Facebook reminds America's cops that they're not allowed to use fake accounts

Facebook's terms of service require users to use their real names; though thiis has lots of potential downsides (including allowing dictators to identify and round up opposition figures), you'd hope that it would at least be evenly applied -- for example, to law enforcement agencies like the Memphis Police Department, who use "Bob Smith" accounts to befriend and entrap activists online.

US law enforcement makes quite a habit out of this kind of thing, and many forces have admitted in court to using fake Facebook identities to target suspects. Cops even get legal advice telling them this is OK, even though it violates Facebook's terms of service.

The ACLU uncovered evidence of the fake Memphis PD accounts in the course of a civil rights lawsuit. EFF got the Memphis cops' Facebook accounts terminated after the news broke, and Facebook's lawyers sent a C&D to the Memphis cops telling them to end the practice.

EFF's been chasing Facebook on this for four years, since the DEA was revealed to be using fake Facebook accounts in its investigations. After the Memphis incident, Facebook updated its law enforcement policies to make it clear that this conduct is not permissible.

But as EFF's Dave Maass points out, Facebook users get lifetime bans for creating fake accounts. Shouldn't police departments that break the rules get equal justice?

The presenter told the audience: “Police and Federal law enforcement may create a fake Facebook profile as part of an investigation and even though it violates the terms and policies of Facebook the evidence may still be used in court.”

The question remains: what action should Facebook take when law enforcement intentionally violates the rules? With regular users, that could result in a lifetime ban. But, banning Memphis Police Department from maintaining its official, verified page could deprive residents of important public safety information disseminated across the platform.

It’s not an easy call, but it’s one Facebook must address and soon. Or better yet, maybe it should abandon its untenable policy requiring authentic names from everyday people who don’t wear a badge.

Facebook Warns Memphis Police: No More Fake “Bob Smith” Accounts [Dave Maass/EFF Deeplinks]