Does Facebook Arbitrate Your Existence?

By Reuters -  |  Posted 12-19-2007

A British member of parliament had his Facebook account suspended this week after the popular social networking site decided he wasn't real.

Steve Webb, of the Liberal Democrats, tried to log on on Monday but received a message saying his account had been disabled following complaints he didn't exist.

The news was particularly disconcerting for the 42-year-old because not only has he been a member of parliament for 10 years but he is also a keen promoter of online networking.

"I sent them an email asking what the problem was and got a response a day later saying they had concluded that my profile was a fake, that I wasn't really Steve Webb," Webb said.

"I was essentially accused of impersonating a member of parliament."

Within a few hours friends set up a Facebook group called "Steve Webb is real!" which attracted more than 200 members, and he and others contacted people who worked at the site.

A few hours later he received an apology and his profile was reactivated.

"I'm very sorry for the confusion here," the apology from Facebook read. "We received a report that indicated that this was an imposter account, but after further investigation, it is obviously real."

Still, the time spent in the Internet's no man's land left Webb questioning his existence.

"You realize the power these organizations really have," he said. "If they'd been really determined, they could have deactivated me completely and then you kind of don't know where you stand.

"It's actually hard for a genuine person to prove they exist."

Webb, who has been on Facebook for nearly a year, has around 2,500 friends on the site, a huge number. This is largely because he invites members of his constituency in the west of England to sign up.

Asked if he might have been suspended because he had a suspiciously high number of friends, particularly for a member of parliament, he laughed.

"The thought did cross my mind," he said.