Just how common are Facebook imposters?

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LORI WELBOURNE

Guest Columnist

Months ago, I received a friend request on Facebook from Jennifer Hewitt. When I clicked on the page, it had a picture of the famous actress Jennifer Love Hewitt. Knowing full well it wasn’t her, I accepted the request anyway, out of curiosity more than anything else.

I forgot all about it until one day I saw these words in my Facebook news feed: “Heads up, my friends, from Kristi Gordon — someone has created a fake profile in her name on Facebook — the profile pic is her, her hubby and the new baby. This is NOT her real profile, if you are ‘friended’ by this person. Working on getting it taken down.”

I immediately went back to the Jennifer Hewitt page that had fewer than 50 friends the last time I looked. I was surprised to see that it had already maxed out at 5,000 friends and had hundreds of pictures catalogued. It looked like it could legitimately be the famous actress to anyone seeing it for the first time. Her publicist confirmed it was not.

So how common are impostors on Facebook? And how are these people affecting those they’re pretending to be? For Kristi Gordon, who does the weather on Global B.C. News, it’s been a pain in the neck.

Not knowing who was responsible or how to stop them, Kristi did what any reasonable person would do, she tried to contact Facebook.

“But I couldn’t report the impostor myself, like you’re supposed to since this person blocked me,” she said. “Hundreds of friends have reported them and so far, no one’s heard a reply.”

Apart from informing people on Facebook and asking others to do the same, she’s felt the limitations of her options.

“I contacted everyone on this person’s friend list to let them know about the fraud,” she explained. “Their number of friends decreased after that, but the account is still active.”

It’s been active for almost six months and the unknown person seems focused on posting obnoxious comments and corresponding with others in an overtly sexual manner, and at least in one case, with an 11- year-old child. Doing damage to Kristi’s reputation seems their obvious motive.

She has now closed her own Facebook account of 5,000 friends and has retained a lawyer.

I’ve never met Kristi Gordon and only called her because I want to see a better system of communicating with these social media giants in general. Innocent people’s accounts get shut down all the time, leaving them guessing as to what they did wrong from the list of possible violations they are sent. In many cases, this is a direct hit to their business and their livelihood.

Sadly, when people are targeted by impostors, bullies and hackers, quite often nothing is done.

Facebook is in the business of connecting people and helping them communicate. It’s a brilliant system in many ways, but its failure to communicate effectively with its users will eventually hurt them as well. If that seems hard to believe, think back to how big My Space used to be.

If you know Mark Zuckerberg, please send him this column. I’d like to see Facebook thrive and survive, but not if it’s hurting people in the process.

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