Jamal Martin Johnson’s six-month jail sentence offers a bit of vindication for Andrew Chandler, who was thrown in a Michigan county jail for about a month after police alleged he was stalking a woman on a social media site.
The real stalker, Johnson, set up a fake Facebook account using Chandler’s name. Johnson, 25, of Grand Rapids, was sentenced Tuesday for illegal use of a computer, a felony, after police arrested him in January and said he impersonated Chandler to stalk Chandler’s ex-girlfriend.
- Should the state legislature adopt a specific law making online impersonation a crime?
Johnson agreed to a plea deal in the case and prosecutors dropped identity theft and aggravated stalking charges, but Kent County Circuit Judge Donald Johnston said Johnson deserved jail time because someone else had done time for his crime.
The real Andrew Chandler, who reportedly is in a relationship with the woman Johnson is accused of stalking, posted on his real Facebook page that “justice is served," MLive/The Grand Rapids Press said.
By the social media giant’s own estimates during its fourth-quarter 2013 earnings report in February, between 5.5 and 11.2 percent of users are posting under phony Facebook accounts. Facebook estimated the actual number can vary from 67.65 million to as high as 137.76 million phony accounts.
Guess Who Else is Creating Bogus Accounts
And it’s not just people like Johnson who are creating the fake accounts.
“Social media is a valuable tool because you are able to see the activities of a target in his comfortable stage,” one respondent said in a LexisNexis Survey cited in the guide. “Targets brag and post … information in reference to travel, hobbies, places visited, appointments, circle of friends, family members, relationships, actions, etc.”
One of the most famous cases of online impersonation involved the hoax surrounding Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o and his fake dying girlfriend, Lennay Kekua.
Deadly Serious Consequences
The saga provided dark entertainment at the time, but TIME said it also raised interesting questions about whether it’s a crime to pose as someone else online. The answer is yes, in several states. At the time of the TIME report in January 2013, at least nine states had laws on the books or were considering them.
Michigan isn’t among the states with specific statutes addressing online impersonation, and its “using a computer to commit a crime” law only covers acts that would be illegal if committed in person.The wave of online impersonation statutes was prompted in part by the 2006 suicide of a Missouri 13-year-old, Megan Meier, who hanged herself after being encouraged to do so by a boy she thought she was having a relationship with in a fake account set up by a teenaged girl and her mother.