Are parents now liable for what their kids post to Facebook?  According to a recent decision in the Georgia Court of Appeals, they are.

The Georgia Court of Appeals held that the parents of a seventh-grade student could be found negligent for failing to ensure that their son deleted an offensive Facebook profile that defamed a fellow classmate.  The fake Facebook account depicted a fat-face caricature of the female student and featured sexual, profane and racist postings.  Facebook eventually took the page down at the urging of the bullied girl’s parents, more than 11 months after the school first disciplined the male student.  According to the court, the failure of the boy’s parents to take any action to get their son to delete the profile for nearly a year after the school alerted them about the Facebook page could constitute negligence.

“Given that the false and offensive statements remained on display, and continued to reach readers, for an additional eleven months, we conclude that a jury could find that the [parents’] negligence proximately caused some part of the injury [the girl] sustained from [the boy’s] actions (and inactions),” the court stated.

The appeals court found that because the boy’s parents made no attempt to view the Facebook page, learn what content their son had distributed or demand that their son delete the page, they could be held negligent for failing to police their son’s social media account.  For this reason, the appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment to the boy’s parents.  The court, though, agreed with the lower court’s dismissal with respect to holding the parents responsible for allowing the page to be posted in the first place.

If upheld, this ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals could usher in a new era of parental responsibility, imposing a significant duty upon parents to monitor their children’s online activity and remedy any problems once they are put on notice.

But will parents be upset about this holding, or welcome it as they seek ways to justify their cyber-spying?  More than 37% of teens own smartphones, and parents are increasingly looking for ways to keep tabs on their kids.  According to the Family Online Safety Institute, 78% of parents have logged into their child’s Facebook account to monitor their private messages.  In 2012, 20 million people had already downloaded Life360, a location app that allows families to track each other’s movements with by-the-minute updates.  According to the co-founder of TeenSafe, an invisible tracking app that allows parents to monitor their kid’s location, social media activity and text messages, more than 500,000 users have used the service to help identify online bullying and keep teens out of dangerous situations.

So the next time a teenager yells at a parent for violating her civil liberties by tracking all of her online activities, the parent can simply point to the Georgia Court of Appeals decision and say they were forced to cyber-spy, for everyone’s protection.

Money may not be able to buy happiness, but it can buy phony Facebook “likes.” And those can go a long way toward making a small business owner’s dreams come true, right?

Wrong, explains Facebook site integrity engineer Matt Jones in a recent post on the company’s official blog.

Businesses that purchase fake likes “won’t achieve results and could end up doing less business on Facebook if the people they’re connected to aren’t real,” Jones observes.

Phony likes don’t help companies to reach their target audiences on Facebook because, for one thing, the creators of phony likes—which usually originate from fake Facebook accounts or real ones that have been hacked into—aren’t actual paying customers with whom the business would benefit from communicating, digital marketing gurus explain.

Nor do phony likes represent people who are likely to be Facebook friends with consumers looking for peer recommendations.

Further, fake likes won’t increase the likelihood that the business purchasing them will reach a relevant wider audience because, according to Jones, the Facebook algorithm that decides when and where to deliver a page’s legitimate ads and content takes page engagement rates into account, and “the people involved [in creating a fake like] are unlikely to engage with a page after liking it initially.”

As one digital marketing blogger notes, “[Q]uantity [is] not the metric that [is] important with Facebook marketing; it’s all about the quality. Having 10,000 fans in India is great, but they’re not going to buy anything or visit you if you’re a furniture store in Sydney, Australia.”

And so, for these reasons, and for the sake of maintaining its own advertising-dependent business model, Facebook is doing all it can to rid the social network of phony likes, reports Jones. The company’s efforts to achieve this end include automated measures such as algorithms that block spam and help Facebook to identify fraudulent activity. The company also asks for verification from accounts with particularly high like activity.

Indeed, Facebook’s recent ban on the practice of “like” gating appears to be part of this same initiative to ensure the legitimacy—and marketing value—of each individual like.

