The Role of Social Media in the Courtroom

There’s not much else to say on this issue that I didn’t say in the interview…

The key is that for now, social media have no place in the courtroom unless they are directly related to the case, like the guy who posted pictures of him wearing the stuff he stole on Facebook. Then it matters. But factoring in public opinion as measured by social media likes or follows is totally inappropriate for any legal determination because its meaning is far too ambiguous.  There’s no context behind a Like, which is the intent.  Facebook wants to keep Likes positive and encouraging, which is one reason why the company has been so adverse averse to including a “dislike” button.  But another reason why they are poor measures of approval is that they are a far cry from a scientific poll.  There’s no randomization.  The sample size is only whoever affirmatively clicks like, which does not count all the people who have chosen not to Like the page.  And the Like doesn’t specify what, specifically, the person is approving of.  The same thing goes with Twitter follows, +1′s, or pageviews.  There’s not enough data to draw a conclusion that would justify a legal finding of fact, which is the primary objective the court is supposed to accomplish.  And who’s to say that the Likes or pageviews cannot be manipulated by a Romanian botnet or Chinese hack attack?  We, in the United States, have designed our legal system to eschew mob justice.  That didn’t work for the French Revolution and it won’t work any better just because we now spend every waking moment on social media.

Posted in Litigation, Rights and Civil Liberties, Social Networks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Facebook Site Governance Vote

There are only a few more hours left to get your vote in for Facebook’s site governance vote on the company’s proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy.  I’ve reviewed the changes and they make a lot of sense.  I voted to approve the changes and I think you should, too.  Let’s be clear, voting no will not magically make Facebook stop sharing your information.  Nothing will.  Sharing is the whole point of Facebook.  You can still limit what gets shared with whom, but you can’t stop it altogether unless you delete your account permanently.  The changes to the site’s governance do very little of substance, but it’s a good time to refresh yourself with them anyway.

I’m rather frustrated that more and more people seem to keep buying into a hoax (or rather a series of related hoaxes) that has continued to circulate around the internet.  If you have been under a rock in an internet dead zone, you may have seen this language posted by someone in your friend list.  You may have even posted it yourself (although I doubt it, since people who make their way here are probably more savvy than that):

 I DO NOT AUTHORIZE the use of my personal data (text, photos, images, comments or any content contained on my page now or in the past), under any pretext, for commercial or non-commercial purposes without my written and signed approval. Also, I REJECT AND DO NOT CONCEDE that Facebook stores messages, comments, images, or any other data I choose or chose to delete. In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to my personal details, status, updates, messages, photos, videos and all other personal content that I post or have posted online , on my personal page or anyone else’s page. For commercial use of the above, MY HANDWRITTEN CONSENT IS NEEDED AT ALL TIMES WITH NO EXCEPTION.

Here’s the thing, it’s total garbage.  Even if the language made any sense whatsoever (which it does not) it has no legal effect.  You already signed up for Facebook.  You already agreed to the terms and conditions and continue to agree every time they change it and you keep your account.  Posting this has the same effect as telling a police officer that you don’t accept the speeding ticket he wrote you because you wrote your own constitution and speed limits don’t apply to you.  As anyone who has survived the first week of a contracts class could tell you, you’re trying to change a binding contract without contributing any  additional consideration (in this case money or anything else of real value).  So even if the language wasn’t gibberish, it’s simply an offer to enter into a new contract with Facebook that Facebook has every right to reject.  Good luck with that.

Right now, the internet is swarming with misinformation about privacy rights and these phony agreements.  It’s frustrating because people just copy and paste without even thinking about what they’re doing.  The problem is that the hoax isn’t totally harmless.  It will probably do more harm because some people will probably believe that Mark Zuckerberg himself will come to their door with a clipboard and a stack of documents and ask them personally if they agree to let other people see the picture they took of their friends doing shots in their parents’ basement.  He won’t, but that picture could haunt them for years to come because the internet never forgets.

If you don’t like what Facebook is doing with your information, don’t post anything else and delete your account.  Other than that, read the statement of rights and responsibilities and learn what it means or go ask a lawyer.  Seriously.  Don’t just rely on the internet.  Come to think of it, don’t even trust me.  If you’re really worried about how your information is getting shared, go talk to a real attorney, in person.  They’ll tell you everything I just did, but you’ll at least have the satisfaction of talking to a real human.

Posted in Privacy, Social Networks, Terms of Service Tracker | Leave a comment

Election Day Special: Sharing a Picture of Your Ballot Asking for Trouble

I hope everyone reading this has already voted, but if you’re on your way to the polls later, be sure not to succumb to the temptation to post a picture of your ballot to your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media.  While many people are excited to share their patriotic fervor this election day, there are plenty of ways to do it that won’t possibly result in getting you kicked out of the poll, or worse!

Stay out of trouble, don’t post any images like this to social media.

