How do I get rid of the Facebook fakers?

By | July 11th, 2013

1000 Words / Shutterstock.com
1000 Words / Shutterstock.com
Someone is spoofing the accounts of a celebrity’s wife and teenage kids. What’s an IT guy to do when Facebook ignores him?

Question: I handle IT for a celebrity in the UK, and we are having a problem with Facebook that we’re hoping you can help us with. Our client’s wife and two teenage children have set up Facebook accounts under aliases, for security reasons, but lately there has been a spate of fake profiles being made in their real names.

These profiles contain personal and private photographs of the family members and our client. Several of them purport to be our client or a member of his family. As I am sure you understand, this is very distressing for the family and could cause problems, as the power of Facebook to influence public opinion is huge.

We have gone through the online channels of reporting the fake profiles and requesting that Facebook remove them with limited success. Recently the profiles have become more personal and we have e-mailed Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg for help and have had no response. We have messaged the fake profilers requesting that they remove the profiles – again with limited success. Profiles come down, only to reappear a few hours later.

It is impossible to talk to a real live person at Facebook, no matter what option you choose on the contact numbers, so I am reaching out to you in desperation. Obviously, my client does not wish the matter to escalate, but feels that there may be no recourse left to him other than legal action. Before we go down this route, we wondered if you could offer some assistance or advice. — George Moss, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom


Answer: This is one of the more unusual cases that’s crossed my desk. I don’t normally deal with celebrity problems and even though readers often complain about social media companies, they can usually figure out a workaround on their own. But not this time.

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As I’m sure you know by now, Facebook requires that you use your real name when you set up an account. That may have caused the non-response from the company. Your clients were not following the rules, technically.

Still, the company should have responded quickly to review and close these impostor sites. You forwarded some of these to me, and you also described them in your grievance. They clearly violated Facebook’s community standards. I can’t go into details, but let’s just say the pages were pretty offensive.

By the way, Facebook recently introduced “verified” accounts, which may help distinguish your client’s accounts from an impostor.

Contacting someone at Facebook can be a challenge. Although the executives are listed on its site, they don’t really offer a way to reach someone who can help you at a supervisor or management level. To add to the confusion, email addresses follow at least two conventions: either firstinitiallastname@fb.com or firstname.lastname@fb.com. Pretty tricky, huh?

You have to really dig hard to find the names of some other executives and extrapolate their email addresses. But it’s possible.



  • polexia_rogue

    “have set up Facebook accounts under aliases, for security reasons”

    facebook security options allow for you to set your profile to just “family/friends”. as long as you are not stupid (meaning do not accept ALL friend requests) it is not necessary to make a fake name.

  • jpp42

    But how many friend requests would a celebrity’s private account get every day? Aren’t all accounts still listed in the search by name, even if only limited information shows?

    I mean, I searched on “Hugh Jackman” as an example and the official page shows up first, but the results also contain dozens upon dozens of other unofficial profiles, many with hundreds of friends. If Mr Jackman had a real profile in among those, it would probably get dozens of requests per day…

    Also, there’s probably room for spoof accounts under free speech protections of parody, as long as they don’t violate the community guidelines.

  • First world problems…

  • sirwired

    I don’t blame them; just about every time Facebook introduces a new feature, the default is for that feature’s information to be open to the whole world. It’s then up to you to log in and lock it down and restrict it.

    And, in any case, I suspect they don’t want to even SEE the deluge of friend requests they’d possibly end up receiving.

  • EdB

    “As I’m sure you know by now, Facebook requires that you use your real name when you set up an account. That may have caused the non-response from the company. Your clients were not following the rules, technically.”

    Chris, since this was a problem with imposter accounts and nothing to do with the client’s alias accounts, Facebook might not have even known about them.

    Since we are dealing with a celebrity, this is something that probably should be taken up with their legal team, not a consumer advocate. Even though you got FB to take those down, have they stayed down? From the story, it sounds like new fake ones popped right back up.

  • Kevin Mathews

    You can actually lock down who you receive Friend Requests from. I believe the choices are “Everyone” or “Friends of Friends”. That combined with making your profile fairly private should reduce the number of Friend Requests that you receive.

  • TonyA_says

    Who really needs facebook anyway?

  • Sam Varshavchik

    Ok, so, as the story drew to a close, the fake accounts have been removed.

