Solo and Small Firm

The Practitioner Spring 2017, Volume 23, Issue 2

Fake News, Fake Accounts, and Other Scams

By Steven L. Krongold

Steven L. Krongold specializes in business litigation. For the past 30 years, Mr. Krongold has litigated disputes involving trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, invasion of privacy, cybersquatting, investment fraud, defamation, and other business-related torts. Mr. Krongold can be reached at the Krongold Law Corp., P.C., located in Orange County, CA.

Fake news stories cause real harm. This country saw the results at Comet Ping Pong in Washington, D.C. Astonishing as it seems, a man walked into the pizzeria with a loaded gun because he believed stories of child trafficking in the restaurant’s back rooms, which, in turn, had some connection to then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites now face increasing pressure to monitor traffic to weed out patently false and misleading information. A Reddit community entitled "Pizzagate" was taken down. The site now states "This subreddit was banned due to a violation of our content policy, specifically, the proliferation of personal and confidential information. We don’t want witch hunts on our site." Facebook then announced that would be allowed to label stories as "fake." Facebook also filed for a patent on a program created by Israeli software programmers that would identify and remove "objectionable content," such as "pornography, hate speech, bullying, and the like." (U.S. Pat. Appl. No. 2016/0350675.) Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently emphasized the need for "better technical systems to detect what people will flag as false before they do it themselves."

Fake news is just the most recent misuse of the Internet. For years, people have used the Internet to create fake accounts in order to engage in criminal or civil wrongdoing. The use of false information made headlines in Orange County, California. On November 30, 2016, Stephani Lawson received a one-year prison sentence and three years’ probation for perjury and false imprisonment relating to a fake social media account. (People v. Lawson, Case No. 16HF1357.) Lawson created a fake Facebook account in order to impersonate her ex-boyfriend, Tyler Parkervest. Using the fake profile, Lawson sent herself threatening messages. She then filed false police reports that Tyler had stalked, kidnapped, and beat her.

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