Facebook: We Will Half-Heartedly Apply Our Rules Against Fake Profiles to the Feds Too

DHS police accompanying Amalija Knavs, the mother of first lady Melania Trump, as she arrived at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building in New York in May 2018.
Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

After the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reversed a policy prohibiting officers from creating fake social media profiles to monitor people entering and leaving the country last week—something that would amount to a middle finger pointed directly at many tech firms’ terms of service—Facebook has warned that the feds aren’t above their half-assed rules, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

“Law enforcement authorities, like everyone else, are required to use their real names on Facebook and we make this policy clear,” Facebook spokeswoman Sarah Pollack told the AP. “Operating fake accounts is not allowed, and we will act on any violating accounts.”

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Presumably, this also applies to Facebook subsidiary Instagram. Twitter, one of the only other social networks with major market share in the U.S., confirmed to the AP last week that it is against their rules “to use fake personae and to use Twitter data for persistent surveillance of individuals” and that it was “looking forward” to seeing whether USCIS’s proposal was “consistent” with its policies. (No word on whether Pinterest or Reddit have weighed in.)

Per the AP, DHS claimed that the creation of fake profiles is somehow necessary to monitor applicants for citizenship or a visa—a nice little synergy with the Trump administration’s policy of requiring nearly all visa applicants to hand over information on their social media and email addresses. However, DHS stopped short of stating they would allow officers to trick monitored individuals into providing non-public information to fake accounts:

Homeland Security explained the change to the AP in a statement Friday, stating that fake accounts would make it easier for agents reviewing visa, green card and citizenship applications to search for fraud or security threats. The department didn’t provide comment when asked Tuesday.

... Such a review of social media would be conducted by officers in [UCIS’s] Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate on cases flagged as requiring more investigation. The privacy assessment notes that officers can only review publicly available social media available to all users on the platform—they cannot “friend” or “follow” an individual—and must undergo annual training.

“Incorporating reviews of publically available information on social media platforms in our threat detection work is a common sense measure to strengthen our vetting procedures and vigilance in safeguarding our legal immigration system from those [who] would seek to exploit and abuse it,” a USCIS spokesperson told the Verge in a statement.

Of course, many things are technically against Facebook policy (such as white supremacy and inciting genocide) without Facebook ever actually doing much of anything against it (like white supremacy and inciting genocide). So federal officers wishing to create fake social media accounts for the purpose of spying on visa applicants and immigrants, watch out: You’ve been put on supposed notice. Just like all those foreign governments that have definitely been kicked off there.

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Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post