5 Easy Ways to Get Sued on Facebook

Social networking has been a boon for most Web users, allowing even the most non-tech savvy people a chance to connect with friends, publish photos and generally have a presence online. With some 500 million active users on Facebook, it is by far the largest social network and it has given a voice to millions who never would have even considered publishing online otherwise.

But while this has been a boon in many ways, most people are not familiar with mass media law and those who are often don’t see social networking as “publishing” worthy of such contemplation. However, Facebook is very much a public place and getting more so every day.

What you post on a Facebook, as well as other social networks, can easily come back to haunt you if you aren’t careful and it isn’t just jobs and relationships being destroyed, it’s also a matter of lawsuits being filed.

So what are some of the legal dangers that come with posting on Facebook. There are many but here are five of the more common ones.

1. Libel

If you post things on Facebook that are materially untrue about others and unfairly tarnishes their reputation, you can be sued for libel and it has happened before.

Though it might be tempting to think of Facebook as a private communication, a plaintiff only has to show that a third party saw the communication and it hurt their reputation. You can commit libel with something distributed to a small list of your friends the same as if you had posted it on the broader Web.

2. Copyright Infringement

If you post content that is copyrighted by others without their permission, they can, at least in theory, sue you for it. Once again, it is an infringement even if it was only distributed to a few of your friends, though that makes it much less likely that a copyright holder will sue.

I wasn’t able to find an example of a copyright holder suing for copyright infringement over a Facebook posting but it could easily happen. The suits and threats are rare now as much of the infringement likely is private but as Facebook opens up, so will the searches for copyrighted material and, along with it, the takedown filings and lawsuits.

This may be an impending wave more than a current one, but the risk is very real.

3. Privacy

Facebook itself has a very poor privacy reputation (and has been sued over it) but users can also contribute the problem by posting private information of others, including photos that were taken at a moment where the subject had a reasonable expectation of privacy or posting private information publicly.

With Facebook enabling tagging of posts and photos, it is easy to see how a user could upload something private about another person and let them know about it, only to discover that person is not too happy about the public exposure and decides to sue.

In short, be careful what you reveal and post about others without their permission.

4. Harassment

Harassment is defined as when someone “repeatedly behaved in a manner that was perceived as intrusive or threatening.” On that front, there is hardly a better place to harass someone than on Facebook (or any other social network).

At least some cases of Facebook harassment have reached the courts, including one case where a son sued his own mother for harassment after she broke into his account and posted as him.

The big problem with harassment is that what one person defines has harassment another might not. As such, if someone asks you to leave them alone, it is probably wise to do so.

5. Breach of Contract

Finally, this is a very broad area to consider but most people who use Facebook have other jobs and many of those jobs have rules and regulations about what one can and can not discuss in public. These are often enforced in non-disclosure agreements that are buried within the documents a new employee or contractor signs when joining up.

If you talk too intimately about your work, or anything else you’ve agreed not to talk about, you could find yourself facing a lawsuit for breach of contract. However, that can be said on pretty much anything you signed a contract to do and didn’t do, including wearing the wrong hair extensions.

Bottom Line

In the end, Facebook is not much different legally than blogging and that’s because, in many ways, the two acts are very similar. The only difference being that Facebook favors shorter posts to a (theoretically) smaller audience. However, both still involve publishing content to a broader audience across the Web and, as such, both come with very similar potential legal pitfalls.

So it is important to treat your Facebook posting the same as you would your blogging or anything you posted to a public forum. The law isn’t going to draw much of a distinction between the two in most areas and, as such, there isn’t much reason you should either.

24 Responses to 5 Easy Ways to Get Sued on Facebook

  1. Sarah Lam says:

    Hi Jonathan, recently a Facebook user based in Malaysia had written a very insulting status (regarding religion) that provoked the anger of most Malaysians. Due to this, the government is going to hunt down this particular user (most Malaysians agree that this user must be punished).

    • lorelei says:

      Awesome. So glad the Malaysian people think that speaking freely means that mob death is appropriate. Gods, I’m glad we’ve grown as a species. Terrifyingly, you seem to be endorsing it. May you be judged according to your own standards.

  2. [...] want to play in the Internet ballpark, you have to learn the rules. In his recent post, 5 East Ways to Get Sued on Facebook, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today clearly outlines, as the title promises, five ways you can [...]

  3. [...] Perhaps Kuria should have read this before posting his libellous comments. ***5 Easy Ways to Get Sued on Facebook*** ______________________________________________ PNU official sued over Facebook post Safina [...]

  4. Sarah says:

    What about harassment in the form of comments but have been deleted?

