One day, you wake up and power on your phone to check messages. BOOM! Your life exploded overnight. An enemy successfully hacked your Facebook account, and then sent outrageous emails to your friends and family — emails which appear to be coming from you!
Nightmare, right? One that Chantay Sewell says she endured at the hands of her former paramour.
In response to the incident, Sewell had filed a lawsuit, but the court dismissed the claim on account of statute of limitation parameters. Recently, however, an appeals panel reversed the lower court’s decision, and Sewell can now move forward with her online defamation case.
The lawsuit is significant because it has the potential to further define the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. In non-legal terms, the case is important because it serves as a reminder of the very real – and very damaging – consequences for seeking “digital revenge” – against a person or business rival.
Example Incident: Ex-Lover Allegedly Hacks Facebook Account & Sends Messages
One day in the not so distant past, a woman named Chantay Sewell started having issues with some of her Internet and email accounts. She couldn’t access them. Frustrated, Sewell enlisted an attorney to investigate the issue. And guess what: the lawyer found a treasure trove of possible illegality, in the form of emails sent from the account during the time Sewell couldn’t access them.
At first, Sewell believed the Culprit to be her ex-lover’s wife; so Sewell filed a lawsuit against the woman. But it turned out that the wife was innocent; instead, the alleged culprit was Sewell’s former paramour. How did Sewell determine he was the poster? She contends he confessed to her.
Lower Court Tossed Facebook Law Case
A lower-court initially tossed the case, claiming Sewell waited too long to bring the charges. But a three-judge appeals bench disagreed, in part, with the lower-court’s decision. It ruled that even though the statute of limitations had expired for the AOL email account claims, Sewell could still move forward with the Facebook ones.
Why the discrepancy between the two courts? Well, the appeals judges considered the realities of present-day digital life.
Judges Starting To Consider Digital Realities In Their Facebook Law Rulings
In the initial ruling, the court – for lack of a better term –considered Sewell’s online accounts as one entity. But the appeals court wisely reasoned that people no longer have a single email address or account; between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, your favorite blog, news portals – you name it – the average person has upwards of 15 to 25 different Internet and email accounts.
The court ruled that since Sewell hadn’t discovered her hacked Facebook till 2012, the statute of limitations on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Stored Communications Act had not expired on some of her claims.
Potential Consequences of Hacking, Defaming or Otherwise Misappropriating
Although it’s tempting and oh-so-easy (the keyboard is right there!), it’s usually – to borrow a phrase from Taylor Swift — never, never, ever a wise idea to seek digital revenge by hacking into another person’s online accounts. Doing so is not only a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but it is also a violation of an inordinate amount of various state impersonation, privacy and Internet law statutes. If Sewell wins, her former flame could, in theory, go to jail. He could also go bankrupt as a result of huge fines.
All because of a little childish social media tomfoolery.
Even If You Don’t Hack, There Could Be Legal Consequences
Let’s say, for example, you buy a URL that includes someone’s name. Then you take it upon yourself to litter said website with lies; you could successfully be sued for online defamation or false light invasion of privacy.
An Online Alias May Not Protect You From Being Found
What about anonymous online reputation attacks, you ask? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that an online alias acts as an invisibility cloak. All that’s required to denude an anonymous defamer is a court order compelling an ISP or webhost to hand over identifying information. If a judge believes that a plaintiff has a shot at winning their case, there’s a good chance they’ll issue a court order.
“What about a VPN to hide your IP?” you counter. Also discoverable.
When faced with the taste for revenge, the best thing to do is step AFK and engage in something you enjoy. Zen out. If you don’t, and let anger guide your actions, that one act of “muwahahahahaha” could, in theory, land you on Skid Row – or behind bars.
Do you need a Facebook law attorney? Get in touch with Kelly Warner today.
Neumeister, L. (2015, August 4). Woman can go ahead with lawsuit alleging Facebook defamation. Retrieved September 28, 2015, from http://finance.yahoo.com/news/woman-ahead-lawsuit-alleging-facebook-203809655.html