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Wednesday
Sep152010

"Facebook Torts" - Online Libel and Invasion of Privacy

The use of social networking services is exploding, with Facebook.com recently surpassing 500 million members.  While social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn play an increasingly important role in how we work and communicate, not everyone is using social networking for good.  Unfortunately, social networking users are increasingly causing harm to others through their online activities.  From school-aged children using Facebook to bully classmates to identity theft and impersonation, the abuse of social networking sites can cause very real emotional, social, and economic harm.  For example, I recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of a client whose name and identity were stolen from a social networking site and used to create false profiles on sex-related social networking sites.  You may have many options, including:

Injunctive Relief:  Often the first priority is to stop the abusive behavior, or to remove the damaging posting from the internet.  It may be possible to file for a temporary restraining order to put a stop to this kind of behavior immediately, and then to seek a permanent injunction to protect yourself or your children.  While lawsuits often take years to reach a final resolution, a temporary restraining order can go into effect within days.

Libel:  In some cases, it may be possible to sue for libel and collect monetary damages.  The Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech creates a high bar for libel lawsuits, especially against "public figures."  However, because most social networking abuses target private citizens, it is often possible to sue for the publication of false and defamatory statements online.

Invasion of Privacy by Misappropriation of Likeness:  A common misperception is that once you post a photo of yourself on Facebook or other websites, anyone can take it and use it.  Not true.  In fact, in Colorado you can sue for the misappropriation of your likeness, so long as the other person used your photograph for their own gain and without permission.

Filing Anonymously:  In some cases, the last thing that a victim of online abuse wants is to increase the publicity of their abuse by filing a lawsuit.  In such cases, it is often possible to file a lawsuit anonymously--with "Jane Roe" or "John Doe" substituting for your real name.  While this isn't possible in most cases, I have succeeded previously in filing a lawsuit anonymously on behalf of a client who was the victim of online abuse.

Contact the Law Office of Jeff Vail LLC at (303) 800-8237 or email jvail@vail-law.com.

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