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Fake Social Media Accounts: Is Impersonating Someone On The Internet A Crime In California?

Okabe & Haushalter Nov 2, 2018 Computer Crime

With nearly 77 percent of Americans having a social media account – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or elsewhere – the question “Can I impersonate someone on the Internet and get away with it?” does not seem all that weird for the modern world.

And if you have ever chatted with someone famous (a politician, your favorite actor or musician, or even the President of the United States) on Facebook or Twitter, and that someone turned out to be fake, you know how it feels to be misled about another person’s identity online.

But was it a computer crime? Is it actually illegal to impersonate someone on the Internet or create a fake social media account using another person’s identity? “That depends on how you use that fake account,” says our Los Angeles computer crimes defense attorney at Okabe & Haushalter.

Is it illegal to create a fake account on social media?

Social media is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States, which is why lawmakers have yet to change the existing laws and pass new laws to ensure that social media users are protected from defamation, false impersonation, fraud, harassment, and humiliation on the Internet.

So is it actually illegal to pretend to be someone else on social media or elsewhere on the Internet? More often than not, you can encounter fake profiles of famous people such as politicians, musicians, actors, and other celebrities and famous individuals.

In most cases, these fake Facebook and Twitter accounts are created for parody and satire purposes. But when does it cross the line and become illegal? When does parody transform into defamation?

Our experienced computer crimes defense attorney in Los Angeles explains that defamation is defined as an act of damaging someone else’s reputation by spreading harmful, malicious, and negligent lies. While parody and satire are perfectly legal in the United States, defamation is not.

Can you impersonate someone on the Internet and get away with it?

Wait, so does it mean that creating a fake social media account using someone else’s name and identity is legal as long as you are not defaming that person? Not really. But wait, it gets more confusing.

In order to answer the question “Is it legal to pretend to be someone else on social media?” you will require legal help from a skilled attorney. A lot depends on the facts of your particular case, the platform or website on which you are impersonating another person, what you write on your profile page, as well as your actions while pretending to be someone else.

If your actions on social media while impersonating another person fall into one of these categories, then you may be committing a crime in California:

  • Harassment or terror: If you created a fake social media account to threaten to harm or hurt other people, you could face criminal charges in California and elsewhere in the U.S. Even if you spread terror or harass other people using someone else’s name on the Internet, it will not take long until authorities find out who is really behind that account.
  • Defamation: As we have mentioned above, maliciously spreading harmful and negligent lies or false statements to hurt another person or business’s reputation is illegal. However, the victim of defamation will have to prove that he or she suffered harm as a result of the defamatory acts (meaning: typically, the mere existence of a fake social media account does not cause harm to anyone unless the person behind it intends to harm others).
  • Impersonation: While you may get away with pretending to be another private citizen or a famous celebrity, impersonating a law enforcement official or another type of public servant is against the law. However, if you can prove that you did it for the purpose of satire or parody, you may be able to avoid legal penalties and criminal charges.

If you are being accused of impersonating another person on the Internet, get a free consultation from our Los Angeles computer crimes defense attorney at Okabe & Haushalter. Just because you pretend to be someone else on social media, it does not necessarily mean that you are committing a crime. Call our offices at 310-430-7799 to discuss your case.