  5. Guanaco says:

    My girlfriends ex-boyfriend posted a message to my Facebook page (shared with my wife) and crashed my marriage. Can I sue him ?

  6. Thank you for your concise, timely summary of the legal ramifications and consequences of what one posts on Facebook. A disclaimer of privacy does not protect one from libel, harassment, bullying or intimidation charges, any more than it would any other civil or criminal act. And the courts have upheld this. So, everyone really needs to think before they post, or risk the legal consequences.

  7. Guest says:

    Thank you for your timely, concise summary of the legal ramiifications and potential consequences of posting on Facebook. A disclaimer for the right to “privacy” does not protect one from being sued, nor from being held accountable for evidence related to the commision of any civil or criminal act. The courts have upheld the law in favor of the plaintiff in several lawsuits involving libel, harassment, intimidation or other forms of bullying, or threat. It is also a reflection of who and what you are, and can come back to haunt you. More and more, employers, insurance companies and others are using it in their daily operations. So all can learn and think before they post.

  8. Thank you for your timely and concise summary of the legal ramifications and potential consequences of what one posts on Facebook. A disclaimer for right to privacy or “free speech” does not protect one from being sued, nor from being held accountable for the commission of any civil or criminal act. The courts have upheld the law in favor of the plaintiff in several lawsuits pertaining to libel, harassment, intimidation, bullying, or any other threat. It is also a reflection of what and who you are, and can come back to haunt you. More and more, employers, insurance companies and others are using it toward decision making in their daily operations. So, all should learn and really, really think before they post.

  9. too nice business owner says:

    We have several people who owe our business money and have bounced checks with us. Is it illegal to post on our facebook page that we would like for them to “come in and PAY us a visit”?

  10. [...] Today” shared an article detailing five ways to get sued on Facebook.  Does your personal profile or company page have any content that falls into one of these [...]

  11. Guest010 says:

    What if what you posted may blemish another’s perceived character, but is completely true? Is that considered lawsuit worthy?

    • Anonymous says:

      This is similar to my predicament. I am the above post. I wouldn’t say it’s lawsuit worthy unless you’re aggressive in how you got your message across. For example I couldn’t say “My mother is a whore who slept around with multiple men while with my father” but I could say “My mother was free and easy to any handyman” or “My mother had questionable morals when it came to adultery”. I think it’s just the way it comes across, if it’s aggressive then you’re probably on shaky ground but if it’s a weak statement then it should be fine. Hope this helps, any advice on my situation?

  12. Anonymous says:

    When my parents split I went to stay with my father and my sister went to stay with our mother. Long story behind that but that’s not the issue.That was 7 years ago and I’m now 20 and she’s now 22. I recently messaged her on facebook and presented her with facts of our parents split. I told her about events that had gone on since she left for uni. These facts are unpleasant to read however they aren’t untrue and I made no accusation that wasn’t true and backed up by court reports. After a few messages she ended her message by saying if I replied then she would be calling the police on me. I’m wondering if she has any grounds or if it’s just big talk? Again I reiterate, I wasn’t abusive, aggressive or intimidating and I presented facts only that I can back up if needed. If she was to phone the police would she get into trouble for wasting police time? If anything she has been the one who has shown most aggression in her replies by referring to my brothers and I as being not her family anymore and how she couldn’t care what happened to us etc. Is this a police issue? I’m under the impression it ‘s not classed as harassment or libel if it’s untrue. Any help on this?

  13. Catherine says:

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  14. peter says:

    Hi I recently posted a picture on Facebook no names no faces another user left a comment about the picture and left the name of the person driving in it so I removed the picture deleted the picture .can I be sued for it ???

  15. John K. says:

    A person took a photograph from my facebook page, photoshopped a message on it, and forwarded it to a series of people from my contact list. The message accused me of a crime that DID NOT occur and was previously investigated by local authorities that did not file charges. What is my recourse at this moment?

  16. How can they prove that the person being sued wrote the comment? What if the troll says someone used his unsecure home wifi network and hijacked his/her Facebook profile?

  17. Belajar says:

    what about if somebody uses a movie star photos, and then create an album on her facebook and suggesting that it was her? Can she be sued as well?

  18. Nellie says:

    I have a concern regarding a post about my 14yr son made by a 50 yr women. What was posted with his name is a completely false statement. She stated that he was bullying a young lady, called her a sl*t and to go kill herself . None of this happened!! I spoke with my local PD, and because she is not threatening harm….can not do anything. Any advice?

  19. Nellie says:

    The post coming from the women is NOT related to the young women. She is just someone posting untrue statements, and do not know why.

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