Nicole Johnson, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Spring 2014 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: “You recently accepted a friend request from someone you went to elementary school with, but you haven’t seen since. Over the past month this person has liked and commented on everything in your profile. She sends you daily messages and won’t leave you alone. She even started posting pictures of you on her personal Facebook page. What can you do? What should you be able to do? What should you be able to do?”
Facebook is seen as a public entity in the eyes of the law and those who choose to use the social media website are partaking in it voluntarily and therefore are not protected by the law with activity that takes place on the site. When a Facebook user makes the decision to add or accept a friend request, they are granting that person access to see their homepage, like and comment on pictures and videos, send private messages, and in return they are granted the same access.
If an old acquaintance from elementary school sent me a friend request, and I accept it, then I am granting them all the access stated above. Not knowing how that person has changed over the years is a risk I took when accepting them. If that person turns out to be a stalker, commenting and liking everything on my profile, sending me private messages everyday, in addition to posting pictures of me on their profile, there is little that can be done.
As mentioned before, Facebook is a public entity, therefore anything I post is grounds for other people to like or comment on it, especially if it is by one of the friends I accepted. In May of 2012, Facebook claimed, “Facebook is now a publicly traded entity. Anyone can infringe on your right to privacy once you post on this site.” This disclaimer lets the users know they basically do not have any rights for anything posted on the site, therefore there is nothing that can be done in this stalker case. Even though the stalker is posting pictures of me on their own page, they are still pictures I previously posted on a public site that declared anything posted would have no right to privacy.
The only thing that can be done in this situation is to “defriend” the stalker and remove all the comments they have posted on my page. Nothing can be done about the pictures the stalker posted on their own profile however. In the future, I should be more aware of the public platforms I am using and the privacy rights pertaining to those entities. Knowing what rights I do and do not have will only help me better assess my decisions that could ultimately be disadvantageous.
Nicole Johnson graduated from Pepperdine University in April 2014 with a degree in telecommunications (sports broadcasting).
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.