Teens Sued for Fake Facebook Profile

Cyber Harassment Is on the Rise

Pointing to an uptick in the number of such online privacy cases, other cyber harassment experts agree .

"We've seen a number of [civil] cases being brought recently when cyber harassment occurs," said Parry Aftab, the executive director of WiredSafety.org, an Internet safety resource. Aftab said she said she was aware of approximately 100 similar cases across the country in the past year.

In the U.K., the parents of a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after being bullied on Facebook spoke out earlier this month about the pressures of modern social networking sites.

"I expect to see a lot of more of this," Aftab said. "It's not a surprise, and it's sad that it happens as often as it does."

"A lot of people don't know what to do and most lawyers don't know how to do it."

As for the defendants, she said, assuming they are found guilty, "The kids who did this are in some serious liability here -- and it's money liability."

Facebook Working With Online Safety Experts to Improve Practices

Facebook, which is working with Aftab's group to establish practices to protect kids online, said it has a dedicated team that works with law enforcement on privacy and fraud issues.

"Facebook has always been based on a real name culture. This leads to greater accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for our users," a spokesman said in a statement.

It's a violation of the site's policies to use a fake name or pretend to be someone you're not. Throughout the site, the spokesman said, there are links and contact forms that let Facebook members and non-members file complaints.

Although the time it takes for the team to respond depends on the complaint, he said reports of nudity, pornography and harassing personal messages are the highest priority complaints and receive a response within 24 hours.

The spokesman couldn't comment on the case involving Laura Cook and her son. But he said that in similar cases, Facebook's investigations team would be responsible for taking the complaint, working with the member to determine whether an account is real or fake and then shutting down false accounts.

Web Sites Not Obligated to Remove Information

But though Aftab and others familiar with cyber harassment applaud Facebook for its efforts to monitor and crack down on cyber abuse and fraud, they point out that, legally, Web sites have no obligation to be so vigilant.

"If Facebook did not want to, it would not have to take this down. Facebook elected to take this down," said Michael Fertik, the CEO of ReputationDefender, an online reputation management and privacy company. "But there are plenty of sites that would not behave so responsibly."

Noting that the law provides no incentive for Web sites to remove comments that could be considered defamatory, he asked, "Why are sites obligated to take down photos that someone else owns but not a defamatory site that can ruin a kids' life forever?

Defenders of the legal landscape maintain that changing the law could stifle open discussion and free speech. But others argue that the laws should hold Web sites more accountable for the content they host.

"Facebook did the right thing, but as a society it is yet another example where we just dodged the bullet," Fertik said.

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