LAPD allegedly warned by tech giant to stop creating and using phony accounts to spy on criminal suspects

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LOS ANGELES, CA — According to multiple reports, Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, contacted the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) via letter and requested it stop using “dummy” accounts on its platform to conduct surveillance on other users who the police may regard as criminal suspects.

On Nov. 11, Meta’s Roy L. Austin Jr., Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, sent a three-page letter to Chief Michel R. Moore alleging his department was creating phony social media accounts and even impersonating legitimate users.

The letter read:

“According to the Brennan Center for Justice and media reports the Los Angeles Police Department (‘LAPD’) has been instructing its officers to create fake (or ‘dummy’) Facebook accounts and impersonate legitimate users.

“Not only do LAPD instructional documents use Facebook as an explicit example in advising officers to set up fake social media accounts, but documents also indicate that LAPD policies simply allow officers to create fake accounts for ‘online investigative activity.’

“To the extent these practices are ongoing they violate our terms of service. While the legitimacy of such policies may be up to the LAPD, officers must abide by Facebook’s policies when creating accounts on our services.

“The Police Department should cease all activities on Facebook that involve the use of fake accounts, impersonation of others, and collection of data for surveillance purposes.

“People come to the Facebook platform to connect and share with real people using their authentic identities. This core principle is what differentiates Facebook from other services on the Internet.”

Despite Meta/Facebook’s notorious reputation of heavy-duty censorship of users’ accounts, Austin’s letter cited First Amendment concerns:

“We believe strongly in the principle of free expression and strive to create an environment where people can act on their freedoms. People on our platforms speak their minds, connect with others to promote common causes, share their personal experiences, and organize First Amendment protected activities.

“It is our intention that they do so in a space that is free from unlawful surveillance by the government or agents acting in inauthentic ways.

“Our authenticity policies are intended to create a safe environment where people can trust and hold one another accountable. Operating fake accounts violates the terms and policies that govern the Facebook service, and undermines trust in our community (https://transparency.fb.com/policies/community-standards/account-integrity-and-auth entic-identity/).

“Anyone who creates a Facebook account agrees to abide by our Community Standards, which expressly prohibit the creation and use of fake accounts. Facebook has made clear that law enforcement authorities are subject to these policies.”

Meta/Facebook has had a strange track record in what it censors. For example, CNET pointed out that the platform had censored one of the most recognizable news photos on the planet: the image of a naked, crying young girl named Phan Thị Kim Phú as she fled a napalm strike during the Vietnam War. That photo won a Pulitzer Prize.

Yet, there were 12 million reports of pornography and sexual abuse involving children being traced back to Facebook’s Messenger platform, according to a report by Mashable.

CNET noted how powerful the platform is, including how it censors users:

“Who gave Facebook the right to do all this?

“You did. And so did I. Everyone who logs on to Facebook gives it this power. Make no mistake about it: There are more people using Facebook than there are citizens of any country on Earth.

“Zuckerberg was never elected to any office. But he’s built one of the most important websites in the world, and he makes decisions that affect all of us. There’s no way for any of us to appeal.

“OK. There is one way.

“Log off for good.”

In September, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki seemed to call for censorship of social media platforms, such as Meta/Facebook.

New York Post reported that during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Psaki was asked if there was any plan in the future to address issues regarding negative mental health effects with Big Tech companies like Facebook and its sister company, Instagram, and hold them accountable as publishers.

Psaki reportedly said:

“It shouldn’t. And the president thinks that one of these platforms has too much power, one of these platforms could do certainly much more to address all of these things you have referenced. 

“I mean, as a mother of a young girl, it makes me absolutely outraged that you’ve seen the Instagram — the reports about Instagram affecting girls’ mental health. That is outrageous.”

Several states have joined a multi-state probe of Meta/Facebook and Instagram’s “techniques” to keep youth on its platforms for extended periods of time.

