the user behind @peoriamayor on Twitter. Since the account wasn’t tagged as satire, Twitter had already shut it down several weeks before the police turned up.

Still, the authorities confiscated electronics and took everyone in for questioning to get to the bottom of the matter. According to Vice contributor Justin Glawe, Daniel had been portraying “Jim Ardis, the mayor of Peoria, as a weed-smoking, stripper-loving, Midwestern answer to Rob Ford.”

With identity becoming increasingly tied to social profiles, there can be serious consequences for creating fake or parody accounts. The French woman faces a fine of €7,500 and six months in prison, and Daniel may face a year in prison. But with increased skepticism, it may become more difficult to actually parody anything. Seems that very little is a joke anymore.

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