Facebook Posts Can Land You In Jail!

Did you know that a single Facebook post can land you in jail?  Its true, an acting judge in Westchester NY recently ruled that a ‘tag’ notification on Facebook violated  a protective order.  The result of the violation; second-degree contempt, which can lead to punishment of up to a year in jail.   In January, the a judge issued a  restraining order against Maria Gonzalez, prohibiting her from communicating with her former sister-in-law, Maribel Calderon.  Restraining orders are issued to prevent person from making contact with protected individuals.  Traditionally, courts interpreted contact to mean direct communications in person, mail, email, phone, voicemail or even text.   Facebook tags, however, present a slightly different form of contact.

Unlike Facebook messages, tagging someone identifies the tagged person on the poster’s Facebook page.  The tag, however, has the concurrent effect of linking to the identified person’s profile; thereby notifying them of the post.  Ms. Gonzalez tagged Calderon in a post on her (Gonzalez’s) timeline calling Calderon stupid and writing “you have a sad family.”  Gonzalez argued the post did not violate the protective order since there was no contact aimed directly at Calderon.  Acting Westchester (NY) County Supreme Court Justice Susan Capeci felt otherwise writing a restraining order includes “contacting the protected party by electronic or other means.”  Other means, it seems, is through personal posts put out on social media.

And Social Media posts aren’t just evidence of orders of protection violations, they are also grounds for supporting the issuance of restraining orders.  In 2013, a court granted an order of protection for actress Ashley Tinsdale against an alleged stalker.  Tinsdale’s lawyers presented evidence of over 19,000 tweets that the alleged stalker posted about the actress (an average of 100 tweets per day).

The bottom line:  Naming another on a social media post, even one that is directed to the twittersphere or Facebook community, rather than toward a particular individual,  is sufficient contact for purposes of supporting restraining orders or violations thereof.   We should all keep our posts positives –even more so if we have been told to stay away!!!

Should Courts allow Facebook Posts as Evidence of Lack of Remorse?

Last month Orange County Prosecutors charged Victoria Graswald with the murder of her fiancé Vincent Viafore.  Ms. Graswald allegedly tampered with Mr. Viafore’s kayak while the two were boating in the icy (yes again icy – see post below) water of the Hudson River. As a result, prosecutors argue, Mr. Viafore drowned.

Although Mr. Viafore’s body has yet to be found, prosecutors believed that Ms. Graswald’s inconsistent stories, and pictures she posted on Facebook after the accident were sufficient to indict her for her fiancé’s death.  They cite as evidence a picture of Ms. Graswald in a yoga pose against a bucolic setting and a video of her doing a cartwheel.

Facebook posts that demonstrate a lack of remorse have been figuring into criminal prosecutions for a while.  in 2011 Casey Anthony was indicted in the media for posts she shared of a “Bella Vida” tattoo she emblazoned on her back shoulder and pictures she posted showing Ms. Anthony partying while her daughter was still missing.   A California, judge sentenced a woman to 2 years in jail for her first DUI offense (typical first time offenders are given probation).  The judge cited a post- arrest picture the woman posted to MySpace while holding a drink.

But are Facebook posts, with all of their innuendo, a fair measures of guilt.   The Casey Anthony jury probably didn’t think so; although all we know for sure is that the posts, considered as part of the prosecution’s entire case, were not sufficient to lead to a guilty verdict.  And arguably posts, without a body, will not provide the lack of reasonable doubt necessary to convict Ms. Graswald.

But should these pictures hold the weight that members of the criminal justice system increasingly ascribe to them?  A problem seems to be context.  While the pictures seem damning when posted during or soon after an investigation, the evidence is circumstantial at best.  Absent testimony by the defendant corroborating his or her intent at the time of the post, (an event unlikely to happen) jurors can never be certain that the pictures demonstrate an expression of relief or a lack of remorse.