Continue reading

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Court Decision, Settlement Could Finally Ensure Universal Website Accessibility

Yesterday, Netflix announced that it had reached a settlement with the National Association of the Deaf to caption all of its streaming content by 2014.  This is big news, but went largely unnoticed, just like the court ruling that prompted it.  This summer, the United States District Court in Massachusetts issued a decision in a case that was almost completely ignored in the press.  That was quite surprising considering that the outcome of the case has the potential to completely change how many websites operate.  The decision in National Association of the Deaf v. Netflix, 26 A.D. Cases 1091 (D. Mass., June 19, 2012) is a major step toward ensuring that people with disabilities are able to access the internet and experience a fuller range of the services available to the larger community.  The decision breathes new life into Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which had languished for years under readings of the law that failed to recognize how important the internet was becoming to everyday life. Continue reading

Posted in Legal Developments, Litigation, Rights and Civil Liberties | Leave a comment

New Posts Coming This Fall

Hey everyone, hope you’re enjoying the last bits of summer before the leaves start to fall and sweaters emerge from their hiding place under the bed. I’ve been out and about, but I will start posting more regularly as things settle down. Look for posts on the fallout from the Facebook and Google privacy settlements, the failure of the Cybersecurity bill in Congress and other developments in the weeks to come. Until then, I’m going to go back outside… in flip-flops… while I still can.

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NPR Discusses Inheriting Digital Assets

I’ve been talking about the importance of figuring out the heritability of digital assets for some time now.

A recent sign that the issue is starting to hit the mainstream emerged yesterday on All Things Considered as Robert Siegel talked with Jonathan Zittrain, co-director of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, about what happens to your iTunes library when you pass away.  Zittrain’s commentary centers mostly on IP rights and tangentially on the Terms of Service agreements, but it’s a start.  Check it out.


Posted in Contracts and Agreements, Intellectual Property, Virtual Stuff... | Leave a comment

Fake Gun Used to Steal Man’s Virtual Currency

Two men recently met in the Fordham University library for a simple currency exchange: $3,300 for 4.7 billion RuneScape coins.  When the deal looked shady, the seller of the coins wanted to back out.  That’s when the alleged buyer pulled a gun on him and demanded that the transaction go through.  Fortunately, this thief did nothing to mask his identity or cover his tracks, so the Boston police picked him up in no time.  Unlike many similar stories, this one involves actual criminal charges for the thief.  The New York Post reports that the alleged thief, Humza Bajwa, faces second-degree robbery and grand larceny.  Is the world finally starting to realize that virtual items have real value?

This is definitely one of the strangest stories I’ve heard about in the five or so years that I’ve been study virtual worlds.  I’ve read about thefts through hacking or trickery, some of which lead to actual violence, but never has a fact scenario like produced a result like this in the United States.  The situation is unique in that involved two victims, a face-to-face transaction and a fake gun.  Most thefts of virtual items are the result of hacking or phishing, where a person’s account login information is stolen, which is then used to transfer items and currency to the thief’s account.  Here, the thief offered to buy a large quantity of RuneScape coins for $3,300 and wanted to meet in public for the exchange. This is another rarity, as most often the players are on opposite sides of the world and the transfer would be all electronic.  The chances for one side or the other to be ripped off are great, as few game companies actually sanction such real money trading (RMT).  A personal exchange is a good way to avoid that, but not when one side appears to be giving you fake money for your virtual currency.  When David Emani met Bajwa on behalf of his friend, Jonathan Dokler–who was at home at his computer, ready to make the transfer once Emani received the cash–he suspected something was up when the cash Bajwa gave him looked bogus. Rather than call off the deal, Dokler had Emani meet Bajwa a second day, prepared to examine the cash more closely.  That’s when Bajwa pulled the gun (which turned out to be fake) on Emani and threatened him unless he told Dokler to complete the transaction.  Fortunately, Emani was not injured.

There are so many things that are amazing about this situation, but what I’m most amazed by isn’t that someone would try to steal virtual currency, but that the police and the prosecutor were willing to see this as an actual crime.  In the past, as I mentioned, law enforcement in the United States has ignored reports of virtual thefts, citing a lack of concrete value or verifiable loss.  This is not surprising because virtual items and currency generally lack any real-world equivalency and are traded on the black market.  There are some worlds that do have recognized currency markets (Second Life being the most well-known, but also Entropia Universe and Blizzard’s new Diablo III) but the vast majority of worlds and games choose to keep their currency as an in-house transaction facilitation tool and lock down their use in the terms of service.  That usually means that when a virtual item or currency is traded (or stolen), there is no crime, but a breach of the virtual world’s contract.  Few people are ever in the position to pursue legal action against a thief, either because they lack grounds to sue (it’s not their contract that was violated, but the game company’s) or because a suit would cost up to 1000 times the value of what was stolen–not a wise move.

I’ve already set my Westlaw alert, and I will be following the outcome of this case closely.  Whether it was the fact that he pulled a gun or that there was a decided upon value between the parties that gave the virtual currency sufficient value for the state to consider theft charges, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.  Either way, this is a watershed moment in virtual law.

Posted in Multi-user Online Environments, Virtual Currency, Virtual Worlds | Tagged , | Leave a comment