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!!!

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?

$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.

Social Media Privacy v. Regulation

How much access should employers and schools have over their employees and students? Bill L.D. 1194, currently pending in the Maine legislature, would restrict employers access to employees social media accounts, as well as the accounts of elementary, high school, and college students. The bill was originally introduced in March 2013 but was carried over into 2014.

 

One potential problem with this bill lies in the financial industry. The Financial Industry Regulation Authority (FINRA), an oversight group that licenses brokers and regulates the securities industry, requires securities firms to oversee their employees business communications, specifically including social media accounts. If, for instance, a securities broker messaged a client on Twitter or solicited clients via LinkedIN, the securities firm would be obligated under FINRA’s directives to record that communication. The goal of this is to maintain a regulated financial industry where no “secret” communications or deals are being commenced.

 

A securities industry trade group, the Securities Industry Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), has filed a letter with the Maine legislature asking them to write an exception into the law for securities companies to comply with FINRA and other regulatory directives. They believe that many employees use a personal social media account for both personal AND business related goals and that the employers must have access to those accounts. Illinois enacted a similar law this past summer, with exceptions for the broker-dealer employers

 

This shows FINRA and the securities brokers take social media accounts seriously and showcase how they play a role in the securities trade. It is a thin line between privacy and 1st amendment rights on one side, and the need to regulate an important industry in American economics. It is also interesting to note that without the exception,  the law in Maine may create an unbalanced securities industry and force brokers to choose between following FINRA directives and state law.

In this case, I believe the employee’s privacy is not something that should be expected. If using social media, it makes sense to create a personal account and a business account. The employer, however, must trust the employee is not using their personal account for business purposes.

Source: Bloomberg Law: Securities 

Social Media Firms are Moving into the Middle East

Social Media firms are now increasing their presence in the Middle East. The companies hope to capitalize on the recent popularity of social media in the region.  They are asserting their presence via digital advertising. Digital advertising has traditionally not been used in the Middle East.  According to The New York Times, print advertising, and television advertising, have been the main methods of advertising.   It will interesting to follow whether digital advertising will take off in the Middle East. Click on this link to read The New York Times article about the topic.