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Should it be legal to serve divorce papers on Facebook?

(SOCIAL MEDIA NEWS) For those unlucky in love, Facebook offers a way to be told that your marriage is over: the electronic delivery of divorce papers.

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You’ve been served

Since its beginnings in a Harvard dorm room in 2004, we’ve increasingly come to rely on Facebook for a multitude of services through its core brand, as well as its multiple acquisitions.

Want to stay in touch with old friends and make new ones? It’s got it. Take and share multitudes of photos in your daily life, documenting the sublime to the banal? It’s got that, too. Virtual reality? Yes, even that.

And, for those unlucky in love, Facebook offers a way to be told that your marriage is over: the electronic delivery of divorce papers.

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The traditional way

To be fair, Facebook — and the law — doesn’t discriminate as to which kind of process service you receive on the platform. So, instead of divorce papers, it might well be a notice that you’re being sued by a neighbor. And, to be fair, Facebook or other social media sites won’t be the first step taken to contact you.

We’re familiar with the trope of the process server. He hangs about outside of the house or office of the soon-to-be-served, resorting to subterfuge when necessary to get the signature he needs on the documents, saying “You’ve been served,” as the papers flutter into the hands of the sued.

Very little of this is close to a true depiction of what life is like for the process server, but the image persists. In some instances however, it is accurate.

It’s not hard to imagine the lengths people might go to avoid being sued. Accurate and timely service of process of a complaint is crucial to ensure the potential defendant in a proceeding knows they are being sued, and has the fullest ability to respond to the claims against them.

A new precedent

If you’re being sued, you can expect the courts to attempt to notify you through traditional methods like in-person service or through certified mail. However, when neither of those methods prove fruitful, courts may allow the plaintiff to attempt to serve you through substituted or alternative service methods, including electronic service.

A decade ago, using e-mail to provide service of process was a novelty. Courts fretted over this, as they were uncertain about the reliability and the ubiquitousness of the method. However, as we’ve seen, the overwhelming majority of Americans regularly check their e-mail accounts.

Using e-mail to provide notification to parties in a case is now a regularly accepted tool.

With the continued expansion of social media sites, such as Facebook, one could argue an expansion of process service to include those sites would ensure people are notified in a reliable way.

Working for the read receipt

“The desire to give actual notice is at the heart of service. The strongest argument for effectuating service of process through social media — Facebook in particular — is that, in many cases, the likelihood of the defendant receiving actual notice is extremely high because users of social media typically access their accounts regularly,” writes Keely Knapp, JD, in the Louisiana Law Review. “Moreover, through social media the plaintiff has the ability to gauge a defendant’s interaction on the account, which makes assessing the chance of actually receiving notice even more accurate.”

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Think about it for a moment. If the process server can verify you logged into your Facebook or other social media account and posted updated, or interacted through Messenger, then, when all else traditional fails, that’s the best — and probably most accurate — way to let you know you need to respond to a lawsuit.

The critical point here is that you’ve got to be able to ascertain that it’s actually the person who is named on the account using it to be able to claim that service of process via Facebook was accurate and timely. Consider for example a recent divorce trial in Brooklyn. The state of New York previously allowed Facebook as an alternate means of service when all else had failed. However, the judge in this case ruled that the defendant hadn’t interacted with his Facebook account since 2014.

Given a lack of updated information, there was no way to establish that he would presumptively come across it. While his wife argued that she had interacted with her husband on Facebook since 2014, she had no physical documentation of those exchanges.

“As such, plaintiff has not demonstrated that… service by Facebook is reasonably calculated to apprise defendant of the matrimonial action,” concluded the judge. “Before the Court could consider allowing service by Facebook…the record must contain evidence that the Facebook profile was one that defendant actually uses for receipt of messages.”

Utah, the cutting edge of law

The model for utilizing social media sites as an alternative service of process comes from a perhaps unlikely source: the state of Utah.

The state has been at the leading edge of considering ways to allow its citizens to interact with the court system in a smoother fashion.

Because of this forward thinking attitude, the state amended its rules of civil procedure in 2001 — before the existence of Facebook — to include electronic formats, mentioning email and “other possible electronic means”.

Thinking back to 2001, the social media landscape was barren. Sure there was Xanga, but Friendster wouldn’t come along until the next year, and Tom wouldn’t be our friend on Myspace until 2004. So, as Stephanie Irvine noted, “what was also genius about this is that when said electronic means became possible, the law wouldn’t need to be rewritten, and thus, judges could determine when the “other means” would be appropriate.”

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The courts in Utah have remained progressive, at least on this front. In 2010, rules were amended, and a specific affidavit was created for process service by electronic means, specifically mentioning “Social Network (such as Facebook), Twitter, Text Message, and Phone.”

Soon to be adopted as normal

While not every state has caught up to the electronic revolution for alternative electronic means of process service, there will come a time when it will seem like a normal part of operations. We’ve accepted the alteration of our lives with the assistance of technology. The unimaginable and fantastic are becoming commonplace daily.

The ingrained nature of social media means that, for some, it is the most reliable means of getting in touch with them.

Their online presence may be more stable than their corporeal one.

