EDIT: Facebook has now removed the fake profiles. Really, this was a ridiculous amount of trouble for China to have to go through, though, and he reports that he has still never heard from Facebook about it.
Hello, all. I realize I haven’t been blogging much lately. Truthfully, I’ve found myself hanging out more on Twitter and Facebook these days, though I miss the depth blogging offers. Facebook’s privacy issues will almost certainly drive me away eventually, and perhaps I’ll come back to blogging regularly then.
We probably all have friends who’ve never been drawn to social media in the first place, though, and we’re pretty much aware of who they are. What do you do, then, when such a friend–especially if they’re well-known–shows up as a “Suggested Friend” in your Facebook feed? Well, if you’re me, you write to ask if it’s really them before you add them to your list. This exact scenario happened to me a few months ago with what turned out to be a fake Facebook profile claiming to be China Miéville. I’ve copyedited China for close to a decade now, and I was able to verify in short order that he was not actually on Facebook.
Now Twitter has “Verified Accounts,” but Facebook does not. (A glance through the friend list of the fake China profile reveals several other accounts that are known or likely fakes, and it’s not improbable to suppose that the same person is running them all.) The lack of verification in itself is a problem, but it is compounded by the fact that the strategies Facebook offers to people who are being impersonated are ineffective, at best. In order to report that a profile is fake, for instance, the person being impersonated has to have a real profile on Facebook, which seems utterly ludicrous; and for those who are opposed to having Facebook profiles for any reason, it is obviously a problem. [EDIT: Facebook is now giving the option to report a profile even if the person being impersonated does not have a Facebook account. This is a positive change.] China reported the fake profile to the extent that he was able, but it remained unchanged.
In the meantime, another not-China profile with China’s name popped up, and he finally took the step of writing a letter to Facebook, which he has given me permission to reprint below. He would like this information to be disseminated as widely as possible so that people know he does not have a Facebook profile.
1601 S. California Avenue
6 October 2010
Dear Facebook People,
URGENT COMPLAINT– PLEASE READ, MORE ACTION TO FOLLOW SHORTLY
1) The short version:
At least one person, if not more, is/are impersonating me on Facebook, with (a) fake profile(s) claiming my identity. Despite me repeatedly bringing this to your attention, you have taken no action to remedy the situation. And I’m getting very annoyed.
2) The full version:
This thing you hold is called a letter. This is the third time I’ve contacted you, and I’m doing so by this antiquated method because, and I realise this may shock you so brace yourself, I have no Facebook account. Which means it is nigh-on impossible for me to get in touch with you. Kudos for your Ninja avoidance strategies.
Back when you had a button allowing me to alert you to a fake profile despite not having an account myself, I contacted you that way. I was answered with a resonant silence. Subsequently, when the problem persisted, I hunted lengthily for, found and left a message on the phone number you go out of your way to hide. Absolutely nothing happened. So here we go again: third time’s a charm.
I am being imitated on Facebook. I believe the only reason anyone is bothering to do this is because I’m a novelist (published by Macmillan and Random House), a writer and broadcaster, with a minor public profile. I think there are one or two community pages about my stuff on Facebook – that of course is very flattering and nice of people to bother. The problem is that there is or are also pages by someone(s) purporting to be me. This is weird and creepy. What’s worse is I know for a fact that some readers, friends and colleagues are friending ‘China Miéville’ under the impression that it is me, and that others are wondering why ‘China Miéville’ refuses to respond to them. And I have no idea what dreadful things or ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ are being claimed as mine, nor what ‘I’ am saying.
I know lots of people enjoy being on Facebook. Great. More power to them. Vaya con Dios. Me, though: not my thing. I have absolutely no interest in it. I am not now nor have I ever been a Facebook member. Short of some weird Damascene moment, I will not ever join Facebook – and if that unlikely event occurs, I promise I’ll tell you immediately. In the meantime, though, as a matter of urgency, as a matter of courtesy, as a matter of decency, please respond to my repeated requests:
• Please delete all profiles claiming to be me (with or without the accent on the ‘é’ – last time I looked, I found one ‘China Mieville’, and one more accurately rendered).
• Please do not allow anyone else to impersonate me. I have neither time nor inclination to trawl your listings regularly to see if another bizarre liar has sprung up.
• And while you’re at it, please institute a system whereby those of us with the temerity not to sign up to your service can still contact you on these matters and actually get a [insert cuss-word] answer.
I appeal to you to honour your commitments to security and integrity. Of course as a multi-gajillion-dollar company I have absolutely no meaningful leverage over you at all. If David Fincher’s film doesn’t embarrass you, you’re hardly going to notice the plaintive whining of a geek like me. All I can do is go public. Which is my next plan.
I’m allowing a week for this letter to reach you by airmail, then three days for you to respond to me by phone or the email address provided. Then, if I’ve heard nothing, on 16 October 2010, I’ll send copies of this message to all the literary organizations and publications with which I have connections
some of the many books bloggers I know; and anyone else I can think of. I’ll encourage them all to publicise the matter. I’m tired of being impersonated, and I’m sick of you refusing to answer me.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Now I have a question for you. After the first China impersonator popped up, I posted on Facebook and Tweeted that the profile was a fake. In some cases, with people I knew, I even went so far as to contact them directly, because I already had many mutual friends with the profile at that point. Most of those I contacted unfriended the fake profile, but not all of them did, and I have to say that I just do not understand the mentality. Why would you want an impersonator having access to information about you and your friends? Are you thinking? I unfriended all the “mutual friends” who remained.
Please do let others know about this issue. China wants people to know that he is not and never intends to be on Facebook, and I’m sure he is not the only person affected.