Oh dear. Thanks to a nonsensical 1984 anti-hacking law, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, it may be a federal crime to lie on your online dating profile (not to mention Facebook). As Mother Jones explains in its list of “absurdly outdated Internet laws,” the extremely baggy legislation prohibits “knowingly accessing a computer without authorization” and culling information from “a protected computer.” The thing is, “computer” is very loosely defined—as Tim Wu writes in The New Yorker, the Justice Department has interpreted it to mean “just about any Web site.” (Wu was not writing about your OKCupid profile but rather the terrible consequences the law had on Aaron Swartz.) And how do you get “authorization” to access a website? By agreeing to its terms of service, which you probably didn’t read. Oops! You should read that stuff.
For instance, from the Facebook fine print:
You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.
You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory.
Gosh, I wish I’d known misleading people on Facebook was a federal crime before I “liked” a photo my friend posted of her cat drinking lemonade out of a mug. I didn’t actually like that, and the “adorable” I typed into the comment box is an overstatement. (Please don’t prosecute.) And does it count as “malicious” to pointedly ignore certain friend requests from certain people for certain reasons that—let’s face it—the NSA already knows all about? Actually, whatever, I have never seen that laptop before in my life.
Before you flee Facebook for an online dating website, you may want to check out eHarmony’s terms of service:
By requesting to use, registering to use, or using the Singles Service, you represent and warrant that you are not married. If you are separated, but not yet legally divorced, you may not request to use, register to use, or use the Singles Service … You will not provide inaccurate, misleading or false information to eHarmony or to any other user.
So if you, eHarmony user, falsely represent yourself as a natural blonde, or 10 pounds lighter, or a “connoisseur of fine art” when you secretly think All Art Looks The Same, you are in violation of federal law and have the right to remain silent—which is what you should have done in the first place, instead of posting some crap about how you speak Cantonese.
A propos: A member of the Slate staff went on a date recently with a man who professed, in his online dating profile, to be several inches taller than he was. When I told her what I was writing about, a glint of satisfaction flashed in her eye. And yet, on some level, doesn’t the Internet exist so that people can present glamorized, rosy-hued, mostly untruthful versions of themselves? Scrub the Web clean of lies and what’s left? Banality, rudeness, and far fewer urban twentysomethings on OKCupid who claim to love Gravity’s Rainbow. (OK, maybe that last one is a good thing.)
I’m comforted by the fact that the FBI has proven fairly lax so far about enforcing the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Still, my not-too-trendy-but-just-indie-enough taste in music and I just might skip town for a while.