Facebook, S.D.N.Y., Service of Process, Technology, Twittering

A Sure Way to Unfriend Someone — Serve Them Through Facebook

‘What do you mean I’ve been sued?’

Facebook has an important role in modern society, specifically sharing baby/cat pictures and facilitating high school reunion planning. Oh, and disappointing amateur investors.

Now, in at least one case, the government will use Facebook to serve defendants.

The decision reflects the growing faith in the reliability of electronic messaging, taking jurisprudence further down the path started when courts began recognizing email service. On the other hand, Facebook’s messaging kind of blows. I constantly find messages in my inbox days after they were sent.

I assume service is effected by uploading a picture of the filing and tagging it “You”….

This decision comes to us from the Southern District of New York and Judge Paul Engelmayer. The case, Federal Trade Commission v. PCCare247 Inc., involves a fake tech support company from India that allegedly duped unsuspecting victims into believing their computer was infected with a virus and then charging the customer to “fix” it. For a funny account of how this scam worked, Ars Technica has you covered.

Judge Engelmayer noted that nothing prohibited the use of Facebook as an alternate avenue for service — specifically nothing in the Hague Service Convention blocked service by Facebook — and that the government’s plan to simultaneously attempt service through email satisfied due process concerns. The judge also felt that the government provided ample evidence that the defendants were actually on Facebook, based mostly on the string of recent status updates like, “Totally conning some dumb American into thinking he has a virus. LOLZ!”

Since the service was backed by email, this particular case did not completely change the service landscape. All in all, I approve of a belt-and-suspenders approach to service.

But the decision suggests that Facebook (and other social media, for that matter) could serve as the only mechanism for service at some point in the future, and that might be a bridge too far. As a platform, Facebook is still decidedly informal, and litigants should serve their adversaries in a manner befitting the seriousness of a legal proceeding. Email has transformed from the light-hearted domain of college kids and tech hippies into a serious business tool. It’s possible that Facebook will undergo the same transformation, but it doesn’t seem like it’s made it yet.

And there’s reason to believe it never will because the foundational purpose of Facebook remains “social” and not “business.” Facebook’s forays into the world of business — from advertising to fan pages — have never attempted to alter Facebook’s role as a place for “friends” (defined as strictly or loosely as the user desires) to maintain informal contact. This is a stark contrast to the evolution of email.

That said, at least American courts haven’t gone as far as the UK. In 2009, the UK allowed an injunction to be served via Twitter:

Got a lil something for @Defendantbaby238! #yougotserved.

If it helps though, I could give it a retweet.

You’ve Been Served…Through Facebook? [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
Court Lets FTC Serve Litigation Documents By Facebook [Internet Cases]
“Can You Fix My Windows 95 Computer?”: How to Troll a Tech Support Scammer [Ars Technica]
UK High Court Serves Injunction Over Twitter [PC World]

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