Facebook: Issues and Law



  •  Introduction to Current Issues

  • Like Twitter, the rapid growth and adoption of Facebook has produced a number of social and legal issues.
  • Issue 1: Cyberstalking

  • Facebook stalking

  •  The potential for cyberstalking on Facebook has increasingly come under scrutiny in light of the wide variety and easy access to personal information. Users regularly include email addresses, phone numbers, instant messaging screenames, home addresses, and other personal information as a part of their profile. This information, put on a public or semi-public page, immediately opens the user up to being stalked by anyone with access to that information. Although there is the ability to block information from certain people, many users have not done so or do not know how to accomplish that.

  •  Case

  •  “KC Man indicted for Cyberstalking.”

  • Shawn D. Memarian, 28, of Kansas City, was charged in an indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury on Thursday, May 8, 2008. That indictment was unsealed and made public today upon Memarian’s arrest and initial court appearance.
  • The federal indictment alleges that between July 15, 2006, and Sept. 1, 2007, Memarian engaged in a course of conduct consisting of malicious postings to MySpace, Facebook, Craig’s List and other Internet social sites in which he caused the personal identity information of Melissa Sandfort – including her home address – to be publicly displayed. At the time, the indictment says, Memarian had been served with a restraining order forbidding contact with Sandfort.


Source: http://www.cybercrime.gov/memarianIndict.pdf


Facebook Terms Of Use: 


User Agreement/Site Policies- these do cover elements of cyberstalking and cyberbullying. Enforcement of the Terms of Use is a potential concern, as it is up to Facebook to enforce the policies. 


The Facebook Terms of Service can be found on the following page: http://www.facebook.com/terms.php

Important sections:

1. Section #1) Privacy
2. Section #2) Safety
3. Section #5) Protecting Other People’s Rights
4. Section #10) About Advertisements

  • Issue 2:  Cyberbullying

  • cyber bully

  • The issue of cyberbullying has increasingly received media attention over the past few years. One serious harm that could result from cyberbullying is the potential of suicide. A January, 2010 ABC News story reports that teens across the country have committed suicide due, in part, to the bullying that they have experienced via Facebook.
  • Source: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/cyber-bullying-factor-suicide-massachusetts-teen-irish-immigrant/story?id=9660938

  • In fact, 32% of teens with an online presence have experienced cyberbullying of some sort, with those on social networking sites experiencing it more than others.

  • Source: http://tinyurl.com/33h8lxs

  • Because of the complexity of Facebook, cyberbullying can take on a number of different forms. Bullying messages can be posted on users’ walls or sent to their inboxes. Although they are not allowed, pages can be started that ridicule or spread gossip about individuals. Embarrassing or compromising pictures can be posted. The possibilities grow as Facebook evolves and expands. The growth of the site has left the law in its dust, meaning that laws currently on the book are often obsolete or inadequate in light of new technology.

  • Laws

  • Many states have recently begun passing laws dealing with cyberbullying. Some of the laws simply require school districts to address the issue, while others criminalize it altogether.

  • Source: http://www.socialsafety.org/law_enforcement_cyberbullying.html

  •  Cases

  • 1. Finkel v. Facebook- 2009 N.Y. Slip Op. 32248, at 3-4 (N.Y.Sup. Sep 15, 2009). Finkel sues Facebook and individual defendants (former highschool classmates) regarding a private Facebook page which allegedly contained false and defamatory claims about her sexual activities. Judge dismisses claims against Facebook, by rejecting Finkel’s argument that Facebook “owns” the content on the site, and allows claims against individual defendants to proceed.

  • Source: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1737723945215079499&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

  • 2. Finkel v. Dauber- 2010 WL 2872874 (NY Sup. Ct. July 22, 2010), follow up to previous case. Summary judgment granted to defendants, court finds that a “reasonable reader” when given the context of the Facebook posts, would merely view them as adolescents attempting to outdo one another, rather than actually believing that plaintiff had sex with a horse and a baboon. While the posts display an “utter lack of taste”, they do not constitute “statements of fact” that qualify as defamation. Judge also denies relief on cyberbullying grounds, New York courts do not recognize a tort based on cyberbullying.

  • 3.  A teen in the UK became the first Briton to be imprisoned as the result of cyberbullying. She harassed a former classmate for over four years and was arrested after threatening to kill her via Facebook.

    Source: http://tinyurl.com/kqd5b

  • 4.  A man in Australia was served with a restraining order via a video posted to his Facebook page after harrassing his ex-girlfriend. He was ordered to take down his page.

    Source: http://tinyurl.com/2dlhv8y

  • Issue 3:  Privacy
    Facebook privacy

With the large amount of personal information available on Facebook pages, the issue of privacy has become increasingly important. On top of the information listed above, status updates often communicate more information than their author intends. Users often post statuses about upcoming vacations or weekend trips. As a result, other users with less than pure motives know when houses are left empty. Combine that with a home address or home phone number being available and the recipe for a robbery is complete. Facebook has recently announced plans to further expand its internal messaging system to include an email platform. Concerns quickly popped up throughout the internet, with many people questioning the wisdom of allowing Facebook access to the even more sensitive information contained in personal emails.

