Facebook: you got served?

Lawyers in Australia have recently started using Facebook to serve legal papers, says Reuters. In the article, an Australian attorney says:

“We couldn’t find the defendants personally after many attempts so we thought we would try and find them on Facebook,” lawyer Mark McCormack said.

“We did a public search based on the email address we had and the defendants Facebook page appeared.”

He said that was enough to convince the court, which found Facebook was a sufficient way of communicating legal papers when it is the plaintiff’s responsibility to personally deliver documents.

This may seem like a giant win for the legal system, but seems like a potential loss for many citizens as the question of authenticity and validity comes to mind. The article fails to outline the steps that the Australian legal team took to verify that the Facebook account actually did belong to the correct plaintiff, but with so many duplicate names and spoofed pages on the internet, it makes you wonder if this is truly fair to the party at fault. 

Celebrities have long been victims of online spoofing– recently, the New York Times featured an article about Shaquille O’Neal claiming his namesake on Twitter because an impostor was using his name to send messages to Shaq fans– pretending he was the real deal. Kanye West is yet another celeb to fall prey to fans wishing to fool other fans.

Kanye

But celebrities are the extreme– it becomes difficult for everyday users to discern who is actually a celeb online (making sites like Twitter and MySpace the perfect place for posers to make their mark), but when it comes down to legal matters, it’s very easy for the judicial system to distinguish who actually is a celebrity and who isn’t– both on and offline. 

This isn’t the case with everyday users. For most people, a quick visit to a site like How Many of Me  will prove the fact that you’re not the only one with your name. When you take that information, add in the ambiguity of the internet, and the ability to spoof simple information like email addresses, home addresses, and even photographs, online verification becomes nothing more than a false sense of security and identity.

Who is to say that the Melissa they serve papers to on a Facebook account is really the Melissa they intended on talking to? Currently there are over 435 different Melissa’s in the US that have my same first and last name, according to US Census data.

Personally, I have somewhere between 5-10 social networking profiles online– if each of the other Melissa’s follow suit, that’s anywhere between 2,175- 4,350 profiles to sift through, including all of the abandoned and neglected profiles that none of us visit. This sets up users for a nasty surprise upon login, especially if a user isn’t a regular visitor of that particular social networking site that the legal team targeted. 

In addition to this, posting a message on someone’s Facebook wall also seems to open up Pandora’s box for spammers and additional legal action. As it stands, there are already enough ways for people to retrieve a person’s identity– allowing for legal action on Facebook seems like yet another way for people to maliciously attack users. 

All in all, posting a message on someone’s wall on Facebook shouldn’t suffice as legal notice until it’s been verified that that in fact, is the correct person and Facebook and the Government come up with a stable way of doing so. Until then, it will be hard to take it seriously.

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