Alberta man's ID hijacked after online comment war turns ugly

An Alberta man found out just how ugly an online debate can become when someone hijacked his identity and went on a crude Facebook rampage.

A cautionary tale for anyone using social media

An Alberta man speaks about identity theft and the harassment he's faced after arguing with an anonymous person online 2:46

An Alberta man found out just how ugly an online debate can become when someone hijacked his identity and went on a crude Facebook rampage.

Ken, who CBC News has agreed to identify by only his first name to protect his identity, joined a Facebook page on what he thought was a pretty tame subject — saving Edmonton's inner city airport — but the spirited debate turned nasty. 

An Alberta man was shocked when his identity on Facebook was hijacked after an intense online debate. (CBC)

"People from both sides were saying cut this out, this is getting stupid," he said. 

One of the users started harassing him, using profane language, so Ken blocked him.  

This only angered the man and he recreated Ken's Facebook profile, stealing his real profile pictures, his name and even where he worked.  

Crude posts start to appear

The man then started posting racist, homophobic and exceptionally crude things under Ken's name. One status claimed Ken was a rapist.

He only found out because the poster had friended Ken's real friends.

"Just the feeling of utter powerlessness, that you've worked your whole life to have this good reputation and so simply somebody can take your picture, your likeness, your name and then smear it with such impunity," he said. 

Ken said he repeatedly reported the problem to Facebook. He asked dozens of Facebook friends to report the fake profile, but claims the company did nothing.  

He has reported the problem twice to the RCMP, who confirmed they are investigating, but to Ken's knowledge not much has been done.  

Now, two years after his identity was hijacked, he is speaking to the media in an attempt to get action and warn others about how easy it is for someone to set up a fake profile in their name.  

A common problem, says online activist

Steph Guthrie, who makes her living as an online activist but specializes in outing internet trolls who harass behind the cloak of anonymity, said she sees situations like Ken's all too often.

Online activist Steph Guthrie says while identity theft is less common online, it is definitely a tool in an internet harasser's arsenal. (CBC)

"Harassment is unfortunately extremely common on the internet," she said.

"The identity thefts side of things is maybe less common, but it's definitely one of those key tools in an internet harasser's arsenal." 

She said stealing someone's identity is illegal, but Facebook rarely bothers to act. 

Guthrie said police tend to prioritize investigations with financial or physical threat, so people just suffer in harassment cases, which can harm their well-being and reputation.

Facebook finally takes down profile

Facebook finally shut down the fake page today after being contacted by CBC News. 

Account co-ordinator Claire LaRocca said the social media company takes the privacy of their users' information very seriously.

"It is a violation of our policies to use a fake name or operate under a false identity, and we provide resources for both users and non-users to report false accounts through our Help Centre," she said.

LaRocca said Facebook has a team devoted to working with law enforcement to help users stay safe.

Ken worries his reputation won't be wiped clean quite so easily, and he has a word of warning for others who think they aren't vulnerable.   

"Watch your back," he said.