Can you commit perjury by creating a fake Facebook profile?

Facebook seems to think so. The social network asks owners of challenged accounts to declare "under penalty of perjury" that they're real. Update: Facebook responds.

Last week I reported that Facebook’s fake-a-palooza had taken a strong turn toward the absurd. Today I’m here to tell you it actually gets worse.

I told the story of Jennifer X., who found herself unable to report someone masquerading as her husband on Facebook, due to the social network’s crazy Catch-22 rules about reporting fakes.

Despite personal assurances to Jennifer from Facebook employees that the imposter was now gone, his account is very much alive as I write this, if not exactly brimming with activity.

How could this be? I decided to check my own imposter account, which I created last week to verify Jennifer’s claims and then reported as fake to Facebook. When I tried to log on, I saw the following screen asking me to verify my identity:

facebook verify account cropped.png

The verification process asked me to provide a phone number (or submit a government approved ID). I opted for the former and gave it one of my VoIP numbers. A Facebook bot then called and recited a four number PIN, which I had to enter before Facebook would allow me to log in.

But there was one more screen I had to click through before I got access:

facebook perjury warning cropped.png

Yes, that’s right. Facebook was requiring me to “declare, under penalty of perjury, that I am the person represented in this account.”

How, I wondered, had I managed to go from sitting at my keyboard alone in my office to standing in a courtroom with my right hand on a Bible?

I asked a couple of my favorite cyberlawyers whether I had just committed a crime. It turns out that you don’t need to swear in front of a witness to commit perjury. (You sign a similar agreement every time you file your taxes.) Proving perjury does, however, require more evidence than a mouse click.

“I don’t think clicking a box on its own can make you liable for perjury,” says Jonathan Ezor, Director of the Touro Law Center Institute for Business, Law and Technology in Islip, New York. “There’s no way to identify the human being who did it. They could record your IP address and subpoena your ISP to find out who was using that address at the time, but they best they can come up with is the name of the account holder. They can’t prove who clicked the box.”

Ezor assumes that Facebook is either a) trying to scare people, or b) demonstrate due diligence in its efforts to combat fakes, for which it has come under a lot of fire lately, including from TY4NS.

The Internet Law Center’s Bennet Kelley puts it more bluntly.

“They can ask that you sign it, and terminate your account if you don't, but that is all,” he says. “If you sign it and have perjured yourself, the likelihood you will be prosecuted is less than the Charlotte Bobcats winning the NBA title.”

I’ve asked Facebook to explain what it thinks it’s getting out of this statement. I’ll update this post if they respond. But if nothing else, you have to give them credit for chutzpah.

Today I tried to log on to my imposter account, only to discover it had been nuked by Facebook. So at least somebody there is paying attention.  If the cops show up at my door to arrest me for bearing false witness, you’ll be the first to know -- I swear.

UPDATE: Facebook responds. Though he declined to address the perjury box question, spokesperson Frederic Wolens sent me FB's boilerplate policy regarding fake identities:

It’s a violation of our policies to use a fake name or operate under a false identity, and we encourage  people to report any abusive content they find, either through the report links we provide on the site or through the contact forms in our Help Center.  We take site integrity seriously and we employ a combination of technical systems and a dedicated User Operations team to flag and block potential fake accounts based on name, anomalous site activity and user reports.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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