Use of Facebook by Schools and Universities:

1) Schools and universities have used the information found on students’ Facebook pages as grounds for disciplinary action and suspension. Understandably, this has caused a great amount of controversy. Schools assert their freedom to use information that is readily found on the internet, while students claim that using private pages made in their free time as a part of discipline is a violation of privacy.

2) A Chicago-area student was suspended for starting a Facebook group for people that disliked a certain teacher at their school and calling the teacher derogatory names. Even after taking the page down, the school proceeded to punish him.

Source: http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local-beat/Student-Suspended-for-Facebook-Fan-Page-84958567.html

3)  A Missouri student was suspended for posting mean remarks about another student that resulted in a fight, claiming that they broke the district rules against cyber-bullying.

Source: http://www.kmov.com/news/awake/Missouri-girl-suspended-for-Facebook-post-86172812.html

4)  Four New Zealand students were suspended for negative remarks made about a teacher on Facebook.

Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/kiwi-girls-suspended-for-facebook-comments-1705547.html

5)  A similar situation took place in India, where sixteen students were suspended for derogatory remarks about a teacher on Facebook.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11500518

Use of Facebook for Employment or in Litigation

1. It is unethical for lawyers to gain access to protected social network profiles through deception in order to gather information about unrepresented parties (New York City Bar Ass'n Comm. on Professional and Judicial Ethics, Formal Op. 2010-2, 9/10)

2. 45% of employers reported using Facebook and other social networking sites to check out job candidates before making a hiring decision.

 While 18% said this helped convince them to hire the candidate, 35% said some of the content resulted in the candidate not being hired.

   Source: http://thehiringsite.careerbuilder.com/2009/08/20/nearly-half-of-employers-use-social-networking-sites-to-screen-job-candidates/

3. Vault.com found that 39% have looked up current employees


Source: http://www.workforce.com/section/06/feature/25/45/83/254585.html


4. Lawyers have warned that this could lead to discrimination lawsuits

Source: http://www.workforce.com/section/06/feature/25/45/83/254585.html

5) There is some concern that Facebook is outing homosexual users to advertisers.

Source: http://tinyurl.com/2uwuocj


Some states have laws prohibiting employers from discriminating against job candidates based on what they do in their personal time. Source: http://www.workforce.com/section/06/feature/25/45/83/254585.html

Germany has passed a law that prohibits employers from taking part in this activity.
Source: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,713240,00.html

Issue 4: 3rd Party Advertising/Applications

Facebook advertising

Privacy Laws

1. Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA): 18 U.S.C. 2510

Protects electronic communications and imposes penalties for unlawful access; also prohibits the government from requiring disclosure of electronic communications with out undergoing the proper procedures

Source: http://legal.web.aol.com/resources/legislation/ecpa.html

2. Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA): 15 U.S.C 45: prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices.

1. Can apply to the way in which Facebook and third parties advertise and get sales.

2. Most states have similar laws.

Source: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/uscode15/usc_sec_15_00000045----000-.html

Cases on Privacy

1. Lane v. Facebook, Inc. (5:08-CV-03845-RS): Filed in 2008 and later settled; information about user activity in third party applications was being published in user news feeds; as a result, Facebook set up a digital trust fund to study online privacy.
Link to settlement agreement: http://www.beaconclasssettlement.com/Files/SettlementAgreement.pdf)

2. Swift v. Zynga (CV-09-5443): Filed in Nov. 2009; class action suit naming Zynga and Facebook alleging that deceptive ads were shown in the third-party games operated by Zynga.

Source: http://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/california/candce/3:2009cv05443/221703/1/

3. Graf v. Zynga (CV-10-4680): Filed in October 2010; class action suit alleging that Zynga collected and sold personal information to advertisers and Internet tracking firms in violation of federal law and Facebook privacy policy; Zynga is the group that operates Farmville, Mafia Wars, and FrontierVille.

Source: http://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/california/candce/3:2010cv04680/233109/1/

4. On Oct. 26, 2010, Sen. Jay Rockefeller sent a letter to Mark Zuckerburg asking for more information about a privacy leak reported in the Wall Street Journal, which related to the Graf case.  

Source: http://commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=PressReleases&ContentRecord_id=c26b5c34-cf19-4d8a-93aa-d9a29b749337&ContentType_id=77eb43da-aa94-497d-a73f-5c951ff72372&Group_id=4b968841-f3e8-49da-a529-7b18e32fd69d&MonthDisplay=10&YearDisplay=2010

5. David Cohen v. Facebook: (#BC444482)

In this case, the plaintiffs argue that there have been over one
million instances where book has misappropriated a minors’ name or likeness for profit. Plaintiffs accuse Facebook of using information gained from the “like” button for financial gain, and argue that the company must get parental consent before using the “like” preferences of minors.

Source: http://www.scribd.com/doc/36509064/Complaint-as-Filed-Cohen-v-Facebook-Inc

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