Life has never been easy for a girl named Amber. From the time she learned to the talk, she has been open and friendly -- too much so for her mom's liking.
Amy Neuenschwander told us, “It scares me that there are some people out there who want to make her a victim.”
You can imagine the potential when a girl like that and the Internet collide. Neuenschwander was doing her best to stay on top of her daughter’s Facebook accounts, but Amber's life took a horrible turn
“She pretended she went to school but she went to the Mall of America instead. She met a guy in his twenties who took her to his car in the mall ramp. He got her drunk and assaulted her. She was just 14,” Neuenschwander said.
Amber’s mom said she then began running away from home, and those who cared about her decided it was time for Amber to reboot. She ended up at a residential treatment center. No access to outside influences -- including the Internet.
Neuenschwander said Amber deserves a second chance, so imagine her surprise when she discovered two additional Facebook pages supposedly hosted by her daughter.
She said, “My concern is that these people are befriending her real friends and creating drama for her that she doesn't need.”
Several things tipped her off that the pages were fakes:
What bothers her mom most is there's been conversation back and forth.
For example: “Amber doesn't love Taylor” and “Amber died.”
Neuenschwander said it’s creating drama she just doesn't want Amber to deal with when she gets out of treatment and tries to start over.
“People making fun of her and poking at her. It says on there, “The little girl who won't stop running,” Neuenschwander said. “Come on. I just want to move past this.”
Yet, Neuenschwander said what bothers her more is how she says someone at Facebook reacted when she tried to get the imposter pages taken down.
Neuenschwander said they told her, “Thirteen- to 18-year-olds need to be able to access their own account and handle their own issues.”
Which, given the fact her daughter is still a minor, struck her as wrong.
So she turned to the FOX 9 Investigators for help to get it taken down.
Neuenschwander is just one of many not getting the desired response from Facebook.
“It's a way for Facebook to essentially swat people away and say, ‘Don't bother us,’” said local media attorney Marshall Tanick.
Tanick said social medial cases like imposter Facebook claims are the fastest growing types of cases he's seeing. In part, he said it’s because people think they can say whatever they want on the Internet, but he said part of the problem is also because Facebook has been so unresponsive.
“We've had to start lawsuits to get court orders to get Facebook to pay attention to our concerns,” said Tanick.
Court orders to take a phony Facebook page down? How did it come to this? Reporter Trish Van Pilsum asked Facebook about it. The company wouldn't answer specific questions, but Van Pilsum got a pre-written statement saying it's a violation of Facebook's policy to use a fake name or identity and that they close phony accounts.
The statement contains a line specifically regarding reporting imposter pages, but Tanick said, “Facebook is large. It is far away. It is remote. I think -- as a practical matter -- Facebook knows that a lot of this is going on and they don't want to encourage individuals or attorneys to come to them with a request to remove things or delete things, and by taking a fairly hard line on it they discourage people from doing it.”
Facebook told FOX 9 News it actually has systems in place to flag and block potential fakes. Yet, anybody can set up a business page and it will look pretty real.
For example, someone made a Facebook page for local beer maker, Summit Brewing. Because the page was flattering, Summit left it up long enough to collect nearly as many fans as the genuine page, which just goes to prove an imposter isn't always an evil thing.
Tom Flint, the director of Digital at Gabriel DeGrood and Bendt said, “From a marketing standpoint, there's not much more powerful than having your biggest fans and advocates out there promoting your brand through channels like Facebook.”
Of course, if you don't control the page, you can't control the content. So imposter pages have to be watched carefully.
Most don't want to risk it. They just want the thing taken down, and if you can figure out who put it up in the first place, you might have a legal claim against them. It's called misappropriation of identity.
Tanick explained, “You've got a better case if they've said something nasty, untrue and damaging about you, but it doesn't have to come to that. Even if the person hasn't suffered any economic, harm, they want it removed.”
Which was Amy's point all along.
So, here are a couple of things you can try if you find yourself in Amy's spot:
The FOX 9 Investigators did not find any existing lawsuits where someone sued Facebook for failing to take down imposter pages once they’ve been reported, but that could be an option.
For parents who are concerned their children are being bullied on Facebook or Formspring, here are some online resources that may be able to help.