The Oldest Story on the Internet — Facebook Dodges Responsibility, Sides with Fraudsters

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Music and romance have always gone together — lifting us up, enriching our lives, strengthening and reinforcing each other. Connecting people in the deepest, most meaningful ways.

But now they are joined in a sad new way, as unwilling victims of the worst kind of online fraud and impersonation.

Advocating Against Romance Scammers has been working for years to educate people about the risk of fake online romances, where con artists find victims on social media, worm into their lives, and then convince them to send money or to expose private information that can be exploited, reused, and sold. In 2019, Americans lost over $400 million to romance fraud — not to mention the heartbreak, embarrassment, and loneliness that comes in its wake.

It’s a terrible, personal sort of crime — leveraging the power of romance and our universal need for love and companionship to convince us to drop our guard. One that leaves shattered lives as well as devastating financial loss in its wake. And one that Facebook has refused to address or shut down — despite annual reports from AARS to its Board about the deeply invasive ways its platform is being manipulated and abused.

And now it appears to be expanding, leveraging the loss and isolation of the global pandemic and the connective power of music and the arts to reach a new crop of victims on Facebook’s platform.

Zoe Keating is a widely admired creative artist — a modern cellist known for daring high tech performances that layer live and recorded music into utterly unique tapestries of feeling, energy, and sound. When the pandemic struck, she was forced to cancel dozens of scheduled concerts, including a performance set for August 30, 2020.

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On the day that show would have occurred, however, Ms. Keating learned a fraudster had set up a Facebook “event page” on Facebook asking people to sign up for a non-existent replacement livestream performance, using Ms. Keating’s name and photograph to defraud her fans. Ms. Keating immediately reported the fraudulent page to Facebook, which told her “it doesn’t go against any one of our specific community standards” and suggested that, if she found it bothersome, she could change her settings or block it! Ultimately the Facebook site impersonating Ms. Keating remained live for weeks — and no one other than the company knows how many people were victimized, robbed, or phished as a result.

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Screenshot of the fraudulent Facebook event

Like romance scam, this kind of online fraud exploits the powerful emotions surrounding music, the needs it fills and the connection fans feel with artists they love. It turns our most powerful, urgent emotions against us — leading even the most sophisticated online consumers to take risks and trust strangers in ways they ordinarily would never even consider.

Facebook has known about this problem for years and done the bar minimum to combat it — just like other online harms from hate speech to political misinformation to illegal opioid mills. Artists have struggled for years to get Facebook to take responsibility for theft and misuse of creative works online and received the same kind of brush off that Ms. Keating received here. It’s clear the company is determined to do as little as possible to protect its users, customers, and creators — and that it will only act if someone requires it do so.

That’s why Advocating Against Romance Scammers and the Artist Rights Alliance have joined forces asking the US Federal Trade Commission, the US Justice Department, and the Attorneys General of Ms. Keating’s home state Vermont and Facebook’s home state California to investigate the scheme to impersonate her on the platform and to uncover whether other artists have been victims of similar forms of fraud on Facebook or its other properties.

Facebook must do more to stop this kind of impersonation based fraud.

— Artist Rights Alliance & Advocating Against Romance Scammers

Written by

Artist-run, non-profit advocating for musicians, performers, & songwriters in the digital landscape. (Formerly the Content Creators Coalition or “c3”)

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