Surfing facebook on a laptop

In an interesting turn of events, it’s been reported that Facebook is suing four companies and three individuals in China, who have allegedly been creating and “promoting the sale of fake accounts, likes, and followers”. I say that this is an interesting turn of events because this is kind of what Facebook has been doing hasn’t it? In addition to these alleged instances of creating fake accounts, Facebook is also saying that these companies infringed on their trademarks and engaged in domain squatting. According to the lawsuit in U.S. federal court, the named companies are Xiu Network Science and Technology Company, Xiu Feishu Science and Technology Company, Xiufei Book Technology Co., and Home Network (Fujian) Technology Co., Ltd.

Facebook is asking for an immediate cessation to these companies’ sales of the inauthentic accounts, as well as $100,000 in damages for each of the six websites being operated and any profits derived from the scheme. Facebook certainly doesn’t need this money, so it seems like they are including the financial penalties in order to make a point. Or is there more to it?

Let’s take this back a step for a moment. How is this even happening because Facebook is currently blocked by state censors in China? Last year, Facebook failed to open a startup incubator in China, so they’re not even a presence there. Not to mention, China has stepped up its efforts to prevent access to censored content created outside the country. In fact, companies have historically had more leeway to operate their own virtual private networks (VPNs), which are capable of by-passing blocklists, but reports suggest that these businesses are also being impacted by the stricter enforcement and rules.

What we don’t know is how big this network of fake accounts actually was. Although, Facebook is accusing the companies of selling the accounts in bulk, and it’s hard to believe that they would go after this kind of operation if it wasn’t significant. Facebook and Instagram have previously claimed to have deleted over 2.1 billion fake profiles from January to September 2018, and often make their efforts to take down automated bot and sock-puppet networks known.

This isn’t just an issue in China, it’s also a concern stateside. Earlier this year, the New York attorney general’s office announced a settlement with U.S. company Devumi LLC, which a 2018 New York Times profile revealed had been selling fake followers and engagement to a massive list of celebrities and other online “influencers.” The attorney general’s office declared that settlement to be “the first finding by a law enforcement agency that selling fake social media engagement and using stolen identities to engage in online activity is illegal,” and specifically violating statutes on fraud, false advertising, and trade deception.

How the internet is being used has changed dramatically over the last few years. To think, in 2015 and 2016, we hardly knew the impact that a fake social networking account could have. I mean, it’s fake, what kind of harm could possibly be done? But we are older and wiser now and we know exactly the kind of impact it can have. Which is why I’m happy to see this kind of initiative taking place, but I also don’t think that Facebook should be so quick to judge (and punish through legal action) this kind of behavior, when they, themselves participate in similar business.

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