In case you missed it in your news feed, Facebook turns 10 years old today. So what legal lessons have we learned in the decade since the site was first launched as "TheFacebook.com"?
A quick look back at our past Facebook-related blog posts suggests users can do with a reminder about how status updates and comments can sometimes lead to negative (and even criminal) consequences in real life.
Whether you use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, promote your business, or to find out the latest news, here are 10 legal lessons we've learned from Facebook users over the past 10 years:
- Cops use Facebook, too. One legal lesson from Facebook is that cops can use your activity as evidence of a crime or to arrest you. For example, a fugitive was apprehended after he "shared" his own mugshot via a police department's Facebook page and posted a message bragging about officers' inability to catch him. And in case you're wondering, here's what Facebook sends the cops if they get a subpoena.
- Facebook "jokes" can be misinterpreted. Nosy Netizens can interpret sarcastic comments or jokes as serious threats and report you to the police. So consider keeping your morbid thoughts to yourself or at least add a "just joking!" after the comment.
- Photos can get you in trouble. Posted photos of people involved in illegal activity can be used to incriminate them. In one recent case, a mother and son were arrested for animal cruelty when Facebook photos of them putting a puppy in a Ziploc bag was seen by cops.
- A "like" can be protected by the First Amendment. In another case involving a political candidate, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opined that a "like" is protected substantive speech that is used to communicate the user's approval and association with the "liked" page or content. So "liking" the Facebook page your boss' opponent in an upcoming election probably won't get you fired, but you may not be his favorite employee anymore.
- A "like" can't be used for commercial purposes without consent. Facebook settled with users who sued after their photos and names were used in "Sponsored Story" ads that appeared on the website without their permission. Not only did Facebook utilize users' information without consent for paid purposes, but it also didn't give them the choice of opting out.
- Unwanted Facebook photos can be an invasion of privacy. Posting photos of other people on Facebook can potentially lead to an invasion of privacy lawsuit under certain circumstances. But as we explained, there may be more effective ways to get unwanted pics taken down.
- Facebook activity can get you fired. You wouldn't insult your employer while at work and expect to keep your job, so why would you expect a different outcome when you make the same comment on Facebook? People have been fired for posting offensive comments about clients and employers, and even sharing inappropriate photos of themselves on the website.
- Posts can affect your job prospects. Some young people love to make ignorant posts on Facebook or post photos of them engaged in illegal activities. But be aware that future employers will look for you on Facebook before hiring you, and those naughty bits of information could prevent you from getting the job.
- Facebook can impact divorce proceedings. Divorce proceedings can get ugly, but airing your negative feelings about your soon-to-be ex on Facebook isn't the best idea. If the posts are brought to the court's attention, they can affect the judge's decisions in awarding custody or alimony amounts.
- Quitters sometimes win. With all the possible legal problems surrounding Facebook use, maybe it's time to just log off for good. It's been a nice decade-long run, but it's always best to leave on a positive note.
These 10 legal lessons in honor of Facebook's 10th anniversary teaches users that it's all fun and games until the law gets involved. So if you're using Facebook, be smart and post responsibly.
- Status update: 10 years in, Facebook still a force (USA Today)
- Facebook Turns 10: A Legal Status Update (FindLaw's Decided)
- Facebook Sued Over Alleged Message-Scanning (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- Teen Sues Classmates Over Facebook Cyberbullying (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)