Fake Facebook profiles (featuring China Miéville)

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
Palo Alto
CA 94304
6 October 2010

Dear Facebook People,


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.

Yours sincerely,
China Miéville

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.

33 thoughts on “Fake Facebook profiles (featuring China Miéville)”

  1. Thanks for this! I’ve passed it on in all the venues where I think fellow Miéville fans are lurking. I had a Miéville page in my likes, but it didn’t look like a profile – it was just something that appeared to be copied from a Wikipedia entry. I’ve unliked (Disliked? Deliked?) it.

  2. I see that Jon Courtney Grimwood has mentioned this on FB (well, I hope it’s him!) and I took a look at FB’s policy on fake profiles, you can report them so I suggest anyone who (like myself) is a China fan with a FB account should utilize the facility copied below to get these accounts closed.

    I need to report a fake profile.
    You can report a profile that violates Facebook’s Statement of Rights…
    You can report a profile that violates Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities by clicking the “Report/Block this Person” link in the bottom left column of the profile, selecting “Fake profile” as the reason, and adding the appropriate information. The following categories of profiles are prohibited on the site:

    * Profiles that impersonate you or someone else
    * Profiles that use your photos
    * Profiles that list a fake name
    * Profiles that do not represent a real person
    * Profiles that have been compromised

    Be sure to choose the correct report type to help us verify the information. Facebook reviews every report we receive in order to determine whether or not the content violates our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, and will take appropriate action. Rest assured that these reports will be kept confidential.

    Best wishes,

  3. There are fake profiles for many people including Caius Julius Caesar, Marcus Tullius Cicero and Titus Flavius Vesapanianus – unfortunately nothing is done with them.

    A tour of the Domus Aurea held by Nero would be an excellent video – but no one wants to do such a thing.

    It’s a shame that everything seems to be capable of use for harassment, but there seems no way of getting rid of it without policing. Asking users to report all cases of possible misuse may be the only credible solution.

    All best wishes.

  4. I don’t put up any sensitive information on Facebook (or, really, anywhere online). So, if I had been friends with a profile discovered to be a fake, I might let that friendship stand to monitor what the fake does; letting the ‘friendship’ stand doesn’t give them any access to me that I would particularly worry about.

  5. But the way Facebook is set up, David, if you comment on another friend’s personal post, your friends will see the notification on your wall (assuming you haven’t locked them off it) and can click through to see the post, no matter how the friend’s privacy features are set up. While the friending of an impostor may not endanger your information, you can’t guarantee that it won’t endanger that of your friends.

  6. I spend some time on one of those MMORPGs, and the people running it make a lot of effort to persuade the players to have Facebook accounts. There are, for instance, in-game competitions which require a Facebook account to enter.

    Some people would prefer not to link their RL identity to the game. Not through a third-party site, and especially not through Facebook.

    And what are they getting out of running the competition through Facebook?

  7. Hi, Dave. Yeah, I play WoW a bit, and I know a lot of guilds have Facebook presences. I don’t mind adding people I know and trust to my friend list, but I do understand not wanting to let everyone in your guild onto your Facebook page.

  8. Deanna, I don’t think you’re correct about transitivity of friendship. If I and my friend both have “friends only” rather than anything at or beyond “friends of friends” set in a couple of places, I don’t believe people can get through to private stuff they aren’t explicitly authorized for.

  9. David, I’ve gone to a number of friends’ walls and clicked on comments they’ve made to other people’s posts–folks I’m not friends with. I haven’t yet been unable to see a post they’ve commented on.

    1. Deanna: That’s because you won’t even see a notice that your friend has commented unless you have visibility on the post they commented on.

      You have a friend A.
      A has friends B and C, who are not your FB friends.
      B has privacy set to “friends of friends” or “everyone” for zir status updates.
      C has privacy set to “friends only” or tighter.
      If A comments on an update from B, you may see a notice, and will be able to click through.
      If A comments on an update from C, you will not see a notice.

  10. If Facebook hadn’t removed the fake profiles, I think China’s next move would clearly have been enlisting The Sea.

  11. Nolly: That’s a relief, actually, if so. But I have my setting for “Can see wall posts by friends” set to “Only me” and yet my friends can still see the comments I’ve made, so I’m skeptical.

  12. Nolly: And I do see what you’re saying, but I still don’t get to control whether non-mutual friends get to see the comments I make to other friends’ walls–I have to trust the other friends’ settings for that.

    1. Yep. Comments and wall posts aren’t the same thing. You control the visibility of what’s on your own wall, but not elsewhere. Your friends control their space. It’s like offline life, only with worse defaults — offline, you have to trust that your friend doesn’t have a hidden webcam in their living room, broadcasting every conversation; on FB, it’s up to each user to be sure their camera is off.