The issue of post-indictment remorse is transcends social media. Prosecutors recently introduced into evidence a picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (the Boston Bomber) flashing his middle finger into a camera from a jail holding cell.  But Tsarnaev’s attorney, like Ms. Graswald’s spun the picture in a way that suggests it has nothing to do with a lack of remorse.

And therein lies the problem, skilled attorney’s on either side can explain  pictures, and intent while posting them, from several different angles.  The issue becomes whether their value is sufficient to justify supporting an indictment for a crime? a conviction? or a sentence?

Thoughts?

From Twitter to Terrorism

A teen was arrested for Tweeting an airline terrorist threat. A 14 year old Dutch girl named Sarah with twitter name @QueenDemetriax tweeted to American Airlines the following: “@AmericanAir hello my name’s lbrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.”

In response American Airlines wrote to Sarah from their official Twitter account saying “we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.” Moments after their response, Sarah replied saying “I’m just a girl” and that her initial tweet was simply a joke that her friend wrote! She had also posted a tweet apologizing to American Airlines and stating that she is scared now.

Sarah turned herself in to the Dutch police station, where the police department stated that they are taking her tweet seriously since it is an alarming threat. The girl was charged with “posting a false or alarming announcement” under Dutch law. It was unconfirmed whether the FBI was involved or not but she gained thousands of followers on Twitter as a result of this incident. Could this be a new trend in order to gain popularity or recognition? Should Sarah be punished and if so how?

Update:

Others are now tweeting similar tweets @AmericanAir and other airlines. Kale tweeted @SouthwestAir “I bake really good pies and my friends call me ‘the bomb’ am I still allowed to fly?” Donnie Cyrus tweeted @SouthwestAir “@WesleyWalrus is gonna bomb your next few flights.” ArmyJacket tweeted @AmericanAir “I have a bomb under the next plane to take off” There are many other tweets with similar language all aimed at airlines.

There are no reports yet of any of these follow up twitter threats being reported to the appropriate authorities. Are these tweeters going too far? These tweets can potentially be translated into legitimate threats or have they now crossed into the realm of freedom of speech?

Social Rift

Another day, another questionable Facebook acquisition, and as engadget.com put it, another instance of the “Facebook” effect.  This particular acquisition is the $2 billion purchase of virtual reality headset manufacturer “Oculus Rift.”  Oculus Rift is a particularly unique purchase by Facebook because of its crowdfunding roots.  Oculus Rift got its start through the crowdfunding website “Kickstarter.”  Kickstarter allows individuals to contribute money to upstarts and projects often essentially pre-purchasing the product they are supporting.  Oculus Rift was able to successfully get funded and shipped its VR headsets to qualifying supporters.  Oculus was deemed to be a device that will change the gaming industry and supporters, many of them developers, wanted to get in on the ground floor.  Since its funding the Oculus Rift has improved and has been used for numerous projects, demos, and games by developers, artists, and gamers alike.

The future of the Oculus Rift will now however will be determined by Facebook its new owner to the dismay of many of Oculus’ former supporters.  Which poses an interesting legal question that Kickstarter and startups like Oculus have to consider.  What happens when your hundreds of investors on a crowdfunding site like Kickstarter think they are funding something like a unique grassroots revolution in gaming and it turns out to be bought by a social media juggernaut who may have intentions to take the company in a completely different direction?  Kickstarter has maintained that supporters on their website are not entitled to shares of the company they are supporting, viewing supporters as donators more than investors.  Many of the 9,522 initial Kickstarter backers of Oculus are now demanding their money back and expressing their displeasure online through social media such as on twitter and on Oculus’ Facebook page (irony noted).  Oculus’ Kickstarter page is riddled with comments condemning the acquisition and expressing their feelings of betrayal believing Oculus received a windfall on the shoulders of their supporters who made them who they are today.

