fakesters and pretendsters
This page highlights the 'fakester phenomenon'.
It covers -
is complemented by a more detailed discussion of identity
As the discussion of identity theft elsewhere on this
site indicates, people have been engaging in 'joe
jobs' (appropriating an opponent's identity to erode
that person's reputation through offensive behaviour or
expression) since before the telegraph.
It is unsurprising that such behaviour is evident in online
social spaces such as Facebook and MySpace, where people
may not be whom they claim to be.
Faking reflects two factors.
The first is the willingness of some people to believe
that what they are reading is true or merely to pass on
information for the entertainment of friends/associates
and as the basis for a news item.
The second factor is the low barrier for entry to most
spaces, which often do no require any meaningful verification
of identity. Most spaces simply require an ability to
type and an email address, an address than can be of the
'use once and throw away' variety from a webmail
service. As with blogging
services, few social spaces require payment by a credit
card, which would offer a fuzzy identification of identity
(fuzzy because people on occasion use stolen credit card
details or simply use a parent, associate or employer's
A contact thus commented
can create a MySpace profile that purports to be by
you. It can reveal information that is true but which
you do not want to make public. It can 'reveal' information
that is wholly false: your 'history' of drug abuse,
your criminal record, bizarre fetishes, promiscuity,
racism, contempt for current employers, contempt for
future employers ... It can include defamatory
I can add your photo (scraped off the web or scanned
from promo literature). I can even add audio, since
many people won't know what you sound like. I can link
to an impersonation on YouTube or re-post something
nasty in your name on an adult video site
can use that profile to stalk you or smear you. It will
be believed by some audiences because it looks credible.
Others will visit it because it is juicy. Yes you can
get it removed, but removal will involve pain and expense.
Many people might see it before it is removed. Even
if they don't, you will feel like part of your soul
has been taken and wonder whether someone is coming
to take another part when you are not looking. Why bother
to 'get even' on a rating
site when someone will believe that I'm you.
comment reflects incidents where vengeful boyfriends and
girlfriends or malicious students and employees have sought
to wreak havoc on hate objects in North America and Europe
by impersonating their targets in a profile on one of
the major spaces.
In the US for example Pennsylvania high school students
concocted a MySpace profile that purported to be by their
principal, supposedly revealing that he drank beer at
and had sex with students. The victim sued four former
students; a current student was suspended. A Wisconsin
boy sought revenge against a police officer by making
a fake MySpace page in the officer's name; in Cicero Town
President Larry Dominick took action against two bogus
MySpace profiles that featured "questionable comments
about his sexuality and ethics". Roncalli (Indianapolis) student dean
Tim Puntarelli sued Facebook over a fake profile,
alleging harassment and identity theft by the unidentified
It also reflects experience closer to home, where fake
profiles of public figures have attracted attention.
In 2007 for example federal MP Stewart McArthur, the government's
deputy whip, criticised
MySpace for allowing a "offensive, vulgar and inflammatory"
profile in his name. The profile had reportedly been online
for several months, as had a profile attributed to a local
material was so extreme that the site was obviously
fake but the management of MySpace left this fraudulent
site on the internet for over three months, smearing
myself, smearing the Liberal Party in Corangamite and
smearing the Howard government
McArthur commented "Good people, whether they be
public figures or private citizens, should not be at risk
of having their reputations harmed on the internet".
One response might be that no-one, good or bad, should
be smeared but that there will always be some risk with
The faux-McArthur profile followed a scabrous MySpace
profile purportedly by great High Court judge Michael
Kirby. It had reportedly been online for 15 months before
removal and featured links to the site of an extreme right-wing
organisation in the US.
In January 2008, following announcement that Bilawal Bhutto
Zardari had been appointed party chair following assassination
of his mother Benazir Bhutto, publications such as Time
magazine and the UK Guardian credulously recycled
a Facebook profiled claimed to have been created by Bilawal.
Radar Magazine huffed about 'Bhutto Boy Shows
Buffy Facebook Love'.
The person who had faked one Bilawal profile boasted -
made an account pretending to be him. Since this is
basically the first time the guy has come into the public
eye, nobody has made an account for him, so I quickly
registered one, and just been addin [sic] stuff to the
"stuff' included extensive unacknowledged appropriation
from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The West
Wing. Facebook piously responded -
investigating the accounts in question, we have disabled
both Facebook profiles associated with names Bilawal
Bhutto and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. We found they were
Typically we examine a range of criteria to determine
whether a profile is authentic, including reports from
users, profile content, the e-mail associated with an
account, length of time the account has been open and
a man who had been imprudent enough to create a spoof
profile of a member of that nation's royal family. Critics
of the sentence noted that fake celebrities abound on
Facebook and its peers, including bogus profiles for French
President Nicolas Sarkozy (over 40 profiles), for English
royals Prince William and Prince Harry, Jacques Chirac,
Silvio Berlusconi, George Bush, Adolf Hitler and Osama
One response to that commodification has been the subversion
of networks through the creation of 'pretendsters'.
Friendster for example has gained attention through action
by the operators to remove 'fake friends' (such as Adolf
Hitler, Jesus Christ or sundry tabby cats), including
profiles generated at www.tree-axis.com. Some 2,619 of
those Pretendsters have been "hunted and terminated"
by the Friendster webmasters, despite a manifesto that
hold these truths to be self-evident, that all fakesters
and real people are created equal.
Most social space operators have responded by restrictions
in their terms & conditions on multiple accounts (so
that every user account is supposedly tied to an individual
person), with FaceBook for example specifying that
agree not to use the Service or the Site to: …
register for more than one User account, register for
a User account on behalf of an individual other than
yourself, or register for a User account on behalf of
any group or entity
with the dating services discussed elsewhere
on this site, there is a substantial degree of fantasy,
roleplaying and sheer escapism on some of the major sites.
One Friendster member commented
like Friendster because it is more people-oriented ...
Tribe is more geared towards selling used blenders and
looking for a job. I don't need to be reminded how many
jobless people there are, or what awful things people
will do for a buck ... What I want is the fantasy that
we are all rock stars, that everyone's ass looks great
in leather, that everyone is sexy.
That is an echo of Borsook's perceptive comment that in
the digital millennium we'll all be rich and hip (with
an echt-Californian suntan to match).