    I’m sure there’s twice as many new fake accounts, by the time the story was published here.

    Welcome to the Internet.

    I have absolutely no use for Facebook. But, from what I understand, they do have some sort of privacy controls.

    A better idea would’ve been to have the celebrities create accounts under their real name, verify them, and lock down privacy controls so they’re mostly empty. If Facebook’s controls would allow the to use their accounts, in privacy, to communicate with their friends and family, then that’s that. If not, they can go back to using their alias accounts.

    But the point is to create the accounts under their real names, reserving them, so that nobody else can take those names, and, basically, not use them for much.

    Seems like a better solution, then to have to go back and harass Facebook, every week, into closing the latest crop of phony accounts.

  • The accounts have stayed down, as far as I know. Something tells me Facebook didn’t want to hear from me again.

  • So true. You’d be shocked at what else they send me …

  • BillCCC

    It must have been a very minor celebrity or the cheapest celebrity in the UK to go to an US consumer advocate to ask for free assistance. It looks like this ‘celebrity’ needs a new IT person.

  • I agree with Sam. You can hide your profile from public searches so that eliminates the deluge of friend requests. You can lock it down so only friends see the content, or friends of friends, or public (and that can be done and changed on a post by post basis), you can not allow others to subscribe.

    If you wanted a profile strictly between your immediate friends and families, it is pretty easy to do. Sheryl Sandberg does it and so does Zuck.

  • Jim Zakany

    Facebook is under no obligation to remove “fake” accounts. It is not an official directory of people, by any means.

  • Jim Zakany

    They don’t want to hear from anyone. They just want the ad machine to keep cranking.

  • Raven_Altosk

    *yawn*
    I could not have asked for a more boring article on a Thursday. Thanks for motivating me to have a third cup of Joe, Chris. :P

    …seriously? Who the heck cares if a “celebutard” is upset that someone is using their name on facebook? Use your real name, problem solved.

    I find it fishy that a guy who is in the business of managing celebutard IT/social media has no contacts at Facebook to handle such things….
    Just sayin’

  • Raven_Altosk

    Celebutard problems. Even worse.

  • Sounds familiar to me. I have tried many times– through Facebook’s on line FAQ– to remove an old page which has me as the head of a womens travel club which I sold in 2006. Any association with the buyers of my former women’s tour company is un-welcomed on this end. Facebook does nothing and seems to be more interested in keeping defunct pages to hype their numbers. My next step is to begin sending certified letters to their corporate headquarters with cc to people like you, Christopher. Great service to us all.

  • Switch to espresso. I have!

  • emanon256

    You beat me to it.

  • emanon256

    There is a setting to make your account not searchable. I leaned about it because I made my account not searchable and wondered why I never got friend requests. Then I made it searchable, and suddenly people whom I haven’t spoken to in over 20 years started friend requesting me.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Here, here! Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil,” but Facebook’s sure seems to be “BE evil.”

  • Grant Ritchie

    Ha! Amen. :-)

  • Moe

    This is the most stupid article you wrote, congratulations!

  • Bill

    I’m sorry I have a hard time believing this George Moss letter. With no disrespect to Chris why would an IT Professional for a “celebrity family” reach out to a consumer advocate in the US. The UK also has consumer advocates who could have done the same thing. It also beggars belief that a “celebrity family” who would have lawyers and other staff on retainer could not have resolved this without having this whole issue appear on a very public website.

  • Jim Zakany

    What value does it add to Facebook for them to remove your page for you?

    If it is really your page, you can remove it yourself.

    From the top of your Page, click Edit Page

    Select Edit Settings

    Click Delete your Page at the bottom of the Page next to Remove Page

    Click Delete [Page name], then click Delete Page to confirm

    If that doesn’t work, then you’re not the owner of the page.

  • Jim Zakany

    New reader?

    Zing!

    (Sorry, Chris. He made that too easy to pass up.)

  • If you work for a company that uses your name for marketing and you leave the company, you do not have passwords to edit Facebook. You are then left at the mercy of your former company.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Thank you, Moe, for your reasoned, insightful comment. We welcome intelligent discussion.

  • Jim Zakany

    As I suspected – it’s not your page.