Facebook may be able to now provide Oculus funding much greater than they have ever seen before, but their future in gaming is at risk by a number of factors.  The “Facebook effect” for instance, caused by the feeling of distrust of the social media giant by many, is already having an adverse effect with not just their Kickstarter supporters, but also by huge players in the gaming industry the platform needs to rely on.  The creator of “Minecraft,” an immensely popular game on a large number of platforms including game consoles, mobile phones, and PC’s tweeted, “We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus. I just cancelled that deal. Facebook creeps me out.”  Oculus also will soon no longer be the only game in town as far as virtual reality is concerned, with Sony announcing recently their own headset, Project Morpheus, for their PlayStation 4 game console.  Kotaku.com offered a quote by Sam Biddle from the blog Valleywag to offer a strong perspective to sum up the concerns of many in the crowdfunding community, “For me, it’s now simple: post-Oculus, if you back a large Kickstarter project, you’re a sucker.”

Read more at: Engadget & Kotaku

$70,000 Settlement for a Facebook comment

Minnewaska School District has agreed to pay Riley Stratton $70,000 to settle the 2012 case involving the former Minnewaska Area Middle School sixth-grader. Stratton is now 15 years old. According to the lawsuit Stratton was given detention after she posted comments about a teacher’s aide on her Facebook page. The ACLU claimed that the reason for originally viewing her page was due to claims that she was using school computers to talk to a boy about sex. However, Stratton used her own personal computer at home to make the post -not a school computer.
The nature of the comments which lead to detention about a teacher’s aide were supposedly disapproving. A disputed fact in the case was whether there was permission for the school to go through her cellphone and request passwords for her Facebook account. According to Minnewaska Superintendent Greg Schmidt “It was believed the parent had given permission to look at her cellphone,” but there was no signed waiver from the parent, and there was no policy requiring one.
The fact that the posting was made from her home was a deciding factor in settling the case, according to Schmidt. The reason for the lawsuit was because Stratton became too distraught and embarrassed to attend class or go to school. Since this settlement, the school has changed its policy. The school now requires parents to submit a signed permission waiver in order to look through a students cellphone. This case may be an example of schools overreaching their authority in punishing kids for activities outside of school, and especially for things that happen on social media.

Facebook’s questionable expansion further into mobile.

How does a relatively unprofitable company of about 50 employees whose product is a blatant copy of another’s get acquired for 19 billion dollars in five years?  The answer might not be entirely clear, but Facebook shareholders hope that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a good idea after Facebook’s acquisition of mobile messaging app “WhatsApp” for $19 Billion.  WhatsApp users also would like to know what this all means for the service they have deeply integrated into their lives.

WhatsApp had its start by offering a BlackBerry Messenger like experience for mobile devices other than BlackBerrys.  What that means is that this kind of messaging service offers a much richer experience and allows for enhanced speed and security by utilizing internet data services as opposed to a traditional SMS text message.  Today, WhatsApp has a user base of about 450 million monthly active users, with billions of messages being sent every day, and is growing at 1 million users a day.  The company charges its users a dollar a year to use the service, making a profit nowhere near the $19 Billion purchase price by Facebook.  Looking at Facebook’s current ad based revenue it enjoys through its other services it is not farfetched to suspect a change in the monetization strategy of WhatsApp.  Despite these concerns WhatsApp CEO assures the Wall Street Journal that he believes WhatsApp “will stay completely independent and autonomous.”

These kinds of changes may concern the millions who use and trust WhatsApp especially with all of this happening on the heels of a report by Canadian and Dutch agencies having concerns over the privacy of users of WhatsApp due to violations of international privacy law.  The report found that although WhatsApp had made some changes, the report still concluded that “The investigation revealed that WhatsApp was violating certain internationally accepted privacy principles, mainly in relation to the retention, safeguard, and disclosure of personal data.”  Facebook has been no stranger to privacy concerns and controversy and users of WhatsApp will have to take all of this information into account when choosing what mobile messaging app they will like to use.

