A Teenage Identity Crisis

Youths build second lives using fake profiles on Facebook site

By Andrew Lanser | Coral Reef Senior High School

When Chloe Vandenbranden first began to speak to Garrett on Facebook, she was attracted to his charming personality and athletic traits.

Vandenbranden was soon in for a shock.

After cancelling plans several times, Vandenbranden began to investigate him through Facebook. Garrett’s true identity was actually Samantha, a shy 14-year-old girl.

“Being the trustworthy person I am, I agreed to start talking to [Garrett] over text messages,” Vandenbranden said. “But the weird thing was that he could only text me over Samantha’s phone, then we became Facebook friends and we would talk through there.”

She quickly built a relationship with Garrett and placed all of her trust in him.

“We spoke for a couple months and I finally got sick of being told we’ll meet soon so I started to investigate this Garrett kid,” Vandenbranden said.

Vandenbranden spoke with mutual friends and researched the school teams Garrett claimed to be on. She never found him, raising red flags in the process. Vandenbranden asked her parents to get involved. It turned out that Samantha had been posing as Garrett all along.

The Internet’s anonymity attracts all those who wish to keep their true identity a secret. For many young adults like Vandenbranden, Facebook is a place to keep contact with old friends and a place where new identities can easily be tried on. Some young adults even go as far as building trustworthy relationships with individuals they would not be able to approach in real life.

Experts say that although it is hard to determine the exact number of fake Facebook accounts, it can be estimated that about 27 percent of the pages are fake accounts and the number is gradually increasing. In recent years, many of the owners of these fake accounts have been uncovered by Internet specialists and police departments across the nation.

In January 2011, two teenage girls from Estero were jailed for cyber-stalking after creating a Facebook account impersonating one of their classmates and posting inappropriate photos they doctored. The duo fabricated countless lies about a classmate and harassed him for months thinking it would be a funny joke, yet the page gained over 180 friends.

“The Internet allows bullies to communicate with a much wider audience in a very short period of time,” said Sarah Ravin, a Miami-based psychologist who mainly focuses on adolescents and young adults. “It’s a much more efficient way to disseminate hateful or humiliating information than gossiping in the hallways at school.”

Students now realize that threats left in lockers and straw-launched spitballs are all bullying methods of the past.

Ravin believes that in many cases, teenagers create fake Facebook accounts to play the role of a different person as opposed to using these fraudulent accounts to target others. They want to begin a second life of sorts which can oftentimes make socializing much easier for them.

These fake profiles can easily deceive the untrained eye.

“It was me and a couple friends who created one account,” said Carolina Suarez, a college student who once created a fake Facebook account. “We made it primarily to join the networks of other people who we weren’t friends with, but wanted to see their pages, since you can do this to a certain extent if you are on the same network.

“Plenty of people have fake accounts. I have plenty of friends who create accounts of fake boys in order to make them their ‘boyfriends’ and use them to spy and speak to other people. If Facebook isn’t controlling it, then it doesn’t matter if people make them or not. It’s up to people to control what others see, not the other way around.”

As opposed to the menacing profiles used to bully and deceive, Suarez and her friends used their account in a voyeuristic manner, peering into the lives of other teens.

Internet safety experts such as Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, believe that young Facebook users need to fully understand Internet protocol in regards to the creation of fake Facebook accounts. Neither state laws nor Facebook policy protect users from fake accounts.

“Breaking into someone’s account may violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but creating a new fake account will not,” said University of Miami Professor of Law Michael Froomkin, a legal expert in anonymity.

Not only are Facebook policy junkies, law professors, Facebook and internet experts vying for an increase in security, young victims are as well.

“If a person gets caught for creating a fake account and doesn’t have any consequences then I’m sure that they will just create another fake account as soon as they can,” Vandenbranden said.

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