    Take it up with that company. If necessary, take them to small claims court for advertising costs associated with using your likeness and ongoing customer correspondence.

    Facebook isn’t going to remove someone else’s page on your say-so, nor should they.

  • Thanks, but I did send information to Facebook proving that the company was no longer in existence. Their FAQ says they will investigate but they do not. Gotta move on but I think your original list of what to do is very useful fot others.

  • LeeAnneClark

    You can’t “reserve” a name on Facebook. Did it not occur to you that there are many people with the same name?

  • Moe

    I read Chris since his problem with the TSA, this is my opinion, period!

  • Joe_D_Messina

    The easiest way to prevent this sort of thing is to have your account under your real name. Going the alias route just leaves your real name open to the fakers. Really a terrible strategy.

    They could either use the account under their real name and set it to only share with friends, or they could use it as a public portal and just throw the occasional bone to fans while using an alias account for private items with their real friends.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    But the “don’t be evil” pretty much went away when they launched their very own version of Facebook.

  • Noah

    If you think that FB does not do enough to stop fake accounts, what should they be doing that they are not?

  • Noah

    All problems on this site are first world problems. Doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

  • Trudi

    No body is forced to participate in Facebook or any other social media. They do so at their own risk and why would anyone believe they have a modicum of privacy? If you choose to use Facebook, then by all means follow the rules of privacy and set up your guidelines accordingly. In all the world there are so many problems facing consumers, somehow a Facebook account shouldn’t be such a monstrous issue. If someone really wanted to protect their privacy, they probably should set up their real name and set all the privacy settings to zero.

  • pauletteb

    Faked/spoofed accounts are against FB’s published “rules,” so removing such accounts would be under its purview.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    The UK also has much more strict rules on privacy and libelous content.

  • TonyA_says

    Can’t wait to here from Larry and Joe to complete the trifecta.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Purview, yes, Obligation, no. A company has the right to enforce its rules, or not, as it sees fit (as long as it’s doing so in accordance with the law).

  • Rebecca

    Amen!!!!!

  • AH

    it could be because facebook is based in the US, not the UK.

  • carillon246

    I think the problem is that some weirdo fan has set up an account using his family’s REAL names and is making those accounts wide open to anyone and then he is posting all sorts of private and vile stuff on it. The question is how do you stop that kind of behavior? Even if I own an account in my real name, nothing will stop another person from opening up an account in my name and spoofing me. Email addresses are unique but names aren’t. Online verification can be circumvented easily. I think their only recourse is a lawsuit. Perhaps other people who have suffered same (from vengeful exes etc.) can join them.

  • StarKiller

    You can’t find mine searching my name or my email address or my phone number. Only friends of friends can send a friend request to me and that’s only if the friend in question allows his friends list to be seen. Searching my name and state I find there is another woman with the same name but she doesn’t look anything like me.

  • Bona

    While there might not be an “obligation,” common sense would dictate that imposter accounts be removed. Duh, think we all know that it is not an official directory of anything. Guess you are an employee there. Talk about corporate social responsibility…..

  • Bona

    Like I wrote before, again sure sounds like you are a FB employee. “What value does it add to Facebook . . . ? Are you for real? Why don’t you set up their “help and do it yourself section.” Wow, didn’t know you have to know ALL THE RULES ALL THE TIME. What are you Mark’s father?

  • Bona

    Another barb — are you the director of Human Resources at Facebook?

  • Matt

    wow. do not bring those jerkoffs into this discussion. I’m still disgusted with what they did to youtube.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Celebrities and those connected to them do not belong on FaceBook. Too bad for the kids, but that’s the way it goes. Expecting the corporation to take action on this is lame; there are probably a million cases just like this. It’s FaceBook, guys! You wanna play on FB, you have few rights.

  • hannah

    i have had someone called Hol Bennett pretending to be me for 3 years now, arranging dates and actually getting people to send money to her, i know this as i was contacted by someone asking if i was the fake an not this person.

    any way, its been highlighted that carly bennett with welsh flag as her picture is using pictures of my sister, and another man is using pictures of my niece (baby) with all profiles commenting on each calling each other sis etc with unknowing people commenting too

    something needs to be done about this, its frustrating and damaging as i hold an international world beauty title.

    think more proof of a person should be taken on setting up, rather than letting anyone get one :(

    frustrating!!!