There is one group of businesses for whom bogus likes make economic sense: Those that profit from selling such likes. Pssst—wanna buy a like? For $480, you can reportly purchase 10,000 likes, while $1,200 gets you 50,000 new likes. It’s big business; a 2013 study estimated that fake Facebook activities generate $200 million a year. But Facebook is fighting back.

Jones’s Facebook blog post highlights the nearly $2 billion in legal judgments that the social media platform obtained by filing lawsuits against spammers. The most publicized of those suits concern more traditional spamming—the gaining of unauthorized access to Facebook user accounts for the purpose of sending unsolicited commercial electronic messages. But Facebook has filed at least one suit against a seller of phony likes, and, based on Jones’s statements, one can expect Facebook to commence more such suits in the future.

And while Facebook isn’t likely to see much money from these lawsuits—the defendants often file for bankruptcy or simply disappear—the resulting judgments are likely to deter parties from selling phony likes.

As we’ve recently discussed, the Facebook like has now achieved legal status—as property, as protected speech under the First Amendment and as protected “concerted activity” under the National Labor Relations Act. So it’s not surprising that, with the growing business and legal importance of the like, we’re seeing a greater effort on Facebook’s part to ensure the integrity of the like.

And, if it is to have integrity, a like needs to be earned, not bought.

  • Pay to play. Attention, marketing professionals: The free ride that Facebook has been giving to advertisers is coming to end. We’ve recently discussed Facebook’s recently ban on “like” gating. Now, inspired by its users’ dissatisfaction with the prevalence of promotional content on the Facebook platform, the social media giant will start lowering the priority of marketers’ unpaid posts in its users’ news feeds next year. To prevent a post from being relegated to a place where it’s unlikely to ever be seen, a company will have to package it in the form of a paid-for ad. What, at first blush, might seem like Facebook fans’ gain and the marketing world’s loss is actually a win-win, according to Brian Boland, a Facebook vice president who oversees marketing of ad products. “An ad maker doesn’t want to serve content to people who don’t want to see those posts,” he told the New York Times. Plus, paid-for ads are easier to track than regular content. The change might nevertheless result in marketers turning more often to Twitter, which doesn’t rank posts. But, with over 1.35 billion monthly active users and ad revenue at $2.96 billion, perhaps Facebook can afford not to care.
  • Car tunes. Uber is adding an intriguing new feature to its popular ride-sharing service – music. It has teamed up with Spotify to enhance the Uber experience by allowing riders to select the tunes they want to hear during the ride. Customers will be able to pause, skip, rewind or shuffle tracks in their playlist. Uber has reportedly already begun to ask its drivers to take the steps necessary to connect their Uber-provided phone to the car’s stereo system, so as to enable riders to access songs through Spotify. This idea fits well with Spotify’s strategy of making alliances to bring its music to customers in a number of different environments. For example, Spotify has made alliances with Ford and Volvo to include its music service in those companies’ vehicles. In any event, may we suggest Billy Ocean’s “Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car” and The Clash’s “Brand New Cadillac” for your Uber playlist? And, by the way, is someone giving thought to potential public performance issues here?
  • Going private. Under the Privacy Act, Americans have a way to challenge the misuse or abuse of their personal information by the federal government – a right that hit the headlines after the disclosure by Edward Snowden of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. U.S. citizens also have the right to challenge breaches of information privacy by governments in the European Union. But EU residents don’t have any recourse against the U.S. government under our Privacy Act – an omission that several technology firms say needs to be corrected.  David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, recently wrote in a blog post: “Google supports legislation to extend the US Privacy Act to EU citizens. The Obama Administration has already pledged its support for this change and we look forward to working with Congress to try and make this happen.” Indeed, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. did indicate support for this change in a speech in Athens last summer. But will there be any legislative action? Privacy and civil liberties advocates are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

Do you still “like” me? Companies with Facebook Pages will find themselves asking that question of their followers over the next few weeks, as Facebook brings an end to the popular practice of offering discounts, exclusive content and other incentives in exchange for liking a Page.

