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Lawmakers promote bill prohibiting online impersonation

(Utah State Capitol, credit Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – Lawmakers are taking aim at a certain kind of online activity that’s highly destructive, but law enforcement can’t do much about it, yet.  One representative is pushing a new bill that would prohibit online impersonation.

Victims of online impersonation say it can cause far more damage than many people would expect.  While speaking at a legislative committee meeting, Brandie Page described how someone made a fake online account with her name and likeness, then posted inflammatory statements.  People who saw them believed Page was actually posting them when she wasn’t.  Page said this kind of attack went on for several years.

Page said, “In 2017, my offender came back for more, fabricating screenshots and spreading false accusations.  At this time, I had a lot of harassment on recording.”

When Page reported this to the police, she was told there wasn’t much that could be done, unless the attacks became physical.  Most other people passed it off as internet drama, but Page said it ruined her life.

“I had to quit my business because she was messaging my clients.  I was slandered.  My credibility and reputation was questioned.  The accusations on my five-year-old could have stayed with him for life if they weren’t so absurd.  I had to get a security system at my home and I still didn’t feel safe.  I lost many friendships with her sending things she said I wrote.  I had to be very careful letting anyone know where I worked, and my family had to move from what we thought was going to be our forever home,” according to Page.

Other women, like Davis County resident Alberta Young, say online impersonation is not a victimless crime.  She isn’t at liberty to discuss what happened to her, since the case is still pending, but she says her life was also ruined because the fake posts looked incredibly real.

Young says, “With this type of crime, you feel very isolated because nobody believes you.”

House Bill 239 would make it a crime for someone to impersonate others online “with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten any individual.”  Representative Karianne Lisonbee says impersonation has caused her constituents real harm.  Two people in her district were put on leave from their jobs after someone impersonated them, and their employers were being pressured to fire them.

“It’s very surprising that Utah doesn’t have a law that addresses this issue.  There are 12 states that currently have online impersonation laws,” Lisonbee says.

She says recent surveys show an increasing number of people say they’re facing harassment online, and that impersonation profiles have been a problem for many years.

Lisonbee says, “In 2012, it was estimated that there were 80 million fake or imposter profiles online.”

The bill is expected to be heard on the House floor this week. 

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