You wake up one day and power on your phone. BOOM! 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? And one that Chantay Sewell says she endured at the hands of her former paramour.
In response to the incident, Sewell filed a lawsuit, but the court dismissed the claim because the statute of limitations had expired. Recently, though, an appeals panel reversed the lower court’s decision; Sewell can now move forward with her online defamation case.
The lawsuit is significant because it could further define the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. In non-legal terms, the case is important because it highlights 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 suddenly couldn’t access her email and social media accounts. The logins just weren’t working. Frustrated, Sewell enlisted an attorney to investigate the issue. And guess what: the lawyer found a treasure trove of potential illegality, in the form of emails sent from the account during the time Sewell was locked out.
At first, Sewell believed the Culprit to be her ex-lover’s wife and filed a lawsuit against the woman. But it turned out that the wife was innocent; instead, the alleged culprit was Sewell’s former paramour, who allegedly confessed.
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, ruling that even though the statute of limitations had expired for the email account claims, Sewell could move forward with the Facebook ones.
Why the discrepancy between the two courts? The appeals judges considered the persistent realities of present-day digital life.
Judges Starting To Consider Digital Culture In Social Media 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 digital accounts.
And since Sewell hadn’t discovered her hacked Facebook till 2012, the statute of limitations for the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Stored Communications Act had yet to expire.
Potential Consequences of Hacking, Defaming or Otherwise Misappropriating
Although it’s tempting and oh-so-easy (the keyboard is right there!), seeking digital revenge by either a) hacking into another person’s online accounts or b) pretending to be someone else on the Internet is a monumentally stupid idea. These acts aren’t only a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but breaches of an inordinate amount of state impersonation, privacy, and Internet law statutes. If Sewell wins, her former flame could, in theory, go to jail. He could also find himself in bankruptcy court on account of massive fines.
Hacking is a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and also violates an inordinate amount of various state impersonation, privacy, and Internet law statutes.
All because of a little churlish social media tomfoolery.
Even If You Don’t Hack, Legal Consequences Abound
Let’s say you buy a URL that features someone’s name. Then you take it upon yourself to litter said website with lies; the person whose name you co-opted could successfully sue 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 is an invisibility cloak. All that’s required to denude an anonymous defamer is a court order compelling an ISP or web host 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?” 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, because that one “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