Columns Crime Opinion Your Views — 09 December 2011
Legal liability and the internet: Are you being too social?

Morning news shows talk about it. We read about it in newspapers. We talk about it with “friends.”

It is how to get in trouble using social media.

The electronic era has brought many changes in our ability to access information rapidly. We can get more information that we ever knew existed from sources so varied our heads spin. And, we get that information with just a few clicks on the keyboard. We now also have new challenges, including how to safely use social media.

The big gorilla is Facebook. It has something like 800 million active users. But there are other online social gathering places that are ripe for creating legal problems for users, too, like eharmony.com and other dating sites. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean.

LAWSUITS. Be careful about deleting stuff from Facebook if you are involved in a lawsuit. For example, a man sued the driver whose vehicle struck and killed his wife. Photos on the husband’s Facebook page showed him in a T-shirt that said “I ♥ Hot Moms.” The husband and his lawyer got in trouble for removing the pictures — and then lying about it.

Sandra Rohrstaff

DIVORCES. A person involved in a divorce proceeding had been posting on Facebook, eharmony and other social media about seeing other people. Not smart. The spouse, of course, asked for the other spouse’s passwords to all social media. The judge ordered both sides to exchange that information.

REVEALING TOO MUCH. Last spring, I spoke to high school classes about how to use (and get in trouble by using) social media. Here are some of the things we talked about.

Unlike Las Vegas, what goes on Facebook and other social media sites stays there. Forever. Even if you “delete” it. Job applicants can be sure that prospective employers will go find you on Facebook.

I recently did not hire a bookkeeper applicant after checking her out on Facebook. She spent a lot of time playing a Las Vegas gambling game. Someone who played gambling games to handle my firm’s money? No thanks. She never got a chance to convince me otherwise.

“Sexting” (teens exchanging pictures of each other in various stages of undress) seems harmless to teens and some parents. Young people have natural curiosity about what other people’s body parts look like, BUT it is unlawful to possess pictures of nude minors. They may be considered to be child pornography! (Sometimes pictures are taken without the subjects’ knowing they’ve been photographed.) The teenagers wanted to know whether they could get in trouble even if a nude picture of someone appeared on their phone without their asking for it. The answer is, technically, yes. And they could be in more trouble if they send it on, since that would be distribution of child pornography.

DON’T CHEAT. I saw a recent news story about an insurance company that denied a workers’ compensation claim because of the pictures he put on Facebook, and another story about a woman whose injury claim died when the insurance company saw pictures of her on Facebook doing things she shouldn’t have been able to do if she were really injured.

For better and for worse, the rules have changed; the world is a different place than it was a decade ago. It’s up to us to learn how to be socially safe — and to teach others, as well.

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Alexandria Times Staff

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