To Lie or Not to Lie, That is the Question.
Those who use social media are not required by law to tell the truth on their social media profiles. According to the AP Stylebook, misrepresentation is a claim of fraud, which can’t be proven unless there is extremely offensive with malicious intent occurring on a regular basis. On the other hand, a fake profile on social media can be used for good intentions. For example, Nicole Bathke, Course Director for Business Ethics at Full Sail University, states, “I understand the problem with deception, but I can’t wave away the idea of multiple accounts under different names without thinking about it some more. For example, administrators at public schools use secondary profiles to check up on social media bullies.”
Intentions and Professionalism
The prsa.org website, the Professional Standards Advisories PS-8 suggests social media standards of professional behavior and code of conduct. It covers the topic about “deceptive online practices and misrepresentation of organizations and individuals.” The guideline states, “the use of deceptive identities or misleading descriptions of goals, causes, tactics, sponsors or participants to further the objectives of any group constitutes improper conduct under the PRSA Member Code of Ethics and should be avoided. PRSA members should not engage in or encourage the practice of misrepresenting organizations and individuals through the use of blogs, viral marketing, social media and/or anonymous Internet postings.”
Can You Count the Damages?
In a law review from Pepperdine titled “Liable for Your Lies: Misrepresentation Law as a Mechanism for Regulating Behavior on Social Networking Sites states, “intent to induce has to be proven as well, which means the fake profile is meant to induce a transaction between them and the victim”. “The victim must prove there was a justifiable reliance of the misrepresentation with recoverable damages”. Regarding damages, “for a social networking lie to be considered a tortious and fraudulent misrepresentation, the lie must result in pecuniary loss or physical harm”.
A few companies are helping their users battle against fake profiles. For example, Twitter helps users recognize misrepresentation by verifying accounts of popular people. Twitter states they provide this service for “…highly sought users”. A verified account will show a blue icon with a white checkmark next to their name on their profile page. Recently, websites have integrated social media to encourage sharing information with the user’s social media network. There is room to improve interaction and increase understanding of realness versus misrepresentation. Bathke suggests, “I have wondered if an eBay style situation might work–one where users rate each other and that record follows them around and either encourages or discourages certain behaviors on the social media site. Right now, one can give thumbs up or thumbs down to a comment on a news site such as CNN, or we can “like” comments on Facebook. What if the feedback were more sophisticated?”
Think twice before you post a white lie that leads to entire fake profile in order to get what you want. Ask a trusted friend or colleague when you’re not sure if it’s the right thing to do.