Why unlawful social media behavior can get you sued

Social Media Lawsuit - Carla FranklinToday, more than 50% of Americans have at least one active social media account.  Facebook is the world’s largest social media platform with over 1 Billion active users each month.  Twitter continues to grow as an important digital information outlet with over 140 million active users posting 340 million Tweets a day.  Tumblr, Pintrest, Group Me, YouTube, LinkedIn and Word Press are other key players in the untamed Wild West of human digital life.  So it comes as no surprise that there are outlaws in the online Wild West, committing crime and using social platforms with malicious intent.  There always are criminals in every new frontier who prey on victims.  Luckily, the use of social media evidence is becoming a recognized standard in courtrooms nationwide.

Social Media Finger Print - Carla FranklinSocial media evidence is increasingly being used to win verdicts on behalf of Plaintiffs in both civil and criminal suits.  This trend demonstrates a positive, albeit slow, progression by the judicial system to recognize relevance that social media plays not only in everyday life, but also in criminal and civil offenses across the United States.   When ever a new technology emerges for providing evidence of criminal behavior, there is a “lagging effect” on the side of law enforcement and the court system to understand and recoginze its validity.  This was true of DNA evidence, which first emerged as a solid legal tool  in the 1980s, but took 10+ years to become a recognized standard by police and the courts.

As an anti-cyber abuse advocate, and a survivor of cyberharassment, I’ve seen first hand how law enforcement, attorneys and judges struggle with social media evidence in cases of harassment, stalking, defamation and invasion of privacy.  Arguments arise regarding First Amendment and Privacy rights.  Courts have had discomfort dealing with postings, and their impact on case law.  How does one distinguish between as satire, or the right to comment on “public figures“, vs. defamation in the digital world?   In the past, the judiciary often minimized the damage of online harassment and defamation online.  Thankfully this is changing.  The growing use of digital media as a primary platform for information and communication make crimes like cyberbullying, cyberharassment, online defamation and revenge porn even more damaging than those committed offline.  My philosophy is that if it’s illegal for an individual to engage in certain illegal behavior in person, by mail or over the phone, then he/sh should NOT be allowed to do it online…where the audience is larger, the rate of “misinformation dissemination” is faster, and it is harder to undo bad behavior.  Nationwide, judges, DAs and police are starting to adopt the same philosophy.

A recent article entitled, “Authentication and Access for Social Media Evidence“, written by lawyers from the firm of Jenner and Block, outlines the two main criteria that social media evidence must meet to be admissible in court:

  1. It must meet basic standards of Authentication.  This means, the user account must tie back to a specific user based on the “preponderance of evidence” in civil cases, or “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal cases.
  2. Accessibility. It must be stored and be accessible via typical methods of discovery.  This means that if I subpoena Facebook for information on an alleged online stalker, the company’s legal or security team  should be able to retrieve and provide me with an official record of the activity.
Advertisements

Carla Franklin’s petition of Google: Cyber-harassment, internet and legislation

I,  Carla Franklin, have been the subject of recent media regarding my petition for information of Google, Inc, regarding an ongoing matter of harassment.  This unfortunate and unwanted media buzz occurred when the August 17, 2010 petition, known as an Order to Show Cause (not a lawsuit for money) was leaked to or shown to the press without my knowledge or consent.

Several news articles have been written about my case; most  were inaccurate, relied upon limited information in the court filing and took details out of context.

The truth about me is that I am management consultant, who has been gainfully employed as a full-time consultant since receiving my undergraduate degree.

I have been dealing with ongoing obsessive and harassing behavior since 2006.  Despite ignoring phone calls, e-mails, changing my number, trying to be nice, and hoping that the obsessive behavior would stop, the behavior continued over a four-year period. Last year, things escalated online.  An anonymous YouTube account was created to make a YouTube channel or “shrine” dedicated to me, using video clips of me talking to a friend.  The personal information that was included and the obsessive, “shrine-like” nature of this You-Tube channel scared me.  Several weeks after the YouTube “shrine” was removed, another anonymous YouTube account was created and used to comment on video clips of me created by Columbia Business School.  The comment left on the clips was “whore.”

I am asking Google, Inc. for information about the person who is harassing me online because I believe it is equally as dangerous as the harassment that has occurred in person, and if I pursue legal remedies I don’t want anonymous online activities to be excluded from this person’s damaging pattern of behavior.

In summary:

  • I am not seeking money from Google/YouTube. I am following the normal, required process to seek information. Because internet harassment laws are currently non-existent, I had to pursue a civil route to gather information on my harasser.  If these activities had happened through the mail, over the phone, or in person, I could have gone directly to law enforcement to remedy the issue.  Tougher internet legislation (like the Stalker Act of 2010) needs to be passed.
  • Google/YouTube and other internet product providers have invested limited time and resources into measures that allow individuals to protect themselves from  harassment and stalking.

My case is about a pattern of online and offline abuse and the right of an individual like myself to link these two elements in a legal case.  There are laws to protect us from harassment in person.  The internet should not become a place for anonymous harassers to hide.  For more detail on the mater, please see the link below.  It references the only interview that I’ve done on this matter. —> http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6797340n

Current criminal laws protecting citizens against cyber-harassment are scant or non-existent.  Those who find themselves at the mercy of “anonymous” trolls and online bullies generally have to use civil measures of “Defamation” or “Copyright Infringement” to get information from Google, Yahoo, and other online content providers in order to pursue criminal remediation against harassers.  Legislation must be passed to protect others from the same behavior that I, Erin Andrews, and most recently Tyler Clementi had to endure.  More unnecessary tragedy and suffering will occur until the laws catch-up with the crimes of the internet.