      Actually, I don’t remember what the current default privacy settings are; I’ve had mine customized for too long. I do know that FB has never loosened my custom settings, though.

  13. Yeah, I have mine customized, too, Nolly. I honestly didn’t realize that when folks had their privacy settings locked down, my comments to their wall wouldn’t show on my wall–I thought that they showed regardless. Thank you for that.

    1. Well, close — you can always see your own comments, unless something changes after you make them. It’s other people’s feeds where they won’t show up unless that person can see the original post.

      So, to expand:

      There are three relevant privacy settings:
      “Friends can post on my Wall” controls whether your friends can leave messages directly on your wall. These are the things that show up in the feed as”A >B: Great to see you at dinner!”
      “Posts by me”, which is things you post, like status updates and photos.
      “Can see Wall posts by friends”, which controls who can see those things posted directly to your wall.

      For simplicity, I’m going to assume everyone in the example has “Friends can post on my Wall” enabled.

      You have a friend A.
      A has friends B and C, who are not your FB friends, and D and E, who are your friends as well.
      B has “Posts by me” set to “friends of friends” or “everyone”, but “Can see Wall posts by friends” is set to “Friends Only”.
      C has both set to “friends only” or tighter.
      D has both set to “friends only”, or to a subset of friends which includes you.
      E has both set to a subset of friends which does not include you.
      If A comments on an update from B, you may see a notice, and will be able to click through.
      If A comments on an update from C, you will not see a notice.
      If A comments on an update from D, you may see a notice, and will be able to click through.
      If A comments on an update from E, you will not see a notice.

      If you post on A’s Wall, by going to A’s profile and leaving a note in the box there, the visibility follows A’s setting for “Can see Wall posts by friends” — if A has it set to “Friends Only”, B, C, D, and E will all be able to see it, because it’s in A’s space, not your space.
      If A posts on B’s Wall, C’s Wall, or E’s Wall, you will not see a notice, because none of them allow you to see posts others make to their Walls..
      If A posts on D’s Wall, you may see a notice, because you are allowed to see posts others make to D’s Wall.

      Clear as mud? It’s a fairly complex system; they try to balance giving you fine-grained control with a UI that’s not too overwhelming. What it boils down to is the user never receives notification of content zie can’t see, but your settings only control your space. Each person’s Wall looks different depending on who’s looking at it, unless the person who’s Wall it is has all their settings set to “Everyone”.

  14. Nolly, thank you for taking the time to post all that. It’s really very interesting, and I understand the system much better now. I still don’t want known identity thieves among my friends or my friends’ friends, but it’s good to know I have at least a bit more privacy for my wall than I thought I did.

  15. China has won his battle, but a number of other authors are having similar issues. George R.R. Martin has been trying to shut down a Facebook page that has been set up in his name and has been reposting his blog entries (including copyrighted content, such as photographs, that he doesn’t want going onto the copyright-controlling Facebook) without his permission for some weeks now and not getting anywhere. It looks like he might need to pursue a similar course to Mieville if he wants to get anywhere.

    1. Martin is providing an RSS feed. As far as I know, there’s no legal way to say “You can read my RSS feed with any reader except Facebook”. If he wants to control how people read his blog, he needs to put it behind a login wall and either shut down the feed or only make it available with a password. There are ways around this, too, but it should be easier to track who’s leaking it then, and shut them down.

      Since he appears to be blogging on LJ, the easiest way to do this would be to assign a minion to accept all friend requests and make the account friends-only. However, this would require anyone who wanted to read it to have an account there. Hmm…there might be a checkbox to turn off the RSS feed, actually; I haven’t poked the LJ settings in a good while. If not, if he wants that much control, he’ll have to switch to a more powerful blog site or package which will give him more control.

      That said, the “copyright-controlling” accusation is based on a standard bit of boilerplate which, last I looked, LJ shares. They’re not claiming control; they’re only saying “we have the right to copy this to multiple servers and show it to people”.

      Ironically, several years ago, Charlie Stross pitched a hissy fit about someone feeding his RSS feed to LJ. His rant ended with “If you want to read my blog, use my RSS feed!”…which is what those of us reading it on LJ were doing.

  16. Both pages are still up.

    They were never taken down. Not for one second.

    I don’t know where you got the information for your “edit,” but it’s wrong.

  17. No, both fake profiles are down. There are still two fan pages for China up on Facebook, and China noted in his letter that he doesn’t have a problem with those. But the two people purporting to be China–whom I linked in my post above–have had their profiles removed. Perhaps you need to clear your browser cache.

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