Talk with your Internet attorney about Twitter privacy
This is significant to your Internet attorney and your business too. Twitter has just revealed the identity of a Twitter user, including his personal contact information.
Here’s what happened…
A local British government sued in California. Twitter caved and gave out the Tweeter’s name and contact information. Twitter “passed the name, email address and telephone number of a south Tyneside councillor accused of libelling the local authority via a series of anonymous Twitter accounts.” – Twitter unmasks anonymous British user in landmark legal battle, UK Guardian (May 29, 2011)
Now the government is going after him for libel because of the content of his tweets.
If the Tweeter had wanted to protect his identity, he would have had to fly from the U.K. to California, hire a U.S. Internet attorney, and try to convince the court his information should not be released.
If you’ve been defamed in Tweets, this precedent is something to consider. It’s a lot of leverage because Twitter will apparently fold like a cheap suit instead of protecting user identities.
If you are posting content on Twitter under the impression your identity and contact info will be protected, don’t count on it. When in doubt, talk with your Internet attorney before posting something that could land you in legal hot water.
When I was a young Internet attorney, there was a movie called “Wag the Dog.”
As you can see in the trailer below, in the movie, actor Robert De Niro’s character manipulates the public for the U.S. President by creating a fake war using film footage shot by a Hollywood producer.
The media reports the “war” as if it actually exists, spinning public opinion to support the President. Yet another blurring of the line between art and reality.
The U.S. government is now apparently about to wag the social media dog in real life.
Here’s how it works…
A government contractor will provide the servers in exchange for almost 3 million bucks. And up to 50 members of the military will each create 10 or so fake (sock puppet) identities to use to manipulate social media conversations for a pro-U.S. slant on things like the “War on Terrorism.”
Who decides what the socket puppets say or who they impersonate? If you’re harmed by interacting with one of these fake identities, chances are your Internet attorney won’t be able to do a thing for you because the government has sovereign immunity.
And where’s the firewall between psychological warfare against jihadists, for example, and using the same sock puppets to astro-turf fake public support for a political cause or even a candidate for election?
This is dangerous territory for any government to dabble in…and more risky if you tried to do the same thing. If you set up sock puppets to manipulate and deceive people online, you could be arrested or sued because of it. Before even considering wagging the social media dog for fun or profit, talk it over with your Internet attorney first.
And be cautious when a Facebook “friend” or a tweet makes a claim about something important to you. Verify before you act.
As an Internet attorney, I don’t find it surprising that courts are giving the government access to personal information associated with social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook.
This means lawyers are probably going to get their hands on the same type of information in any lawsuits against you.
Here’s the latest example…
The U.S. federal government has just been granted access to all the Twitter account info for individuals who may have been involved with the WikiLeaks’ release of classified documents.
The court is giving the government information from the Twitter accounts that includes…
• Real names of account holders
• Email addresses tied to the Twitter accounts
• IP addresses used to Tweet
• User connection records
This includes Twitter account info for users both in the United States and living elsewhere who may be involved.
Why is this important?
The court rejected claims that this type of information was protected by the First Amendment or by privacy rights.
Why no protection?
Two women who didn’t get along took their fight to social media. Neither of them consulted with a Web lawyer before taking their dispute online.
One has now been arrested and sued for allegedly hacking the other’s Facebook account to post “I am the one that’s been the lying trash!!!” and “I am the trash. Sorry to be such a disappointment.”
Now imagine one of these women worked for you as an employee or freelancer.
Would you want your name associated in social media with either one of them? What type of liability would you have if your computer equipment was used to hack someone’s Facebook account or write nasty messages about other people in social media?
Although you can’t control 24/7 those who work for you, you can limit what they say about you in order to protect your reputation. Talk with your Web lawyer about putting in place a social media policy that reduces the risk you’ll be getting a call from a reporter asking you to comment on something stupid your worker posted on Facebook.
12/16/2009 Update – Please note that I will not be handling any cases involving this law. Consult law enforcement regarding harassment. For civil claims, consult an attorney who specializes in litigation with defamation case experience.
10/19/2012 Update – DO NOT CONTACT MY OFFICE TO REPRESENT YOU IN CYBER BULLYING/INTERNET HARASSMENT CASES. I will not take your case, provide you with legal advice, or serve as a free lawyer referral service either. If you are looking for a lawyer for this type of case, click this link as a good place to start.
Don’t mess with anyone in Texas online. Effective September 1, 2009, a new Texas law makes it a crime to engage in various activities on commercial social networking sites or by e-mail, instant messaging etc. You can read the actual text of the bill below. Although self-explanatory (to lawyers at least), it seems pretty clear that Texas lawmakers don’t want people impersonating others on the Internet in order to harm, threaten, intimidate, or defraud anyone. The law also covers text messaging. Note that depending on the activities involved, the crime can be either a Class A Misdemeanor or a 3rd degree felony.
Expect there to be legal challenges to the constitutionality of this law. That being said, you don’t want to be the person arrested under it who has to pay the legal bills for that challenge.
H.B. No. 2003
relating to the creation of the offense of online harassment.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
SECTION 1. Chapter 33, Penal Code, is amended by adding
Section 33.07 to read as follows:
Sec. 33.07. ONLINE HARASSMENT. (a) A person commits an
offense if the person uses the name or persona of another person to
create a web page on or to post one or more messages on a commercial
social networking site :
(1) without obtaining the other person’s consent; and
(2) with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or
threaten any person.
(b) A person commits an offense if the person sends an
electronic mail, instant message, text message, or similar
communication that references a name, domain address, phone number,
or other item of identifying information belonging to any person:
(1) without obtaining the other person’s consent;
(2) with the intent to cause a recipient of the
communication to reasonably believe that the other person
authorized or transmitted the communication; and
(3) with the intent to harm or defraud any person.
(c) An offense under Subsection (a) is a felony of the third
degree. An offense under Subsection (b) is a Class A misdemeanor,
except that the offense is a felony of the third degree if the actor
commits the offense with the intent to solicit a response by
(d) If conduct that constitutes an offense under this
section also constitutes an offense under any other law, the actor
may be prosecuted under this section, the other law, or both.
(e) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that
the actor is any of the following entities or that the actor’s
conduct consisted solely of action taken as an employee of any of
the following entities:
(1) a commercial social networking site ;
(2) an Internet service provider;
(3) an interactive computer service, as defined by 47
U.S.C. Section 230;
(4) a telecommunications provider, as defined by
Section 51.002, Utilities Code; or
(5) a video service provider or cable service
provider, as defined by Section 66.002, Utilities Code.
(f) In this section:
(1) ” Commercial social networking site ” means any
business, organization, or other similar entity operating a website
that permits persons to become registered users for the purpose of
establishing personal relationships with other users through
direct or real-time communication with other users or the creation
of web pages or profiles available to the public or to other users.
The term does not include an electronic mail program or a message
(2) “Identifying information” has the meaning
assigned by Section 32.51.
SECTION 2. This Act takes effect September 1, 2009.
MATERIAL CONNECTIONS DISCLOSURE Unless otherwise expressly stated, you should assume all references to products and services on this website are made because material connections exist between the law firm and the providers of the products and services. This may include: (1) an attorney-client relationship; (2) and/or monetary or other compensation.
In this website’s content (e.g., articles and blog posts), some names, dates, facts, locations, events, and other identifying features have been changed to protect the confidentiality, identity, and privacy rights of clients and other relevant parties.
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