As with any form of legal documentation, ensuring the intended recipient actually receives it and can be documented doing so is critical. So as you peruse your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed, be careful about just scrolling on through. You might just miss an important date in your future.

#Served

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Your Facebook is looking a bit more Myspace-y, here's why - The American Genius

  2. PI in Oakville

    August 16, 2020 at 4:39 am

    Easy to follow, readable…heck I had to leave a commment!

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Social Media

Zillow launches real estate brokerage after eons of swearing they wouldn’t

(MEDIA) We’ve warned of this for years, the industry funded it, and Zillow Homes brokerage has launched, and there are serious questions at hand.

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Zillow Homes was announced today, a Zillow licensed brokerage that will be fully operational in 2021 in Phoenix, Tucson, and Atlanta.

Whoa, big huge yawn-inducing shocker, y’all.

We’ve been warning for more than a decade that this was the end game, and the company blackballed us for our screams (and other criticisms, despite praise when merited here and there).

Blog posts were penned in fiery effigy calling naysayers like us stupid and paranoid.

Well color me unsurprised that the clarity of the gameplan was clear as day all along over here, and the paid talking heads sent out to astroturf, gaslight, and threaten us are now all quiet.

Continue reading…

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Social Media

We watched The Social Dilemma – here are some social media tips that stuck with us

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Here are some takeaways from watching Netflix’s The Social Dilemma that helped me to eliminate some social media burnout.

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Last weekend, I made the risky decision to watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix. I knew it was an important thing to watch, but the risk was that I also knew it would wig me out a bit. As much as I’m someone who is active “online,” the concept of social media overwhelms me almost more than it entertains (or enlightens) me.

The constant sharing of information, the accessibility to information, and the endless barrage of notifications are just a few of the ways social media can cause overwhelm. The documentary went in deeper than this surface-level content and got into the nitty gritty of how people behind the scenes use your data and track your usage.

Former employees of high-profile platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, and Pinterest gave their two cents on the dangers of social media from a technological standpoint. Basically, our data isn’t just being tracked to be passed along for newsletters and the like. But rather, humans are seen as products that are manipulated to buy and click all day every day in order to make others money and perpetuate information that has astronomical effects. (I’m not nearly as intelligent as these people, so watch the documentary to get the in-depth look at how all of this operates.)

One of the major elements that stuck with me was the end credits of The Social Dilemma where they asked interviewees about the ways they are working to eliminate social media overwhelm in their own lives. Some of these I’ve implemented myself and can attest to. Here’s a short list of things you can do to keep from burning out online.

  1. Turn off notifications – unless there are things you need to know about immediately (texts, emails, etc.) turn it off. Getting 100 individual notifications within an hour from those who liked your Instagram post will do nothing but burn you (and your battery) out.
  2. Know how to use these technologies to change the conversation and not perpetuate things like “fake news” and clickbait.
  3. Uninstall apps that are wasting your time. If you feel yourself wasting hours per week mindlessly scrolling through Facebook but not actually using it, consider deleting the app and only checking the site from a desktop or Internet browser.
  4. Research and consider using other search tools instead of Google (one interviewee mentioned that Qwant specifically does not collect/store your information the way Google does).
  5. Don’t perpetuate by watching recommended videos on YouTube, those are tailored to try and sway or sell you things. Pick your own content.
  6. Research the many extensions that remove these recommendations and help stop the collection of your data.

At the end of the day, just be mindful of how you’re using social media and what you’re sharing – not just about yourself, but the information you’re passing along from and to others. Do your part to make sure what you are sharing is accurate and useful in this conversation.

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Social Media

WeChat ban blocked by California judge, but for how long?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) WeChat is protected by First Amendment concerns for now, but it’s unclear how long the app will remain as pressure mounts.

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WeChat barely avoided a US ban after a Californian judge stepped in to temporarily block President Trump’s executive order. Judge Laurel Beeler cited the effects of the ban on US-based WeChat users and how it threatened the First Amendment rights of those users.

“The plaintiffs’ evidence reflects that WeChat is effectively the only means of communication for many in the community, not only because China bans other apps, but also because Chinese speakers with limited English proficiency have no options other than WeChat,” Beeler wrote.

WeChat is a Chinese instant messaging and social media/mobile transaction app with over 1 billion active monthly users. The WeChat Alliance, a group of users who filed the lawsuit in August, pointed out that the ban unfairly targets Chinese-Americans as it’s the primary app used by the demographic to communicate with loved ones, engage in political discussions, and receive news.

The app, along with TikTok, has come under fire as a means for China to collect data on its users. U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has stated, “At the President’s direction, we have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations.”

This example is yet another symptom of our ever-globalizing society where we are learning to navigate between connectivity and privacy. The plaintiffs also pointed out alternatives to an outright ban. One example cited was in Australia, where WeChat is now banned from government officials’ phones but not others.

Beeler has said that the range in alternatives to preserving national security affected her decision to strike down the ban. She also explained that in regards to dealing with national security, there is “scant little evidence that (the Commerce Department’s) effective ban of WeChat for all US users addresses those concerns.”

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