In a surprising role reversal, Facebook has a bone to pick with the United States government. The social media network has publicly chastised U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for misusing its service. Specifically, the company is unhappy the agency used its service to facilitate an elaborate sting operation.
In 2015, ICE established a fake college called the University of Farmington as part of a covert operation code-named “Paper Chase.” Authorities fabricated the school to ensnare foreign nationals who wanted to stay in America illegally. International students caught in the scheme paid $8,500 to enroll in a college without teachers or classes.
To make Farmington a more attractive lure, ICE agents falsified documents, set up a fake office, and created a slew of fake Facebook profiles. The Silicon Valley giant reiterated that fake profiles are against its community policies after learning about the sting operation.
But given how Operation Paper Chase resolved, law enforcement agencies will likely continue to use social media to make arrests.
ICE Cold Sting Operation
Over the course of four years, ICE implicated more than 600 people in its University of Farmington sting.
The agency ended up filing charges for two interrelated offenses. Federal agents arrested some immigrants for committing student visa fraud by enrolling in a college they knew wasn’t real. Those alleged lawbreakers, mostly hailing from Southeast Asia, now face deportation. Conversely, a host of other foreign nationals are facing criminal prosecution for earning money for recruiting others to enroll in Farmington.
Authorities created an elaborate web of university administrators, faculty, and students to fool the subjects of their investigation. ICE agents used stock photos and fabricated Facebook life updates to make their illusion more convincing. Law enforcement officials even chatted with prospective Farmington students for added verisimilitude.
However, as ICE officers used fake names and photos in their sting, Facebook says the agency violated its terms of service. But, the platform hasn’t exactly brought the hammer down on government offenders.
A corporate representative told the Guardian the firm would delete all fraudulent profiles it discovered. Indeed, the Facebook accounts associated with the Farmington charade are no longer active. Moreover, the social media service sent a letter to the government agency regarding its violation of the firm’s community policies. However, it has not filed suit against known offenders, beefed up its authentication processes, or even taken down ICE’s verified profile page.
Notably, the University of Farmington affair isn’t the first time Facebook has given a slap on the wrist to a law enforcement agency for violating its policies.
Once Again, Facebook Doesn’t Care
In 2014, then Facebook Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan brought down the full force of his vocabulary to pen a missive condemning the Drug Enforcement Administration for impersonating the network’s users.
Unsurprisingly, Sullivan’s stern warning didn’t stop the Memphis Police Department from creating fake social media profiles. The platform’s mild displeasure at the blatant misuse of its platform didn’t stop cops in Georgia, Nebraska, New York, and Ohio from catfishing criminals either.
Furthermore, the fake college scheme isn’t even the first time ICE has used Facebook in a sting operation. In 2015, the organization used the service to facilitate the arrest and conviction of a Texas sex trafficker.