Some definitions before the story:
- to make able; give power, means, competence, or ability to:
- to make possible or easy:
- to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence:
- to stimulate by assistance, approval, etc.:
Enable is more passive. In the case of online criminality, it would be merely providing the platform that makes crime possible. Encourage is active. Here it would be assisting the criminals, thus stimulating their activity.
Now the story:
Yesterday morning, I received a friend request from who I thought was a current Facebook friend, Maevyn Stone. It happens, especially when the person is a working musician. Occasionally changing or adding profiles helps with marketing, so I didn’t think anything of it. I accepted the request thinking that I was helping my friend.
A few minutes later, I received this message through the messenger app. Now, you’ll notice, as I finally did, that the message is not from Maevyn Stone but Maevyn-stone; however, that is her picture. I’ve known Maevyn for over 15 years now, approaching 20. I knew that this message didn’t sound like something that she would send to a friend, and I knew that she wouldn’t ask me to go to a third-party site to enter a contest. That’s just not her.
So, I informed them that I didn’t believe them, and they sent back this rather terse command to do as they say and fill out the form, “correctly.” I found this rather rude, and they were obviously not paying attention to what I was saying, so I decided to mess with them a bit.
I told them that their site wasn’t working and when they asked me to send my issue, I sent a link to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov) and informed them that they are idiots. I then reported them to Facebook and blocked them from communicating with me.
I figured that would be it. The government would . . . probably do nothing but put the website in a database, but Facebook would be sure to take down such blatant fraud since they would have put me in Facebook jail for calling them idiots. Or so I thought.
Maevyn started posting about these degenerate humans a few hours later. It turns out that I was one of the dozens of her fans who had reported the impersonator’s post, messages, and profile. She had reported them herself. We all pointed out that they used a grammatically incorrect version of her name and her photo and had set up their page to look more like hers. We told them that they were phishing for credit card numbers so that they could “credit our accounts.” This was an obvious attempt to scam the fanbase of a musician facilitated by Facebook’s platform.
Facebook’s reply was basically, “Hey, thanks for the report, but we’re fine with all of this. Let us know if you have anything real to report.” Maevyn received a report every time one of her friends or fans reported the page or a message to Facebook, dozens of them, and each time Facebook told her that the page met their community standards. One message even said that they were not trying to impersonate her. They were only using her name, her likeness, and imagery associated with her music, but hey, who is Facebook to judge?
After several hours of virtual combat, Maevyn’s fans were able to drive the doppelganger from Facebook, but they should never have had to. If it weren’t for her friends who know her and spotted the fraud immediately if it weren’t for Maevyn paying attention to her page and her fans, these miscreants could have stolen untold funds from them all and damaged Maevyn’s brand. From all evidence, this is all allowed by Facebook’s community standards. We know this because Facebook said so repeatedly.
That brings us back to the original question. Is this a case of enabling or encouraging? On the most basic level, Facebook does indeed enable this kind of crime. It provides the platform and facilitates communication with an artist’s fans. Without Facebook, this attempted felony wouldn’t have happened. But does it encourage such crime? I would argue yes.
Rather or not they intended to do so, Facebook definitely assisted in this crime. They had dozens of complaints about a single profile. They all pointed out that it was impersonating a public figure. Many pointed out that it was soliciting credit card numbers. Yet, their system did not flag this as a problem. This lack of action helped the criminals and therefore encouraged them to continue with their scam.
If someone knows that they can get away with bad behavior, there is no reason to stop, and they are encouraged to keep going.
According to their review, using an artist’s name, photo, and artwork without them knowing to bilk their fans out of money is just fine by Facebook. Identity theft, fraud, and larceny are what Mark Z. designed Facebook to do. They’re not going to stop anyone from using their product for its reason for being.
Facebook’s reputation as a bad actor in society is well earned. The reason they can’t control mis- and disinformation is that they simply don’t want to. Lies about politics or misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic attacks drive their bottom line. Playing to bad actors increases their traffic. Marketing to these people’s victims or at the very least their doups means more money flowing to the c-suite and shareholders. That is the only thing that Facebook really cares about. Small incidents like this serve to illuminate Facebook’s overall business model. The only way to change this may be for more of us to abandon Facebook entirely. Maybe the question should have been “is Facebook a criminal enterprise or does it just work with them?”
UPDATE: The Facebook algorithm noticed that Maevyn’s post about how Facebook was refusing to do anything about the imposter had a lot of interactions, so it suggested that she boost the post. Essentially, “Yeah, you’re right, we do suck. You should tell everyone.”