The names of websites, profile names and persons have been changed; to ensure client privacy.
Lexus is an avid user of the Locobook social networking site. She recently ended a six year relationship with Vern. Vern wasn’t too happy with the way it ended, so he embarked on a campaign to depreciate Lexus’s desirability to other Locobook users.
He did this by constantly creating impersonation profiles on Locobook. Each one had a picture of Lexus, and other personal information copied from her real profile. But under the personal information section, Vern would post sexual orientation and other information that was contrary to what Lexus had in her real profile.
He also engaged in the practice of “friend stealing,” in which he convinced people who knew Lexus to add one of the impersonation profiles to their friends list. After doing so, he would engage them in online conversations, pretending to be Lexus; with the goal of depreciating their opinions of her.
To Lexus, it seemed that her complaints to the Locobook operators were being ignored. Most of her complaints were being answered with an automated message to “just ignore him.” Surely she thought, something ought to be done.
In assessing the situation, I determined a number of things common to all social networking sites:
- Users are supposedly bound to a Terms Of Service (TOS) agreement.
- TOS agreements are only enforced when there is a creditable legal or financial liability threat to the site operators.
Complaints about impersonation profiles, from non-celebrities, do not represent creditable liability threats to site operators; even if such acts are prohibited in the TOS agreement. That is because the average person does not have the resources to escalate their complaint to levels that threaten the bottom line. To persuade Locobook into taking action against Vern, it was necessary to do the following:
- Discover all possible Locobook profiles, created by Vern.
- Assess the Locobook TOS agreement, looking for violations that represent high liability threats to Locobook’s operators.
- Analyze all of Vern’s profiles, looking for TOS violations that present high liability threats to Locobook’s bottom line.
The first step was an interview with Lexus, in which I determined such things as e-mail addresses, phone numbers, aliases, and favorite profile names; that Vern was likely to use. Additionally, I was provided with a list of persons that were likely to associate with Vern online. Armed with this information, I then used various “Advanced Search” features of Locobook to seek out all possible profiles that could be attributed to Vern. These not only included the impersonation profiles, but other profiles Vern created; based on his contrived online personas.
In order to create a social networking site profile, real or fictitious, one must usually register using an e-mail address or cell phone number; that can be verified. Most people are compliant in this regard and willingly provide names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers that are easily traceable to them. Locobook’s search features allowed me to discover most of the profiles that Vern created. Others were discovered by searching the friends list of persons known to associate with Vern.
An examination of Locobook’s TOS agreement revealed the usual litany of TOS violations: Commercial advertising, Copyright violation, Harassment, Impersonation, Public posting of e-mail addresses, Public posting of full names, Public posting of phone numbers, Slander, Solicitation of illegal acts, etc. I took this list of TOS violations and ranked each, according to the liability threat level they posed to Locobook’s operators. From highest to lowest, the top four liability threats were:
- Solicitation, promotion and incitement of illegal acts.
- Copyright violations.
- Commercial advertising.
- Posting of phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and full names.
These were considered high liability threats, because they had the greatest potential to affect Locobook both legally and financially. Therefore, no matter who the complainant was, there was a high probability that Locobook would take enforcement action against any of these particular TOS violations.
Next, I compared each of Vern’s profiles against the TOS agreement, and created a nitpick list of each and every profile’s TOS violations. I then highlighted those TOS violations that were high liability threats. By doing so, I created creditable justification for why TOS violations should be enforced against each profile. Of particular concern was a profile in which Vern impersonated a fictitious 14 year old female.
Given the number of recent criminal cases, involving online impersonations of underage females, this particular TOS violation stood out as a red flag, high liability threat for the Locobook operators. From a legal perspective, it could be used to implicate Vern in various violations of US Code Title 18, Part I, Chapter 117, Sections 2421 through 2424; otherwise known as The Mann Act.
Online impersonation of underage persons by ordinary citizens, is an offense that is taken quite seriously by authorities; as recently illustrated in the Wisconsin Facebook sex scam case.
Seizing upon this opportunity, I developed an electronic document package containing:
- A cover letter, outlining how Vern engaged in behaviors that not only violated Locobook’s TOS agreement, but possibly Federal laws as well.
- Personal identification information, that can positively identify Vern as the creator of the discovered profiles.
- A list of known Locobook profiles that can be attributed to Vern.
- An assessment of each profile; with an emphasis on discussing those TOS violations that were high liability threats.
I then anonymously sent the document package, via The Onion Router (TOR) network, to both the Locobook operators, and the FBI office that had jurisdiction over Vern.
Within two weeks, Vern’s profiles began disappearing at the rate of three per day. Any new profiles Vern tried creating, were deleted by Locobook within two days of creation.
After four weeks, Vern was left with only one personal profile, dedicated to his personal interests. Since then, Lexus has reported no new problems with impersonation profiles.
If you or someone you know, is having problems similar to those of this client, please contact The Assurer.