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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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facebook divorce

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!

Social Media

Facebook’s Hobbi app was a complete flop

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook seemingly has enough money to throw away projects and apps they know will fail. Hobbi is their most recent flop.

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Facebook failed Hobbi

Due to its abysmal underperformance on the App Store, Facebook is killing their new app, Hobbi, just months after its rollout in February.

Hobbi was the brainchild of Facebook’s New Product Experimentation Team, whose stated purpose is to rapidly ideate, build, and launch experimental new apps – then pull them if they aren’t successful.

Hobbi was designed to help users document their progress on their various personal projects and, well, hobbies. Complaints centered primarily on its threadbare feature offerings. Notably, Hobbi does not allow its users to browse the works of other creators through the app- it only packages media like photos and videos for sharing elsewhere.

A post on the Tech@Facebook blog states that they “expect many failures” from the NPE Team, suggesting that Hobbi was not necessarily intended to last. But you have to wonder… what is supposed to be the point of a tool like this?

Stories are a popular feature on most major social media websites, including Facebook itself. And Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) already allows its users to curate and group posts about whatever they want, including personal projects, hobbies and interests, through their story highlights.

So Facebook created a product that was already made redundant by their existing properties. What is experimental about that, exactly?

Hobbi originally drew comparisons to Pinterest. Both are like digital scrapbooks; Pinterest is a platform for content that inspires creativity, and Hobbi creates progress reports for creative undertakings.

One could also compare Hobbi to the underperforming video streaming platform, Quibi, which recently became infamous for its ostentatious ad campaign, aggressively flaunted celebrity cameos, and ultimately, its overwhelming failure.

Jeffery Katzenberg, Quibi cofounder of Disney and Dreamworks fame, blamed the coronavirus pandemic for Quibi’s flop – a questionable claim, considering just how much free time many have had to binge Netflix’s Tiger King during the lockdown.

The same could be said about Hobbi. People have been taking on projects like crazy in the time that has Hobbi been on the market. Quarantine cabin fever has us baking, crafting, painting, cleaning, and redecorating like never before. Yet Hobbi went nearly untouched.

Nobody used it because nobody needed it. Surely some cursory research would have demonstrated this?

One conclusion is that the app itself was the research – that Facebook’s NPE team isn’t really creating finished products, but rather testing the waters for potential new ones. (Could this framing be an elegant form of damage control, though? It’s easier to say “I meant to do that!” than it is to admit failure, especially in business.)

Still, creating throwaway apps in a bloated industry feels like cheating, whether it was meant for research purposes or not. There are plenty of indie app developers who create great tools with way less funding. Filling app marketplaces with lemons makes it harder for folks to find those gems.

Either way, hopefully we will see some original ideas coming from Facebook’s NPE Team moving forward, because this was clearly a disappointment.

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Can Twitter ever secure data privacy, like even once?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Twitter releases private information affecting already hurting businesses, should this even be a surprise anymore? They have a history of privacy breaches.

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twitter privacy

Dear Twitter,

I don’t know if you’ve seen the news within the past two years, but Facebook’s been under continuous scrutiny for privacy malpractices that affected millions of its users, so unless your goal is to be the next social network to infringe upon our first amendment right to privacy, I suggest you GET IT TOGETHER!

Over the weekend, users, specifically businesses, realized their billing information was being stored in their browsers cache. This is devastating news for business owners who rely on Twitter to promote their product, or stay in touch with their customers, who over the recent months have already faced monumental challenges. It is hard as a business owner to not feel this is an intentional overreach of privacy.

In an age where we have actual robots to vacuum our floors, and 3D printing, I speak for the people when I say this is unacceptable.

This isn’t the first time Twitter has been caught privacy breaching. A little over a year ago, Twitter announced that they were fixing a bug, many weren’t even aware of, that released phone numbers, location, and other personal data. AND GET THIS, even those who selected the option to keep their information private were affected, so what the hell is the point of asking us our preference in the first place?!!!

What about the time that Twitter accounts could be highjacked by ISIS and used to spread propaganda? All because Twitter didn’t require an email confirmation for account access. Or what about when Twitter stored your passwords in plaintext instead of something easily more secure. Flaws like these show a distinct ability of Twitter to just half ass things; to make it work, but not think about how to keep the users safe.

Like I said in the beginning, get it together Twitter.

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Social Media

Facebook’s Forecast wants ‘qualified’ predictions, but no one’s asking why

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook is asking a bunch of so-called experts to chime in on what the future holds, but can we trust them with the information we’re giving them?

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Forecast app

These days, trolls don’t necessarily lurk beneath bridges in order to ensnare unsuspecting travelers. Instead, they hide out in the comment sections on social media posts, ready to incite wrath and stir up controversy with their incendiary remarks. Because Facebook knows how quickly reasonable discourse can quickly devolve thanks in part to these online trolls, they’ve made a move to establish intelligent discussions through their new “Forecast” app.

The premise of Forecast is fairly straightforward. Facebook has invited an assortment of so-called experts (whether they work in the medical field or academia, or some other field) to cast their vote on predictions about the future. Not only will they share their vote, though, they’ll also pitch in their own two cents about these predictions, sparking what is expected to be insightful and reasonable conversation about the topics.

However, while the premise is exciting (smart people! not basement dwellers! talking about serious stuff!), there’s more than a small amount of risk associated with Forecast. For starters, what exactly is Facebook planning on doing with all of this information that is being volunteered on their app? And secondly, are they going to take precautions to help prevent the spread of misinformation when these results are eventually published?

The fact is, Facebook is notorious for propagating and spreading misinformation. Now, I’m not blaming Facebook itself for this issue. Rather, the sheer volume of its user base inevitably leads to flame wars and dishonesty. You can’t spell “Fake News” with at least a couple of the same letters used in Facebook. Or something like that. The problem arises when people see the results of these polls, recognize that the information is being presented by these hand-picked experts, and then immediately takes them at face value.

It’s not so much that most people are simple minded or unable to think for themselves; rather, they’re primed to believe that the admittedly educated guesses from these experts are somehow better, smarter, than what would be presented to them by the average layperson. The bias is inherent in the selection process of who is and isn’t allowed to vote. By excluding everyday folks like you and me (I certainly wasn’t given an invite!), undue prestige may be attributed to these projections.

At the moment, many of these projections are silly bits of fluff. One question asks, “Will Tiger King on Netflix get a spinoff season?” Another one wonders, “Will Mulan debut on Disney+ at the same time as or instead of a theatrical release?” But other questions? Well, they’re a little more serious than that. And speculating on serious issues (such as COVID-19, or the presidential election) can lead to the spread of serious — and potentially dangerous — misinformation.

Facebook has implemented very strict guidelines about what types of questions are allowed and which ones are forbidden. That, at least, is a step in the right direction. It’s no secret that expectation can actually lead to the predicted outcomes, directly influencing actions and behaviors. While it’s too early to tell if Forecast will ever gain that much power, it undoubtedly puts us in a position of wondering if and when intervention may be necessary.

But I’ll be honest with you: I don’t exactly trust Facebook’s ability to put this cultivated information to good use. Sometimes a troll doesn’t have to be overtly provocative in order to be effective, and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see someone in a position of power exploit the results of these polls to influence the public. It’ll be interesting to see if Forecast is still around in the next few years, but alas, there’s no option for me to submit my vote on that to find out.

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