Facebook had previously facilitated this exchange by allowing Page operators to reveal certain content only to users who had liked the Page. This practice was known as “like gating.” The exclusive content might have included coupon codes, contest entry forms, voting buttons for polls and other content that would create an incentive for the user to like the Page. Even altruistic incentives have been offered, such as promises by brands to donate a dollar to charity for each like that their Page receives.

Like gating became a popular—and successful—way for companies to build followers for their Facebook Pages. We won’t know exactly how many of the 4.5 billion likes per day received on Facebook were due to like gating, but the number was certainly significant.

The like gate disappeared earlier this month almost as quickly as it had become widespread. Following a 90-day grace period, a new Facebook rule took effect on November 5, 2014, identifying three—and only three—specific actions on Facebook that users could be incentivized to perform. Companies quickly realized that liking a Page was conspicuously absent from that list of actions. (It remains permissible to provide incentives for users to log into a Facebook app, to enter a promotion on a Facebook app’s Page, and to check into a place.)

In a blog post announcing this change, Facebook made clear that companies “must not incentivize people to use social plugins or to like a Page.” Facebook also provided its behind-the-scenes reasoning on the change. Facebook believes that eliminating the practice of like gating will help “ensure quality connections and help businesses reach the people who matter to them” rather than building relationships on Facebook that are based on “artificial incentives.”

Companies will undoubtedly find ways to continue building their presences on Facebook without using the like gate. Indeed, many marketers had already been advising that like gating was quickly becoming an outdated practice, and that the followers generated by like gating were less valuable than followers generated organically.

The next time you log into Facebook, you may find your favorite brand asking you to engage with the brand in a more substantial way, such as by submitting user-generated content, instead of simply liking its Page. Known as “action gating,” this alternative practice is already being touted by marketers as a way to build a more valuable online fan base through more active types of engagement.

The like gate is dead. Long live the action gate.

The latest issue of our Socially Aware newsletter is now available here.

In this issue of Socially Aware, our Burton Award-winning guide to the law and business of social media, we discuss an important Ninth Circuit decision refusing to enforce an arbitration clause in a website “terms of use” agreement; we examine “Operation Full Disclosure,” the Federal Trade Commission’s initiative to review fine print disclosures and other disclosures in connection with advertisements; we highlight a recent case allowing unprecedented service of process via Facebook; we take a look at California’s recent data security breach law amendment, which may impose the country’s first requirement to provide free identify theft protection services to consumers in connection with certain data security breaches; we explore a new court decision addressing ownership issues in connection with Facebook “likes”; and we review the UK Financial Conduct Authority’s draft guidelines on social media.

All this—plus an infographic regarding mobile device and app use.

Read our newsletter.

In the pre-Facebook era, the word “like” was primarily a verb (and an interjection sprinkled throughout valley girls’ conversations). Although you could have likes and dislikes in the sense of preferences, you could not give someone a like, claim to own a like or assert legal rights in likes. Today, however, you can do all of these things and more with Facebook likes and similar constructs on other social media platforms, such as followers, fans and connections. This article explores the emerging legal status of likes and similar social media constructs as the issue has arisen in a number of recent cases.

Likes as Protected Speech

One of the early cases to delve into the legal status of likes was Bland v. Roberts, which addressed the issue of whether a Facebook like constitutes protected speech for purposes of the First Amendment. In Bland, five former employees of the Hampton Sheriff’s Office brought a lawsuit against Sheriff Roberts, alleging that he violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association when he fired them, allegedly for having supported an opposing candidate in the local election. In particular, two of the plaintiffs had “liked” the opposing candidate’s Facebook page.

