April 4, 2016 By Wallin & Klarich

It is common knowledge these days that any given online profile on LinkedIn or Facebook might contain false information. It can also be assumed that many online profiles are entirely fake. In fact, in 2014 Facebook reported that about 170 million of its accounts are fake.1 While this number may only make up somewhere between 5 and 11 percent of Facebook users, the problem is not just that they exist—its what they are used for.Jail-Bars-and-Cuffs.jpg

Many fake online accounts are used for malicious purposes, such as trolling, identity theft, or cyber bullying. While criminal laws address some of these issues once their criminal use becomes apparent, the actual creation of a fake profile is not a crime.

Recently, though, England has begun an effort to curb the creation of fake online profiles. As part of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act of 2015, British prosecutors are now being advised on how to criminally charge individuals who make fake online profiles with information that could damage a person’s reputation.2

Should California attempt to address the same issue with its own set of criminal laws? While it may at first seem like a good idea, the reality is that many of California’s laws already address the issues raised in the creation of fake online profiles. Further, criminal laws attempting to regulate this aspect of the internet may end up stifling free speech.

The Law in California

California has a number of laws meant to address some of the issues that arise from nefarious online activities. First, California Education Code Section 48900(r) allows schools to suspend or expel students who commit acts of bullying through electronic media.3 California Penal Code Section 646.9 also addresses harassment, threats, or stalking made over electronic media.4 Finally, California Senate Bill 255, which was passed in 2013, allows for the criminal punishment of “revenge porn.”

Together, these laws address many of the issues associated with the creation of fake online profiles. However, some argue that they do not go far enough. Advocates in England believed that the creation of a fake online profile with the intent to damage or embarrass another person should itself be criminalized.

Many believe that such a broad and far-reaching law would have negative affects on the free flow of information over the internet. Anonymity can create environments that encourage the exchange of controversial ideas, and many believe that punishing indecent or “offensive” messages will curb that free exchange.

California’s laws focus on actual threats to public safety, as well as protecting the privacy and well-being of California citizens. Attempting to regulate the internet to prosecute those who create fake profiles could open the floodgates for additional laws that hinder free speech.

Do You Think Creating Fake Social Media Profiles Should Be a Crime?

Should California pass laws to criminalize creating fake social media accounts? Do you think the British laws block free speech? Have you ever been personally affected by fake social media profiles? We want to hear from you about this issue. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-parsons/facebooks-war-continues-against-fake-profiles-and-bots_b_6914282.html href=”#ref1″>↩
2. http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-35712772 href=”#ref2″>↩
3. http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=48001-49000&file=48900-48927 href=”#ref3″>↩
4. http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=639-653.2. href=”#ref4″>↩

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