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The Pittsburgh Patch reported on Nov. 19:

“Pennsylvania is among the states participating in a multi-state investigation into Instagram owner Meta Platforms Inc., the newly renamed Facebook. Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the probe will focus on whether Meta provided Instagram to children and young adults in ways that violated state consumer protection laws.

“The inquiry will examine Facebook techniques to increase the visit to and amount of time youths spent on the platform and any harm caused by the extended engagement.

“It’s being launched in the wake of recent reports that Meta research indicated Instagram use is associated with a variety of conditions – including depression, eating disorders and suicide.”

Yet, Austin’s letter chides the LAPD about its own law enforcement “techniques” and further specifies what the company’s “Community Standards” are and reiterates that users cannot create phony accounts, misrepresent an identity, impersonate others or engage in any other “Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior.”

The letter also accuses LAPD of allegedly working with a third-party vendor to collect information on the platform’s users even though Meta/Facebook collects a vast amount of information from its own account holders:

“It has also come to our attention that the LAPD has used a third-party vendor to collect data on our platforms regarding our users.

“Under our policies, developers are prohibited from using data obtained on our platforms for surveillance, including the processing of platform data about people, groups, or events for law enforcement or national security purposes (https://developers.facebook.com/terms/#control).

“We regard the above activity as a breach of Facebook’s terms and policies, and as such, we will disable any fake accounts that we identify and take action against third-party vendor conduct that violates our terms.

“In closing, the LAPD, its members, and any others acting on its behalf should immediately cease all activities on Facebook that involve impersonation or that otherwise violate our policies.

“Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns.”

Harvesting data provides valuable information for both police and social media companies. They both use software to collect information and create profiles of individuals who can then be linked with other people or groups.

Breitbart reported that according to documents obtained by the Brennan Center of Justice via public record requests, in 2019 the LAPD used Voyager Labs’ social media surveillance software to monitor suspects and collect data from their accounts and those of their friends:

“The LAPD said that the software was useful in investigating the activities of street gangs that often communicate online and was crucial in helping its robbery and homicide division collect evidence.”

According to Datamation, Meta/Facebook collects various personal data and sells that information to whoever “can afford it.”

Datamation further points out:

“It’s not that we haven’t been warned about the dangers of sharing personal data online. And many of us do take precautions with some of our sensitive data. Yet as a group we think all those online complimentary services are worth the loss of privacy, bit by bit.

“So Facebook (and other Web giants) accumulate all our personal data points over time. The more data there is in one place, the more value it has for data mining.

“Over time, and in context of other individual data points, it becomes Big Data. Using data integration, it’s then mixed on the back-end with other data sources that, as end-users, we’ll never be aware.

“Increasingly, identifiable data collection is happening in more dimensions than are ever understood by most users. Some apps now offer ‘general’ surveys or take note about group preferences, but are really harvesting detailed notes that track us individually. 

“These apps, we know, use data analytics to analyze ‘friends of friends’ comments to compile data about us.

“They even determine our current emotional state from textual analysis or online behavior. It’s now possible to correlate how sad or depressed someone might be by analyzing the volume and variety of their online interactions.

“Are we comfortable with all of this?”

Ultimately, Datamation suggests that Meta/Facebook might be where users’ friends are, but that the platform is not a friend of users due to the amount of data mining that occurs.

The social media platform, which monitors its own users, does not seem to want law enforcement mimicking its spying behavior to obtain valuable information from potential suspects.

It suggests the social media platform may not be a friend of law enforcement either.

Editor note: In 2020, we saw a nationwide push to “defund the police”.  While we all stood here shaking our heads wondering if these people were serious… they cut billions of dollars in funding for police officers.  And as a result, crime has skyrocketed – all while the same politicians who said “you don’t need guns, the government will protect you” continued their attacks on both our police officers and our Second Amendment rights.

And that’s exactly why we’re launching this national crowdfunding campaign as part of our efforts to help “re-fund the police”.

For those looking for a quick link to get in the fight and support the cause, click here.

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