Tag Archives: myspace

Court allows Wal-Mart to subpoena Facebook and MySpace

Ledbetter v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2009 WL 1067018 (D.Colo. April 21, 2009)

A couple of electricians were severely burned when the electrical system they were working on in an Aurora, Colorado Wal-Mart shorted out. They sued Wal-Mart over their injuries. One of the plaintiffs’ wives brought a claim for loss of consortium.

During discovery, Wal-Mart sent subpoenas to Facebook, MySpace and Meetup.com seeking information about the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs filed a motion for protective order which would have prevented the social networking sites from providing the requested information. The plaintiffs claimed that the information should be protected by the physician-patient privilege or, as for the loss of consortium claim, the spousal privilege. The court denied the motion and allowed the subpoenas.

The court held that an earlier protective order entered in the case (to which the parties had agreed) protected the confidentiality of the information. And the plaintiffs had put the purported confidential facts, i.e., the extent of the injuries and the nature of the consortium, at issue by bringing the suit. Moreover, the information sought by the subpoenas was reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and was relevant to the issues in the case.

It’s worth noting that the court might have had other reasons to deny the motion for protective order that it did not mention. A privilege of confidentiality is usually destroyed when it is disclosed to a third party. How could information on Facebook or MySpace still be secret? Unless Wal-Mart was only seeking private messages sent either between the spouses or one of the plaintiffs and a doctor, it would seem that most everything these sites would have would not be confidential in the first place.

A look back at Doe v. MySpace

Court of Appeals upholds Section 230 immunity for MySpace. Social networking provider not subject to suit for negligence for failing to implement technological measures to weed out underage users.

Doe v. MySpace, Inc., — F.3d —-, 2008 WL 2068064 (5th Cir. May 16, 2008).

I’ve been pretty busy the past few weeks with work and speaking engagements, and I also slipped in a little vacation awhile back. So I’m doing some catching up, looking over a number of interesting decisions from the past few weeks. While I was on the beach in Florida with my family, the Fifth Circuit issued this intriguing opinion in a case that has gotten quite a bit of publicity since it was filed back in 2006. Here’s the story.

When Julie Doe was 13, she lied about her age and set up a profile on MySpace. A year later, she met — first online, then offline — a 19 year-old named Solis. That Solis allegedly assaulted Doe.

MySpace Section 230 graphic

Julie and her mother filed suit against MySpace alleging, among other things, negligence. The plaintiffs claimed that MySpace should have done more to prevent Doe and Solis from meeting.

The case bounced around Texas and New York state court, then to New York federal court, then back to Texas where it ended up in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. Last year, the district court dismissed the case, holding that the Communications Decency Act at 47 U.S.C. 230 immunized MySpace from liability.

The Does sought review with the Fifth Circuit. On appeal, the court affirmed.

Section 230 provides, in relevant part, that ” [n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” The Does had argued that Section 230 should not bar the negligence claim, as the allegations dealt not with MySpace’s publication of information, but with the site’s failure to implement appropriate security.

Agreeing with the lower court, the appellate court rejected what it called disingenuous artful pleading by the plaintiffs. It found that the allegations were “merely another way of claiming that MySpace was liable for publishing the communications and they [spoke] to MySpace’s role as a publisher of online third-party-generated content.”

What’s the story on the MySpace suicide indictment?

The media has given a lot of attention to the indictment by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles of the mother who allegedly set up a bogus MySpace account to harass one of her daughter’s 13 year old friends. That friend later hung herself in the closet, purportedly because of the harassment.

But what’s the basis of the indictment? It’s not for homicide, nor even harassment. It’s for criminal violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. 1030, a subject which we’ve covered a number of times here on Internet Cases. In so many words, the defendant is accused of accessing MySpace’s servers without authorization, namely, in violation of the site’s terms of service.

Orin Kerr covers the governmnet’s theory in detail over at the Volokh Conspiracy, and also spells out why he thinks the case should fail.

MySpace friend request results in criminal charges

People v. Fernino, — N.Y.S.2d —-, 2008 WL 382348 (N.Y.City Crim.Ct. February 13, 2008)

An order of protection, issued by a New York family court, required that defendant Fernino have no contact with a certain Delgrosso. After Fernino added Delgrosso as a “friend” on MySpace, she was charged with contempt of court for allegedly violating the order of protection.

Fernino moved to dismiss the criminal complaint against her, arguing that even if the allegations were true, the purported “contact” through “friending” Degrosso would not support a conviction on the charges. The court denied the motion to dismiss.

Finding that adding Delgrosso as a friend in the social networking context was prohibited “contact,” the court cited to People v. Kochanowski, 186 Misc.2d 441, 442 (App Term, 2nd Dept 2000) and People v. Johnson, 208 A.D.2d 1051 (3rd Dept 1994). In Kochanowski, the appellate court affirmed the harassment conviction of a defendant who participated in building a bogus Web site containing, among other things, alluring pictures of his ex-girlfriend. In Johnson, the court held that the defendant committed aggravated harassment by responding to a personal ad in the victim’s name, causing the person placing the ad to contact the victim.

In this case, the court observed that even though Delgrosso could have simply denied the friend request, it was still a form of contact. It found that the form of communication was no different from the defendant having a third party say to Delgrosso, “Your former friend wants to communicate with you. Are you interested?”

It should also be noted that the court cited approvingly to Wikipedia for a description of MySpace and to Alexa for information about MySpace’s popularity.

Mark Fass of the New York Law Journal has more on this case here. The MyCrimeSpace blog has its take on the case here.  Also found on MyCrimeSpace is this article from last year about a poor chap in the UK who was found to have violated a restraining order for friending his ex-wife on Facebook.

Social networking evidence presents challenge in prosectuion over alleged threats made after Virgina Tech shootings

U.S. v. Voneida, 2008 WL 189667 (M.D. Pa. January 18, 2008)

Professor Goldman kindly emailed me a copy of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania’s decision in the case of U.S. v. Voneida. This criminal prosecution arose out of some postings that defendant Voneida is alleged to have made on his MySpace page about last April’s Virginia Tech shootings.

The court approached the case with all the awe for the Internet suitable for 1994:

[Voneida's statements] did not occur in a moment, like words being spoken; nor were they sent from one place to another once and only once, like mailing a letter, broadcasting a message over television or radio, or even sending an email. Rather, Defendant’s comments were communicated, and had the potential to reach an audience, for at least nine days. This is one of the ways in which speech on the internet, and on social networking sites in particular, challenges existing methods of legal analysis.

In this case, the feds claimed that Voneida’s postings ran afoul of 18 U.S.C. 875(c), which prohibits the transmitting in interstate commerce of “any threat to injure the person of another.” Voneida filed a motion in limine requesting that several pieces of evidence be excluded at trial.

One of the pieces of evidence that Voneida wanted kept out was an email message that a student in Pennsylvania sent to university authorities to report the postings. The court denied Voneida’s request on this point.

The court held that in determining whether Voneida’s statements were “true threats,” it would be instructive for the jury to consider the effect of the statements on their audience. Addressing this point, the court observed the following about an online “audience”:

Even if [the student who reported the postings] was an unintended viewer, the context of the internet and social networking sites like Myspace.com may make her part of Defendant’s audience regardless of his intent to reach her as opposed to others. As a part of his audience, her response to his comments is relevant and properly considered when evaluating whether they are “true threats.”

A few more facts would be interesting. What if a social network participant adjusts his profile settings to allow only “friends” see the content? Would the so-called “audience” still be the world at large? To what extent can a publisher technologically constrain his or her audience?