Facebook Fakes Become Misdemeanors Starting 2011

California StatePretending to be someone else on Facebook, or anywhere else online, becomes a crime in California as of this Saturday.

The law specifically prohibits impersonating anyone online with the objective of harming, intimidating, threatening or defrauding. Such acts become misdemeanors punishable by a fine up up to $1000 and a year in jail.

The author of the law, California Democratic state Senator Joe Simitian, represents the part of the state where Facebook has its headquarters. An article in the San Jose Mercury News quoted him saying:

As a Silicon Valley legislator, I’m nothing but enthusiastic about technology. But the question is, is the technology used wisely and appropriately? This is one area where some constraint appeared necessary… The goal here really is to try to change behavior…

This new law draws on the same framework used in California’s ban on forging documents.

An early draft of the legislation had upset free speech advocates who worried that that the measure would stifle free speech. So the law effective Saturday qualifies that the person who is impersonated has to be real and credible.

That makes it still legal to have profiles that are obvious parodies or fictional characters.

We’re wondering whether a California law would enable Facebook to prosecute impersonators based outside of the state, or the country for the matter. Presumably the location of the social network’s headquarters is what matters here.

How will this law help social media and Facebook in particular?

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