THE RISKS OF LITIGATION OR DISCLOSING INFORMATION TO AN EMPLOYER ARE NOT THE ONLY RISK PRESENTED BY CARELESS SOCIAL NETWORKINGWednesday, March 2nd, 2011
In an early posting, we covered the potential dangers of posting personal information on social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. That earlier blog primarily concerned the risks presented by an employer or prospective employer reading your postings and leading to the loss of a job, or the dangers of someone on the other side of a lawsuit finding information on your Facebook page that might be used against you in your case. While these are still important reasons to be cautious in what you post online, there are other, equally significant reasons to use your best judgment when communicating online, even if you are not involved in a lawsuit, and are absolutely sure that your employer has no interest in your Facebook or Myspace page.
Online bullying and stalking is one reason to be careful who you communicate with online, and how much information you share. An online stalking case from Oklahoma recently hit the news. A link to the story can be found here: http://www.newson6.com/Global/story.asp?S=14078889. The case involved a woman named Elexis Hennigh, who made the mistake of “friending” a man she barely knew, by the name of Travis Taylor. Mr. Taylor allegedly became obsessed with Ms. Hennigh, and began sending her melodramatic messages asking for a date, and refusing to take “no” for an answer. Ms. Hennigh documented her communications with Mr. Taylor in her own online blog, which can be viewed here: (WARNING – Graphic and Violent Language) http://elexishennigh.blogspot.com/?zx=cdb3a7d3eab9bf8e. When Ms. Hennigh finally made her lack of interest in Mr. Taylor’s romantic advances clear to him, he threatened her with extremely graphic violence. Mr. Taylor was arrested, and Ms. Hennigh now has to live with both the fear of Mr. Taylor acting out on his threats, and the embarrassment of her poor judgment being made very public. While her case is an extreme example of carelessness with online communications, it highlights the potential risks. What seemed innocent enough at the beginning became a very serious and scary situation in a short period of time.
Another risk of sharing information online is identity theft. Douglas, Leonard and Garvey was recently involved in a case where a client’s information, posted on Facebook, was used to create a very convincing “clone” Facebook page by a third party. The “clone” site was so convincing (including a picture of our client) that the client’s friends began communicating and sharing information with the “clone” site. It is not hard to imagine how the use of a “clone” Facebook page could be used to the detriment of the person being cloned, and potentially the detriment of that person’s friends and family who were duped by the convincing fake.
The moral of the story is simple – if you wouldn’t share the information with a random stranger walking down the street, you probably should not post it online. In addition, you should really think twice, or three times, about “friending” people you have never met in person. The cases involving Ms. Hennigh and our client show just a few of the dangers presented by the online virtual world that the new generation of social networking sites has created.