There has been a lot of writing about fake accounts recently and mostly the discussions are about Facebook, which is the most used social media channel in Estonia. The platform itself has reported on the closures of such accounts as well as some websites and groups but the closures have been mostly exceptions and have been accounts, websites and groups under foreign influence.
The largest wave of account closures occurred in Facebook in Spring 2018, when the environment reported 583,000,000 fake account closures.
Less has been said about the internal Estonian accounts and their closures. The largest media attention was given to the EKRE youth organization’s associated fake account network as well as due to this news, the discovered fake account belonging to Jevgeni Ossninovski.
For example if you look at the lists of Estonian-speaking groups, it is quite clear that the share of anonymous accounts is growing rather than decreasing. Accounts that obviously do not have the real name of the account holder, nor contain any photos of the person to identify themselves, are being created more and more.
When collecting information about closing fake accounts on the internet, it is clear that there are several Facebook sites with information on how to report fake accounts or offensive content but more practical and successful descriptions are scarce.
What can we do with fake accounts?
No one other than the social media channel can close the accounts; consequently, you must start with the channel itself.
If you have discovered a fake account with your name or picture, then report it through the Facebook form. You should also report this account to the web constable, who may be able to assist you in closing the account on Facebook. If you are convinced that the account you have found represents you but is not under your control, it is most likely identity theft and you should then contact the police.
It is definitely worthwhile asking for help from friends when reporting, as more repetition of the reporting will give more attention on the social media channel.
A few years ago, Dr. Riina Raudsik faced a similar problem when she discovered a Facebook account called Raudsik Riina. If searching Facebook today you will find in addition to Dr. Raudsik’s real account, an empty account with the same name, whose address is riina.raudsik.1.
There is a separate form to close a dead Facebook account and the web constable has given a large commentary on its use.
Tarbija24 has published a valuable guide in cooperation with the Data Protection Inspectorate on protecting its data and on the privacy of Facebook.
Problem groups and sites
Similarly to closing fake accounts, the closure of problem groups is also difficult but with every successful closure, experience increases as well as more collaboration with Facebook.
Fortunately there are many examples today of such groups being closed down.
In September of last year, Facebook closed the Estonian MMS advocacy group, when they realized that it posed a serious health threat to humans. The Health Board sent a lengthy letter with substantiating material to Facebook headquarters and two weeks later the group was closed down.
In October 2018, at the request of the Estonian Tax and Customs Board, Facebook closed down several groups of brokers dealing in snus tobacco. Similarly, to the Health Board, the Tax and Customs Board also collected extensive justifications and evidence to close the groups. At the moment, based on the experience gained, it is possible to close groups engaged in banned activities on Facebook faster.
At the beginning of January, Facebook closed a group who had received a lot of media coverage, ESTONERS group, which distributed anti-Estonian materials and was administered by fake accounts.
Although Facebook decided to shut down the group independently, following the removal of a number of administrators of the fake account group, it was likely that the State Chancellery was actively communicating with the social media channel that assisted in their decision.
The above examples are rare but still real and successful cases in dealing with the problematic content of this global large organization.
The problem with false or hostile content definitely needs more attention and people’s activity in cleaning up the Estonian environment in Facebook. While insulting, libeling and cyber bullying is part of Facebook’s everyday operations, people do not react enough to bring about change.
There are numerous materials published in Estonia on cyber bullying, defamation and dealing with it but when you start looking for them on the internet, you will find a large number of lengthy texts that will not actually help or give lessons for practical action.
Photos: Ian Britton/Flickr/CC; screenshot of Riina Raudsik’s blog; extract from the Facebook environment