By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia -- Global social network giant Facebook may be facing another credibility gap when it comes to its verified accounts claim.
A complaint by an attorney at law from the small Caribbean island of Saint Lucia about online harassment on Facebook may become yet another legal issue for the social media website, which is already facing three new or renewed lawsuits filed this year alone.
Prominent Saint Lucia attorney, Lydia Faisal, who also happens to be the sister of opposition member of parliament, Richard Frederick, recently reported
that she was being harassed and defamed on Facebook by one or more local political activists.
“So far as I am concerned, Facebook is generally a place where faceless and destructive individuals seek safety, making the most outrageous of comments in the name of opinion and fact,” said Claudius Francis, president of the Saint Lucian senate, in a general comment about Facebook on local radio.
Meanwhile, a complaint to Facebook by Faisal resulted in at least two user accounts on the social network being suspended until the individuals in question provided verification of their respective identities by submitting a picture of one government-issued ID or “two documents from a respected institution or business”, together showing the user’s full name, photo, and date of birth.
However, it appears it is easy to register any identity you want on Facebook and the company does not restrict opening accounts without proof of such identity.
The Saint Lucia incident has thus served to expose an ongoing failure on the part of Facebook to observe its own terms of service and so called “community guidelines.”
Although Facebook claims that its “users provide their real names and information” and “people connect using their real names and identities,” the only thing actually needed to sign up for a Facebook account is an email address, without any other identity check.
According to CNET News contributor Jennifer Van Grove, “As a public company, Facebook has the burden of ensuring that it maintains a verifiable 13-and-up user base.” But Facebook actually asks for proof of identity only after a complaint.
Matt Steinfeld, media spokesperson at Facebook, admitted this after-the-fact enforcement of its identity requirement.
“In cases where people report content to Facebook, one of the factors we look at is whether other components of our terms of service have been violated. As you’ll see in the terms, we ask users to ‘provide their real names and information.’ If someone is suspected to have violated this term, we ask them to confirm their identity,” Steinfeld said in an email to Caribbean News Now
Steinfeld did not respond to a follow up request for comment on evidence that at least one previously suspended user has been able to create a new account with the same page title and continue their offensive behaviour.
Facebook's failure to verify the real identity behind every account registered on its network consistently violates its own published policies across the board and leads to selective enforcement.
One user, who did not want his name revealed, accused Facebook of “discriminatory behaviour against Americans” in an email forwarded to us.
“It appears American citizens must provide Facebook with their true identity by posting their pictures in order to gain access to their accounts, while the communists and terrorists who want to attack and destroy our country are permitted to use Facebook under numerous aliases without any valid proof,” he said.
The US Department of Homeland Security declined to offer a comment on the national security implications.
However, according to Nigel Thomas, a researcher on Internet media privacy for Ticker.com, regulators, investors and advertisers will certainly demand tighter scrutiny of Facebook as more advertisers look at Facebook for campaigns and find a mismatch in its verified account claim.
“What is surprising is that financial regulators or Facebook’s auditors and investors have not asked the company to provide credible proof of its verified account claim. We believe that the verified active profile count is substantially smaller than the company claims in its public documents and filings,” Thomas cautioned.
“Facebook makes it easy to create an account on its network but harder to delete an account. Our research suggests that it is easy to set up profiles without identity verification on Facebook that are linked to multiple dummy emails,” he explained.
“At some point investors will wake up to the company’s assertions and may have to begin factoring the future cost of account verification, which could approach a billion dollars, or a dramatic decline in the verified profile count on Facebook,” Thomas added.
On its “Key Facts
” page, Facebook claims 1.23 billion monthly active users as of December 31, 2013, of which 945 million monthly active users used Facebook mobile products, and 757 million daily active users on average in December 2013.
“Approximately 81% of our daily active users are outside the US and Canada,” it says.
However, citing Facebook as the source, Statistics Brain
reported the number of “fake Facebook profiles” at 81 million as at January 1, 2014.
Any discrepancies between claimed facts and reality, in the case of a public company, are usually a matter for investigation and/or comment by its auditors which, in the case of Facebook, are Ernst & Young LLP.
Ernst & Young did not respond to attempts to reach them for comment.
Facebook came under renewed attack just two weeks ago following an alleged failure to change its practices despite a class-action settlement in August that was supposed to ensure that the company obtained users’ consent to their comments, images and “likes” being used in advertisements.
The nonprofit advocacy group Public Citizen will contend in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that the settlement violates the laws of seven states, including California and New York, by failing to require Facebook to receive explicit permission from parents before using the personal information of teenage users in advertising.
Facebook has also been accused of intercepting private messages of its users to provide data to marketers, according to another class-action lawsuit filed last month, also in a federal court in California. Facebook is said to have violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and California privacy laws by its intentional interception of electronic communications.
And a third lawsuit also filed in January claims the social network uses friends’ “Likes” in advertisements for brands they never endorsed.
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