Although (as we discussed previously) the district court held that merely liking a Facebook page was insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection, on appeal the Fourth Circuit reversed and held that liking a Facebook page does constitute protected speech. The Fourth Circuit looked at what it means to like a Facebook page and concluded: “On the most basic level, clicking on the ‘like’ button literally causes to be published the statement that the User ‘likes’ something, which is itself a substantive statement.” The Fourth Circuit also found that liking a Facebook page is symbolic expression because “[t]he distribution of the universally understood ‘thumbs up’ symbol in association with [the] campaign page, like the actual text that liking the page produced, conveyed that [the plaintiff] supported [the opposing candidate’s] candidacy.” The Court analogized liking the opposing candidate’s Facebook page as the “Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”

Likes as Property

Perhaps most interestingly from a business perspective, various cases have explored the question of ownership of a like (and similar concepts, such as a Twitter follower or LinkedIn connection).  In Mattocks v. Black Entertainment Television LLC, the plaintiff Mattocks created an unofficial Facebook fan page focused on the television series The Game, which at the time was broadcast on the CW Network (BET later acquired the rights to The Game from the CW Network). BET eventually hired Mattocks to perform part-time work for BET, including paying her to manage the unofficial fan page. During the course of that relationship, BET provided Mattocks with BET logos and exclusive content to display on the fan page, and both Mattocks and BET employees posted material on the fan page. While Mattocks worked for BET, the fan page’s likes grew from around two million to over six million.

Mattocks and BET began discussions about Mattocks’ potential full-time employment at BET but, at some point during these discussions, Mattocks demoted BET’s administrative access to the fan page. After losing full access to the fan page, BET asked Facebook to “migrate” fans of the page to another official Facebook fan page created by BET.  Facebook granted BET’s request and migrated the likes to the other BET-sponsored page.  Facebook also shut down Mattocks’ fan page. Mattocks then sued BET in the Southern District of Florida, alleging, among other things, that BET converted a business interest she had in the fan page by migrating the likes. Mattocks argued that the page’s “significant number of likes” provided her with business opportunities based on companies paying to have visitors redirected to their sites from the page.  BET moved for summary judgment.

The district court granted BET’s motion for summary judgment on Mattocks’ conversion claim, holding that Mattocks failed to establish that she owned a property interest in the likes. The court explained that “liking” a Facebook page simply means that the user is expressing his or her enjoyment or approval of the content, and that the user is always free to revoke the like by clicking an unlike button. Citing Bland (discussed above), the court stated that “if anyone can be deemed to own the ‘likes’ on a [Facebook page], it is the individual users responsible for them.”  Given the tenuous relationship between the creator of the Facebook page and the likes of that page, the court held that likes cannot be converted in the same manner as goodwill or other intangible business interests.

In PhoneDog v. Kravitz, the district court for the Northern District of California denied defendant Kravitz’s motion to dismiss plaintiff PhoneDog’s claims for, among other things, conversion of the Twitter account “@PhoneDog_Noah.” PhoneDog, a mobile news and reviews website, employed Kravitz as a product reviewer and video blogger. Kravitz maintained the Twitter account “@PhoneDog_Noah,” which he used to post product reviews, eventually accumulating 17,000 Twitter followers. At the end of Kravitz’s employment, PhoneDog requested that Kravitz relinquish use of the Twitter account. Kravitz refused, changed the Twitter handle to “@noahkravitz” and continued to use the account.

PhoneDog claimed an “intangible property interest” in the Twitter account’s followers, which PhoneDog compared to a business customer list. Kravitz disputed PhoneDog’s ownership interest in either the Twitter account or its followers, based on Twitter’s terms of service, which state that Twitter accounts belong to Twitter and not to Twitter users such as PhoneDog. Kravitz also argued that Twitter followers are “human beings who have the discretion to subscribe and/or unsubscribe” to the account and are not PhoneDog’s property. The court held that there was insufficient evidence to determine whether or not PhoneDog had any property interest in the Twitter followers, and denied Kravitz’s motion to dismiss. PhoneDog and Kravitz subsequently settled the dispute so we will never know how the court would have ruled on this issue, but the court’s refusal to dismiss PhoneDog’s ownership claims may indicate that, at least in some circumstances, Twitter followers may constitute property.

