Facebook impersonation

3rd Jun, 2022

A little while ago, I came across a Facebook profile that used a photo of me as the avatar. It’s a seemingly old, inactive profile with a fake name (“Hi Hi”) and spam links.

The photo is from a gig several years ago – it’s clearly of me and I wanted it removed for obvious reasons.

According to the Facebook Community Standards in their ‘Transparency Center’(!), they care deeply about Authenticity:

We want to make sure that the content people see on Facebook is authentic. We believe that authenticity creates a better environment for sharing, and that's why we don't want people using Facebook to misrepresent who they are or what they're doing.

This is a case that would seem to be heavily related to authenticity, so let’s put this to the test.

Reporting options

There are a few options available to report:

  1. If you have a Facebook account, you can report the profile as impersonation
  2. If you don’t have a Facebook account, you have to fill in a form and provide government ID
  3. Report a copyright/intellectual property claim if you are the copyright holder

I tried method one from a now-deleted ghost profile. However, it’s only possible to report the profile – not the photo – and there’s no option to give context. So Facebook only sees a report that the entire account is impersonating. Facebook rejected the complaint immediately with no opportunity to follow-up.

I shouldn’t have to give Facebook my government ID for a case like this – notably a heavier burden of proof than creating a Facebook account – so option 2 is a no-go.

I also filed a Copyright Report Form. I provided the URL of the photo along with a copy of the original photo at full resolution to demonstrate ownership (something the impersonating account wouldn’t be able to provide).

Despite this, Facebook said:

Thanks for contacting us. Based on the information you’ve provided, it’s not clear that you are the rights owner or are otherwise authorized to submit this report on the rights owner’s behalf. Please note that we can only process reports from a rights owner or someone authorized to report on their behalf, such as a lawyer or agent.

I asked Facebook how I could prove ownership given that the photo was taken on my device. Their response:

We are writing to get additional details so that we can better understand your recent report. Based on the information you provided, it is unclear where the content you wish to report appears on our site. In almost all instances, the best way to help us locate content is to provide us with active web addresses (URLs) leading directly to that specific content.

In the report you filed, you did not provide any URLs (or one or more of the URL(s) you provided seems to be incomplete or inactive), and you did not otherwise provide a description of the location of the content sufficient for us to be able to find it.

If you are trying to report a post or story in your news feed, you can find its direct URL by clicking the time and date that appears in gray with the content (for example: "8 hours ago" or "August 11 at 10:30am.").

If you cannot provide URLs leading directly to the content you wish to report, please be sure to include information reasonably sufficient to permit us to locate the content, such as a description of the content and where it appears (example: on a particular timeline, in a photo album, etc.), dates/times of when the content was posted (usually indicated below the content), names of responsible users, and/or quotes of the content you wish to report as it appears on Facebook.

Please note that it is possible that the content you wish to report has already been removed from the site. If that is the case, you do not need to respond to this message.

Once you have provided information sufficient for us to locate the content you wish to report, we would be happy to look into this matter further.

Round-and-round the carousel we go: all of the requested information was provided in the initial contact.

This last email was sent on April 15th, 2022. I replied the same day with account information and the original photo again.

Facebook have stopped communicating and ignored a follow-up on May 2nd – over a month ago at the time of writing.

If Facebook can’t or won’t action basic requests like this, what hope do we have that they will take action on more complex issues?