For now it is uncertain what changes, if any, will come to WhatsApp after this acquisition by Facebook.  With more secure services like BlackBerry Messenger recently going cross-platform consumers will have to consider which companies they want to possibly have access to their conversations and personal information.

In the comments I would love to hear how you message friends (sms, imessage, bbm, whatsapp, kik, facebook messenger, etc) and why you use that service.  Should we be concerned about the violation of privacy laws by some of these companies?  What steps should be taken to protect consumers who utilize these services?

Facebook and Envy

As one of the few people my age (twenty-four) without Facebook (or any social media), I found an article published in The Economist in August 2013 to be pretty stimulating. The article, entitled “Facebook is Bad for You: Get a Life” summarizes several studies indicating that those who use Facebook are more miserable in life. According to a study recently published by the Public Library of Science, “the more someone uses Facebook, the less satisfied he is with life.”

According to the article, past studies have found that using Facebook causes jealousy, social tension, isolation, and even depression. Dr. Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan and Dr. Philippe Verduyn of Leuven University in Belgium conducted a study where they tracked eighty-two ‘Facebookers’ for two weeks and evaluated their changes in emotion. The guinea pigs were all in their late teens or early twenties and agreed to have their Facebook activity and real life encounters monitored for two weeks, reporting five times a day on their state of mind via a short questionnaire. When researchers analyzed the results, it was determined that “the more a volunteer used Facebook in the period between two questionnaires, the worse he reported feeling the next time he filled in a questionnaire.” While those who used Facebook more frequently reported a decline in satisfaction, those who had more direct contact with others, via personal encounters or phone calls, were more positive. “In other words, the more volunteers socialized in the real world, the more positive they reported feeling the next time they filled in the questionnaire.” The results led the doctors to conclude that Facebook actually undermines one’s well-being.

The article also cites a past study conducted by social scientists in Germany who surveyed 584 Facebook users in their twenties. “They found that the most common emotion aroused by using Facebook is envy. Endlessly comparing themselves with peers who have doctored their photographs, amplified their achievements and plagiarized their bons mots can leave Facebook’s users more than a little green-eyed.” The study concluded that encountering people in real life is much more realistic and thus more rewarding.

When I first read this article, I was skeptical of the results of the studies. However, upon more reflection, I recalled numerous people I know who have been ‘brought down’ after seeing something on Facebook. This is not why I do not have Facebook. I choose not to have Facebook because I believe in privacy– I do not think it is anyone’s business to know what I am doing, but even more so, I do not think that anyone would care. That being said, I can appreciate the connections people maintain through social media and would never criticize users. To each his own.

This article does, however, make a lot of sense. Why would anyone want to expose themselves to potentially being less satisfied with life because of nonsense read on social media? On the other hand, are these studies merely blowing Facebook’s effects out of proportion? I would be interested to hear responses from Facebook users. I would assume (admittedly ignorantly) that if you are confident enough in yourself, Facebook cannot negatively impact your life. Thoughts?

 

The Economist

The Birth of RoboTweeting

NBC News reports that companies are becoming “Twitter-savvy” when it comes to consumer complaints.  In some instances customers logging complaint are retweeted with patronizing responses.  For example, according to the article, when @OccupyLA tweeted “you can help by stop stealing people’s houses!!” The Bank of America retweeted “We’d be happy to review your account.”  Corporate manipulation of Twitter is yet another example of how “the system” can corral innovative technology for its own use.   Gen-xers, hipsters and naughts have fled Facebook in droves  once businesses hijacked the social media.  Now Twitter.  Can Instagram be far behind???

Think you have not revealed personal secrets on Facebook? Think again!

Even though Facebook users try to keep personal information private, it turns out, that is hard to do.  A recent Cambridge University  study shows that computer programs can track how a person uses Facebook, and undisclosed private information about an individual.  Private information that can revealed includes, Facebook users’ sexuality, drug habits, and users’ parents relationship status.  Financial Times reported on this study, and their article can be read here.