Fighting online impersonation

- Online impersonation has become an epidemic with only a few real cures. And once the damage is done it's hard to recover. Now there is a move underway to make it a crime.

A fake profile page used a real picture of former Miss New York Meaghan Jarensky. She was shocked and hurt when she read the X-rated description.

"It was very humiliating and shameful," Jarensky said. "I felt very like I was at a loss of control over my reputation and what was out there in social media, on the internet about who I am as a person."

Social media experts say women are disproportionately the targets and the perpetrators of online reputation attacks. Facebook is testing a program that would alert people when someone is creating a phony account in their name. It's getting a thumb's-up from users.

Jarensky had to hire a lawyer to get the profile removed. Because of that experience, she has launched a campaign called "In Plain Sight" to combat online harassment and bullying.

"We need to catch up with the times," Jarensky said. "We don't have adequate laws around things like this."

For Bronx City Council Member Richie Torres, the harassment came from a fake Instagram account that contained derogatory anti-veteran and racist comments he would never make.

"The lesson here is that whether you're an elected official or an everyday person, everyone can be a target of bullying on social media," Torres said. "Anyone can have their identity casually stolen and dragged into the cesspool of social media."

Right now penalties for phony posting are few and far between. But Senate Bill 5871, proposed by state Sen. Kevin Parker, could change that.

"This bill would essentially the raise penalties and give judges the discretion make this a D-class felony which would in fact make it up to a year in jail penalty," Parker said.

That proposed law is now gaining traction in the state Assembly and could be passed by this summer. In the meantime, trying to cleanup an imposter's mess can become a job in itself.

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