Regulating Fake Identities on the Internet
Here’s an interesting twist in the Megan Meier case. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles might charge the people who allegedly harassed Megan with defrauding MySpace, because they opened an account with a fake identity.
A law professor quoted in the article explains why prosecuting people for using fake identities on the Internet could lead to trouble:
Levenson, a former federal prosecutor, said that if the grand jury brings an indictment, it could raise 1st Amendment issues and questions about how to fairly enforce such a law on the Internet, where pseudo-identities are common.
"This may be a net that catches a lot of people," she said.
Levenson is right so many people have fake identities on the internet that enforcement would have to be selective.
Most people are aware that Internet appearances can be deceiving, and they discount information from anonymous sources. If a major news website reports on social trends, you might give it some consideration. But if someone identifying himself only as "Josh" says he doesn’t like you anymore, you probably wouldn’t consider that credible. Teenagers with fragile self-esteem approach the situation in an entirely different way, and can feel devastated after whoever happens to be online expresses disapproval.
That’s a good reason for parents of teens to be careful in monitoring their online activities. It’s not a good reason to prosecute people for using fake identities on the Internet. Anonymous communication online is usually not harmful, and it can be beneficial. In other media, people publish letters to the editor, op-eds, or books anonymously. That allows anyone to safely express unpopular opinions. We should have the same freedom of speech online.