The district court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania looked at a similar issue involving ownership of a LinkedIn account in Eagle v. Morgan. Plaintiff  Linda Eagle established a LinkedIn account using the email address of Edcomm, the banking education company that she co-founded with Clifford Brody. As CEO of Edcomm, Brody embraced LinkedIn as a sales and marketing tool for the Edcomm business. Although Edcomm did not require employees to maintain or subsidize the maintenance of LinkedIn accounts, it did develop policies with respect to employee use of such accounts.

When Eagle (and Brody) were involuntarily terminated after Edcomm’s acquisition by another company, Edcomm employees accessed Eagle’s LinkedIn account (using the password she had disclosed to certain employees) and changed its password, effectively locking Eagle out of the account. For more than two weeks, Edcomm had full control of the account. During that time, it replaced the account information regarding name, picture, education and experience with information about Sandi Morgan, the newly appointed Interim CEO of Edcomm. As a result, during this time period, an individual conducting a search on either Google or LinkedIn for Eagle (by typing in “Linda Eagle”) would be directed to a URL for a web page showing Sandi Morgan’s name, profile and affiliation with Edcomm. LinkedIn subsequently intervened and restored Eagle’s access to the account.

Eagle filed suit against Edcomm, alleging compensatory damages of between $248,000 and $500,000. Eagle used a damages formula that attributed her total past revenue to business generated by the number of connections associated with the LinkedIn account in order to establish a dollar value per LinkedIn connection, and then used that value to calculate her damages for the period of time that she was unable to access the LinkedIn account. The court found for Eagle on a number of her claims—including claims for unauthorized use of name under a Pennsylvania statute, invasion of privacy and misappropriation of publicity—but the court ultimately held that Eagle’s damages request was not supported by sufficient evidence, citing, for example, her failure to connect her past sales to use of LinkedIn.

Although Eagle’s claim was unsuccessful, the use of LinkedIn connections to support her damages theory demonstrates the potential monetary value of these connections and the importance for companies to be clear with their employees in delineating ownership of social media accounts and associated likes, followers, fans and connections.

Likes as Concerted Activity

There have been a number of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decisions that examined whether an employee’s statements on social media constitute “concerted activity”—activity by two or more employees that provides mutual aid or protection regarding terms or conditions of employment—for purposes of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

In Pier Sixty LLC, the administrative law judge decided that a Facebook posting made by an employee about his supervisor constituted protected concerted activity under the NLRA, despite being sprinkled with obscenities. The decision held that the posting constituted part of an ongoing sequence of events related to the employees’ dissatisfaction with the manner in which they were treated by their managers. The administrative law judge specifically mentioned that because the employee was friends on Facebook with several other employees, he could anticipate that those other employees, who were also concerned with the supervisor’s demeaning treatment, would see the posting (at the time, the employee had set his Facebook page so that it could only be viewed by his friends).

Similarly, in Richmond District Neighborhood Center, a Facebook conversation between two employees was found to be concerted activity under the NLRA because it involved the employees voicing their disagreement with the management’s running of the center. However, the administrative law judge ultimately concluded that the activity was not protected under the NLRA because it “jeopardized the program’s funding and the safety of the youth it serves” and demonstrated that the two employees were “unfit for further service.”

Although these two NLRB cases involved postings and conversations on Facebook rather than just likes, it would not be a huge leap for a future NLRB case to hold that a Facebook like constitutes concerted activity in certain circumstances, particularly in light of the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Bland discussed above.

* * * *

As the legal status of likes, followers, fans and connections continues to develop, we are likely to see more cases in which courts and litigants struggle with the question of whether and in what circumstances these social media constructs constitute valuable business assets and legitimate forms of speech and communication. At least in the legal sense, “like” has come a long way from the valley girl lexicon—like, a really long way.

