KAMLOOPS – The story of a Kamloops catfish, who was sentenced last week for creating a fake Facebook profile just to harass ex-girlfriends, was not a surprise to social media expert Jesse Miller. His business deals with people who suffer the consequences of sharing too much information online.
“When you post information online, what you have to be aware of is that whether it (is) a photo of your car, your home or your children – you are giving that away to the internet,” Miller says.
Miller runs Mediated Reality, a consulting firm which offers advice and awareness on social media safety. He often instructs children on the ins and outs of keeping safe when sharing pictures, geo-location and personal information through various social portals. He was recently hired to speak to Kamloops high school students after some of them divulged sensitive photos online, prompting an RCMP investigation.
With over a billion Facebook users, Miller says the company can't investigate each catfish, like George Herbert Douglas's. Catfish is a colloquial term to describe the act of posing online to deceive others. Douglas constructed Chrissy Last—a sassy blonde he created to stalk and harass three of his ex-partners.
A quick selfie at the bar might seem harmless, but once posted online, it's available to anyone to use as they wish. Douglas poached photos from his own cousin's Facebook page to create the persona of Chrissy Last.
Miller says while people feel victimized or violated after seeing their information used by someone else, it’s a real-life consequence from agreeing to Facebook's terms.
“As it applies to libel laws and fraud and content that you’ve shared that you don’t want going further," he says. "There are very minimal avenues right now to protect people from revenge content.”
Another troubling reality of Douglas’s makeshift profile: Last garnered over 400 Facebook friends who clearly never knew her. All of Last’s 'friends' were profiles Douglas had access to and could have harvested to create more online personalities.
“People add contacts on social media almost as a badge of honour," he says. "You’ll see the primary age group of young youth to upwards of mid-twenties to thirties who choose just to add people saying ‘well, I’ve got all these contacts online.’”
The lesson is simple: Only add Facebook friends if you know them personally.
Douglas found Facebook profiles belonging to family members and friends of his ex-girlfriends and got them to add Last as a friend. In one case, he added his ex's step-father on Facebook and later vandalized his car.
He urges special caution when sharing photos or information on family members, specifically children.
“If you’re willing to give (information about) your children (or family) away to the internet," he says, "it might end up on a dating website, a Facebook account or somebody’s posing to have kids and they’re using your children as the photograph.”
Think before you share intimate photos of yourself or family members. If you use a social media channel to update family members on yourself or children, Miller suggests email as a safer alternative.
If you are feeling unsafe or are threatened, speak to the RCMP.
“Online is not a lot different from real-line when it comes to information sharing," he says. "If we can’t see adults behaving well online, it’s going to be very hard for kids to do the same thing.”
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