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Online Impersonation: Should New California Law Incorporate Brands?

Effective January 1, 2011, the state of California created Bill 1411 which states: 

“Any person who knowingly and without consent credibly impersonates another actual person through or on an InternetWeb site by other electronic means for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person is guilty of a public offense.”   

E-personation will now be considered a misdemeanor which could result to a

$1000 fine and a year in prison.  Legislators says the new law is an updated version of the 19th Century law that prohibits signing someone else’s documents.  

Now, after an hour long debate with myself, I have not yet decided whether this bill is a smart or completely ridiculous idea.  On the hand, what does it matter if someone wants to create a Bob Barker Twitter account?  Everyone needs a hobby, right?

But at the same time, there is a part of me that says “why are just people included in the bill?”  Brands are impersonated all the time. 

Look at BP.  After the world’s largest oil spill last May, the BPGlobalPR Twitter account was created.  Today, the fraudulent account has more than 179,000  followers while the verified, Official BP account has only 19,000.  Yes, the company did make a huge mistake, but do they really deserve to be mocked nearly a year later?

Although the internet has become a great resource from business professionals and consumers alike, there are always downsides to every new innovation.  In this case, the Internet has eliminated personal privacy.  To illustrate this point, internet security company AVG conducted a study in October which found that 92 percent of children have an online presence by the time they are 2 years old in the United States; this number was significantly smaller in Europe with 73 percent. 

With all of this information online, it is no wonder that people are so able to impersonate other people and brands.  If there is no law stopping someone from imitating another person, someone could definitely use that to his or her advantage.   

This is probably not the first time, you have heard thoughts about social media laws.  You hear stories all the time about someone being fired because he or she said something on Twitter that offended the boss.  Yes, you could say this was a matter of someone not using their common sense, but maybe sometimes we need laws to tell us what is right and wrong. 

I don’t know about you, but I surely don’t want someone pretending to be me online.