  • Back to the future. Socially Aware readers – and editors – of, uhm, a certain age will fondly recall how, during the early days of the dotcom era, we hung out on message boards and in chat rooms discussing (some might say arguing about) politics, sports, movies, music, you name it – with people we’d never met, and never would meet, in person. Well, Facebook is now trying to recapture that vibe with a new feature called “Rooms” – free-form areas that include text and photos based on some niche interest that was kicked off by the room’s originator. Of course, it’s not 1995 anymore, and one question that has to be asked is: can “Rooms” fit into a business’s marketing strategy? It’s easy to see how: would makers of high-end kitchen equipment participate in “Rooms” on gourmet cuisine? Athletic clothes manufacturers in “Rooms” on yoga poses? Old-school feature, meet new-school branding.
  • If an ad falls below the fold, does it make an impression? Online ads are big business, of course, as advertising rapidly migrates from print to websites, apps, social media and other online outlets. But how do advertisers even know that their ads are being noticed? In the old days, it was a pretty fair assumption that newspaper ads were actually looked at by readers, but a major 2013 survey showed that more than 50 percent of ads online are not viewed. Advertisers and agencies would, understandably, like to see standards in place to ensure that they’re not paying for ads that a web surfer had no chance of seeing (for example, because the ad was “below the fold” on a site’s home page, yet the site visitor never scrolled down to where the ad could be viewed). A media VP at Unilever has noted, “It’s simple — we want to get what we pay for.” So agencies and clients, led by GroupM – the world’s largest ad-buying firm – and by Unilever, are leading the charge for standards addressing these concerns. Among the proposed standards: 100% of display ads must be visible to site visitors; 100% of the video player for video ads must be visible to site visitors, and at least 50% of the video must be played while visible; the video player’s sound cannot be turned off while the video is playing; and no use of “auto-start” functionality – rather, the site visitor must initiate playing of the video ad.
  • Laundry list. The “Internet of things,” touted for years as a big part of the digital future, seems to be approaching rather more slowly than anticipated. Whirlpool, the nation’s largest appliance maker, is marketing a “smart washer” and “smart dryer” at $1,699 each, but these cutting-edge, fully wired machines are not exactly jumping off the shelves. Many consumers are apparently in no rush to pay that kind of cash just to own a Web-enabled washing machine that will text them when their clothes are ready for the dryer. Even a Whirlpool executive acknowledges the problem, observing that “trying to understand exactly the value proposition that you provide to the consumer has been a little bit of a challenge.” After all, the machine won’t sort and fold your laundry for you, or track down that missing sock – now that’s an innovation worth paying a premium for.
  • Time change. Until now, Twitter has made a clear distinction between people you follow and people you don’t follow: You only saw tweets from those whom you followed. Now, the service, in what it calls a “timeline experiment,” will place tweets on your timeline from select users that you are not following. Twitter is using an algorithm that determines which such tweets you will see based on the users that you do follow, the popularity of the users you do not follow, and other factors. You won’t be able to opt out of this feature and some frequent Twitter users have complained that it removes one of the factors that distinguishes Twitter from other social media platforms.
  • False flag. We wrote recently about the fake Facebook account that the Drug Enforcement Administration created to gather information for a narcotics investigation. On October 17, Facebook’s chief security officer wrote a letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart calling the agency’s actions a “knowing and serious breach” of Facebook’s policies. Facebook asked the DEA to confirm that it had stopped engaging in this tactic. Facebook’s letter specifically questioned the DEA’s contention that the woman who was the subject of the fake account implicitly consented to use of her personal information for such purposes when she consented to a search of her phone.
  • Square deal. Foursquare has been known mostly as a check-in app – a place where you post your location but not much more. The company’s new ad campaign hopes to change that image and to position Foursquare as a food-oriented rating and recommendation network similar to Yelp and Urbanspoon. “Introducing the all-new Foursquare, which learns what you like and leads you to places you’ll love,” is the new slogan on the Foursquare website. The ad campaign will roll out in mass transit in New York and Chicago and in bike-share locations in the Windy City.
  • Court spanks parents. In a landmark decision, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled in Boston v. Athearn that parents can be held responsible for the social media activities of their kids. The case involved a seventh-grade boy who, with assistance from a friend, created a fake Facebook profile for a female classmate; then, pretending to be the classmate, the boy made a series of offensive and outrageous posts, some of which falsely claimed that the classmate suffered from mental illness and took illegal drugs. Following complaints from the victim’s parents, the school suspended the boy for several days, and his parents grounded him for a week; the fake profile, however, remained on Facebook for eleven months. The victim, through her parents, ultimately sued the boy and his parents and the Georgia Court of Appeals, reversing a lower court decision to the contrary, determined that a reasonable jury could find that the boy’s parents, after learning of their son’s behavior, failed to exercise due care from that point onward by allowing the fake profile to remain on Facebook, and that such negligence proximately caused some portion of the injury sustained by the girl. With the growth of cyberbullying, and in the wake of the Boston decision, will we see more suits seeking to hold parents liable for their kids’ online misconduct?
  • The oversharing economy. An Uber driver in Albuquerque, New Mexico had his driver account for the company cancelled because of what Uber called “hateful statements regarding Uber through Social Media.” Turns out that he had posted a tweet linking to an article about robberies of Uber drivers, and had included the following observation: “Driving for Uber, not much safer than driving a taxi.” The driver, Christopher Ortiz, said he was just sharing a story that was going around. Uber quickly agreed that he had done no real harm and reinstated him with an apology, calling the original decision “an error.” After all, Ortiz had a high rating from customers (4.8 out of a possible 5), and Uber’s own position is that drivers associated with the company are independent contractors, not company employees.
  • What’s not to like? Copyblogger, a highly successful social media and online marketing company, has decided to ditch its Facebook presence – even though it had 38,000 fans for its Facebook page. After a good deal of thought, the company concluded that “Copyblogger’s presence on Facebook has not been beneficial for the brand or its audience.” In a detailed essay, brand marketing consultant Erika Napoletano, whom Copyblogger had brought in for the purpose of improving its Facebook presence, explained the perhaps surprising decision. One of the main reasons: the 38,000 fans didn’t really interact with the page. “The page had an overwhelming number of junk fans. These are accounts with little to no personal status update activity that just go around “Liking” Facebook pages. They’re essentially accounts tied to “click farms”—ones paid pennies for every Facebook page they Like,” Napoletano wrote. For this reason and several others, Copyblogger decided that, going forward, it would be “on the Web, just not on Facebook.”

