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Social Media Overshare: 20 Cases where people lost their job, spouse, paternity, child custody or freedom from online sharing

Since the advent of Facebook, Twitter and other methods of social media, people have been sharing their most intimate thoughts, photos and opinions with friends and the rest of the world online. And of course, it did not take long for an extensive case history to develop in the US, UK and across the globe of people losing their jobs, job offers, school admissions, child custody,  marriage, or other freedom over incidents of oversharing in social media.

The Duke Law journal reveals that as of November 2011, there were 647 lawsuits where social media evidence came into play.  Of the list, 326 involved Myspace, 262 involved Facebook , 49 Twitter and 37 LinkedIn.  This is not just a U.S. issue; across the pond there are instances of people actually being jailed for making racist and harassing comments in social media.  Sweet & Maxwell, legal information specialists, report the number of defamation court cases in the UK in which the subject was allegedly defamed on blogs or on social media jumped from seven to 16 from May 2011 to May 2012.

I conducted some research and compiled 20 of the most egregious and more popular incidents below:

  1. January 2009: Joke death threats  – A Minnesota court is currently trying to determine whether the University of Minnesota wrongfully disciplined Amanda Tatro for Facebook postings starting in 2009 including postings that referenced stabbing a certain someone in the throat and updating her “death list,” among other things.
  2. March 2009:  Negative Tweet about an employer  – Conor Riley had a job offer rescinded when she tweeted, “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.”
  3. March 2009: DefamationCourtney Love is defending herself in a defamation lawsuit over tweets, starting in March 2009, in a series of tirades on Twitter against fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir, who was demanding payment for a couple thousand dollars’ worth of clothes she said Love owed her. THR, Esq. notes that “[Love] announced that Simorangkir was a drug-pushing prostitute with a history of assault and battery who lost custody of her own child and capitalized on Love’s own fame before stealing from her. ‘She has received a VAST amount of money from me over 40,000 dollars and I do not make people famous and get raped TOO!’”
  4. October 2009: Facebook relationship status  – When trying to determine if a woman and man were still married and thus likely the parents of a child who another man claimed was his, the court considered the fact that on the woman’s Facebook status she listed herself as Separated and Divorced on various occasions, thus proving that she was most likely not still with her husband as she had claimed.
  5. May 2011: Impersonating another person online – A judge ruled it was criminal for impersonating another person on Facebook. The defendant was making postings suggesting a person that he was impersonating was gay and drug user. As the person being impersonated was a Pastor, the chances of it causing him to lose his job are high.
  6. January 2011: Posting grotesque or private photos – An OB/GYN nursing student expelled for posting a photo of herself with a human placenta on Facebook was permitted to return after proving that her teacher allowed her to take the photo in the first place.
  7. February 2011: Criticism of Boss  – A court determined that an employer violated an employee’s First Amendment rights when he fired her for the Facebook status updates including one where she wrote, “So this week not going so good bad stuff all around.”
  8. February 2011:  Tagging yourself in rowdy, drunk and half naked photos Users have no right to grant permission first before you are tagged, a court stated, in a case where a woman wanted to stop her husband from using photos of their tagged daughter drinking posted to social media in a custody case.
  9. February 2011: Fraud to get social benefits – To determine whether a litigant was lying about her illness in a claim for social security benefits, the judge in the case found Facebook images of the claimant smoking and threw out her case.
  10. May 2011- Juror making contact with defendant – Joanne Frail was jailed in the UK for making contact with the defendant in a multi–million–pound trial in which she was a juror. Fraill, who was jailed for eight months in June, was the first person to be prosecuted for contempt of court involving the Internet in the UK.
  11. August 2011: Twitter Stalking – A NY court found that a man sending thousands of vulgar and threatening Twitter messages about a female Buddhist leader including  “Do the world a favor and go kill yourself. P.S. Have a nice day” was not unconstitutional or in violation of cyber-stalking laws. The court found the tweets were protected as speech addressing religious matters
  12. October 2011: Retain passwords after leaving a job – A fired employee had to return the social media username and passwords to former boss.
  13. December 2011: Tweeting about drinking on the job –  Aides for Congressional Rep. Rick Larsen were fired after tweeting about drinking on the job and saying bad things about Larsen.
  14. December 2011: Absconding with a client’s fameAdorian Deck, a high school senior and creator of @OMGFacts, handed over his Twitter account which had amassed some 300,000 followers to social media mogul Emerson Spartz. Afterwards, Spartz created an associated MySpace account and grew the account to 1.9 million followers and then refused to give it back to Deck. Deck sued.
  15. January 2012:  Callous comments following tragic death – The day after a student drowned at the beach while on a field trip, a fifth grade teacher updated her Facebook status to say, “[a]fter today, I am thinking the beach sounds like a wonderful idea for my 5th graders! I HATE THEIR GUTS! They are the devils (sic) spawn! “ – He was fired, getting her job back after a court ruled a firing was too harsh a penalty.
  16. January 2012: Anonymous YouTube videos – A court declared that the Ron Paul for President Campaign did not have the right to know who posted an anonymous video saying mean things about then opponent and fellow presidential candidate Jon Huntsman because he didn’t meet the standards for discovery.
  17. February 2012: Family members posting hideous childhood photos on Facebook – A man sued his uncle for posting family photos and writing comments the man described as mean, but the court ruled it did not arise to the level of harassment and threw the case out.
  18. May 2012: The “Like” of a bosses opponent – A Court said that a sheriff was wrong to fire employees for “liking” the Facebook page of his opponent Sheriff B. J. Roberts of Hampton. Employees were fired for supporting the incumbent sheriff’s opponent in his 2009 re-election bid, claiming it was a political statement. The Judge said, however, that clicking a button doesn’t amount to actual statements and thus are not protected by the First Amendment.
  19. May 2012:  Racist Tweets – A Welsh student was jailed for making racist and offensive comments on Twitter following the on-field collapse of soccer player Fabrice Muamba. He tweeted: “LOL, F&*^ Muamba. He’s dead.” Other Twitter users immediately criticized Stacey, prompting him to post further offensive and racist comments. He branded some people who censured him as “wogs” and told one to “go pick some cotton”. After serving 56 days in jail, Liam Stacey, was expelled for a year from Swansea University where he was a senior biology student.
  20. May 2012 A Maryland governmental department  has had to rescind its policy of requiring job applicants to provide Facebook and email passwords upon getting hired after one applicant raised up  a fuss, refused and took his case to the media.

There you have it. Sometimes it’s just best to keep your thoughts to yourself, or at least offline!

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Jeneba “JJ Ghatt”,is editor at Jenebapeaks.com, an online hub where she helps social media butterfly who empowers digital entrepreneurs and professionals to create great things online at her online learning platform Digital Publishing Academy.  She is an editor of tech blog Techyaya.com and founded the annual 200 Black Women to Follow On Twitter List. Read her bio, then get all of her online & digital biz startup advice and tools in one spot here!

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