Law Life: Unruly 'friend' gets Facebook death penalty

By Pat Murphy
The Daily Record Newswire

Gee, I guess Facebook must be a pretty big deal. Why else would a Maryland woman make two cross-country road trips and sue in federal court to protest her banishment from the social networking site?

Okay, I’ll admit I’m not the most technologically savvy guy around. Generally, I’m seven or eight generations behind the latest developments.

When you get right down to it, I still find it pretty cool that I can watch TV in color.

Internet cave dweller that I am, here’s what I know about Facebook: It’s a multi-gazillion dollar business started by some college geeks, there’s a movie, and the website helps people meet with “friends” online and tell them what they’re up to.

So far, that doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.

I’m pretty full up with friends. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be losing sleep if I shed a few. And as far as telling people what I’m up to, I sorta operate on a “need to know” basis, if you get my drift.

That being said, if Facebook doesn’t mean much to me, apparently it’s life and death to other people, people like Karen Beth Young.

The Marylander seems like a nice lady. Young is genuinely sincere about the fight against cancer. In February 2010, she opened a personal account on Facebook to rally people for a cancer cure. Her Facebook pages included the “Cancer Forum.”

Young’s personal page eventually grew to include approximately 4,300 “friends” who are also interested in the fight against cancer.

All good and harmless stuff.

Unfortunately, Young can sometimes get a burr under her saddle about certain subjects. That’s what ended up getting her kicked off Facebook.

One day, Young came across a Facebook page which included a none too subtle “Prayer for Death” for President Obama.

Naturally, Young was outraged and voiced her contempt for the page. This brought on her head a downpour of retaliatory actions by misguided Obama haters. A social networking war was on.

According to Facebook, Young crossed the line in responding to the attacks.

In June 2010, the site disabled Young’s account for allegedly harassing or threatening other people on Facebook. According to court records, the site also was unhappy with Young sending friend requests to people she did not know.

Young was taken aback by the deactivation of her account. When her numerous e-mails and telephone calls to Facebook produced no satisfaction, Young took the rather odd step of driving from her home in Maryland to Facebook headquarters in Santa Clara, California.

A surprised receptionist at Facebook headquarters kept Young from meeting someone in charge, but she did allow Young to complete a customer assistance form.

That writing produced a response. Facebook agreed to reactivate Young’s account, but warned her that sending friend requests to people she did not know or other violations of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities would result in her being permanently booted from the site.

Alas, two days after Young returned to Maryland, Facebook deactivated Young’s account a second time for her allegedly once again violating the company’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. This time, the deactivation was permanent.

Of course, there was only one response for Young: Road trip!

Yep, back the spurned Facebook friend drove to California. And when Young didn’t get any satisfaction, she filed a lawsuit in federal court.

Young sued Facebook under §1983 for violating her free speech rights under the First Amendment.

Of course, a fundamental flaw in Young’s lawsuit is that Facebook is not a state actor.

Late last month, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel saw that flaw plain enough.

Young tried to argue that, because Facebook has contracts with certain federal agencies, the social networking site could be deemed to be acting under the color of state law.

The judge would have none of it.

“Here, Young shows no relationship between Facebook’s government contracts and the particular actions that she alleges violated her rights,” Fogel said. “Even if some Facebook activities could rise to the level of state action, such activities would be relevant only if Young’s injuries were caused by those activities. None of the injuries alleged by Young appears to have any relationship to Facebook’s government contracts.” (Young v. Facebook)

Likewise, the judge found that a related breach-of-contract claim brought by Young lacked substance.

The judge observed that Young “points to Facebook’s failure to enforce provisions of its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities that call for users not to engage in bullying, intimidating, or harassing other users or posting content that is ‘hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity.’ However, while these provisions place restrictions on users’ behavior, they do not create affirmative obligations.”

All right, so Young’s federal complaint has been dismissed and she remains barred from Facebook.

For Ms. Young, that may be a good thing. Why not step away from the computer, enjoy the Fall colors, play with the dog, and take that extreme step of finding someone to look in the eye when you chat with them?

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