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Facebook seems to be creeping into every aspect of our lives. But, how many of the popular social networking site’s millions of members truly understand the expanding legal implications? Many universities are trying to educate their students about the consequences of salacious material posted on a user’s profile on employment opportunities. More recently, this blog considered the idea that social networking sites may result in deportation of citizens applying for asylum. Now, according to an Australian court, a social networking site may be used to serve a default judgment on a non-appearing defendant. Can you imagine?
[Insert Plaintiff's Name] wrote on your wall:
” The court has entered a judgment against you in the case of [Insert Plaintiff's Name] v. [Unsuspecting Facebook User].”
The Facebook Team
When a plaintiff has been awarded a default judgment, the common method of process is personal service or mailing. While courts have allowed the use of email or text messaging, it seems that this was the first instance of process through a social networking website. The case involved two friends who defaulted on a six-figure loan. When the lenders tried to serve process on the debtors, they were unable to reach the debtors at places listed on the lending documents as residences or places of employment. After determining that other methods of personal service had failed, the court found that Facebook had a reasonable prospect of success of reaching the defendants.
However, the lender’s lawyers also had to prove that the Facebook profiles were actually owned and operated by the debtors. This was done by showing that the debtors’ profiles included the defendant’s date of birth, email address and that the co-defendants were on each other’s friends lists. This information was easy to gather since neither of the debtors exercised the security option of setting their profiles to private.
Some doubt that social networking sites will become a method of legal communication; in fact a Queensland court rejected such sites as a method of legal communication. However, a primary concern as to whether a Facebook message would reach users is analogous to concerns regarding the already-approved method of emailing. Privacy concerns may be refuted as long as the user has the option to exclude non-friends from viewing personally identifying information.
Default judgments: another reason to set your profile to private?
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