In a little-noticed decision, Matter of Noel v. Maria, Support Magistrate Gregory L. Gliedman—a Staten Island, New York family court official—recently permitted a father seeking to modify his child support payments to serve process on the child’s mother by sending her a digital copy of the summons and petition through her Facebook account.

Magistrate Gliedman’s decision struck us at Socially Aware—where we follow such developments closely—as a groundbreaking move. We are unaware of any published U.S. court opinion permitting a plaintiff to serve process on a domestic, U.S.-based defendant through a Facebook account.

As we addressed in a 2012 Socially Aware blog post, in Fortunato v. Chase Bank a federal district court in Manhattan held that Chase Bank could not rely on Facebook to serve a third-party defendant.

While the same federal district court subsequently allowed the FTC to serve defendants through Facebook in FTC v. PCCare247, the service at issue in that case concerned documents other than the summons and complaint, and the defendants were two India-based entities and three India-based individuals who had already appeared through counsel and shown themselves to be on notice of the lawsuit.

Other cases authorizing service via social media have been similarly limited in scope. For example, in WhosHere v. Orun, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia allowed service via social media on a defendant who allegedly resided in Turkey. In Mpafe v. Mpafe, a Minnesota family court authorized the service of divorce proceedings on a defendant by “Facebook, Myspace or any other social networking site” where the defendant was believed to have left the country.

Continue Reading New York Family Court Magistrate Allows Unprecedented Service of Process via Facebook; Will Others Follow?