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Afghan women say Facebook hacks endanger their lives

| Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, 12:01 a.m.

KABUL, Afghanistan — By the time the distraught young woman arrived at the Sunshine Internet Cafe in western Kabul, she was in a state of panic, with tears streaming down her face.

Someone, she claimed, had hacked into her Facebook page and stolen her personal photos. The thief used those images to make a fake profile, one littered with offensive posts boasting of drug use and illicit behavior.

In Afghanistan, this can get a woman killed.

A week later, Farid Ahmadi, the cafe's owner — a friendly 29-year-old who is known around town as a go-to guy for IT problems — was thinking over the woman's situation, hoping for a solution.

“She said, ‘Farid, do something!' ” he recalled, shaking his head. “ ‘My brother saw those photos, and now he is telling me not to go outside or he will beat me.' ”

Her plight would be less frustrating, Ahmadi said, if he hadn't encountered many others like it in recent months. Several times a week, he estimated, young women show up at his cafe desperate for help. Their complaints are the same: fake Facebook profiles using their photos, hacked personal information, inboxes deluged with pornography and threats from aggressive suitors and alleged terrorists. Reputations are demolished.

Ahmadi said he has reported fake profiles to Facebook on behalf of women more than 50 times, but it rarely matters. He suspects that the threats are so culturally specific — a profile photo showing a woman's face or a beer Photoshopped into a photo of a female gathering, for example — that they often go unnoticed by Facebook administrators. What may look like an innocent account in the United States can be full of menacing innuendo to Afghan eyes. In Afghanistan, where women are expected to abide by a strict code of personal conduct that equates purity with family honor, a slanderous Facebook page can bring shame to the victim and her loved ones. Many women say they have sworn off Facebook altogether.

Monika Bickert, head of global product policy at Facebook, said the company is able to identify fake accounts when the impostor begins making friend requests.

“Claiming to be another person or having a fake profile violates our community standards, and these types of profiles will be removed if they are reported to us,” she said.

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